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Ending Compulsive Hair Pulling & Other Harmful Habits

Trichotillomania and Other Self-Harming Behaviors Can Be Healed

Going BonkersThe following article by Abby Leora Rohrer appears in the August 2010 issue of Going Bonkers Magazine.

Did you ever reach up and pull out a single hair for no apparent reason and gone on to pull for hours on end? Have you ever tugged on your eyelashes because they “felt like they needed to be pulled” and kept on pulling until they were totally gone? Have you ever groomed your eyebrows and couldn’t stop plucking?

This is the plight of tens of millions of compulsive hair pullers worldwide. Most pull one single hair at a time, carefully identifying the next casualty prior to each pull. Their condition is known as Trichotillomania. Hair pullers live within a shroud of secrecy and shame, continually dreading the questions and ridicule of others. If you happen to make an innocent comment in their presence like, “I’m so frustrated, I could just pull my hair out,” they freeze like a deer in the headlights.

Most hair pullers are bright, insightful, highly sensitive and intuitive souls constantly straddling two worlds; the world of a functioning, successful individual and the secret world of their seemingly never-ending urges to pull “just one more hair”. The extraordinarily successful businesswoman may be negotiating a multi-million dollar deal with you while her mind is split between what you’re seeing and the inner realm of her urges. She wants to sit on her hands to keep them from reaching to her head. She wants to force herself to stop her crazy desires, but she’s unable.

The vast majority are female children and adults; often hiding behind makeup, wigs, weaves, hats and false eyelashes. They love to pull and hate it all at the same time. The sensations associated with hair pulling feel great to a hair puller but the aftereffects wreak havoc on their self-esteem and ultimately sever them from themselves, harshly damaging their self-relationship.
Relentless habits like hair pulling are self-harming addictions and like all bad habits, compulsions and addictions, on some level they help the sufferer to better tolerate his or her unconscious inner conflicts.

If you are a hair puller or are driven to perform any self-harming behavior, these tips will help:

1. Take personal responsibility for finding your way to freedom. These kinds of problems are usually deep soul issues that no one else is capable of solving for you. They are designed to pull you toward growing yourself and to consciously evolve you to a higher level of life.

2. It is our pre-programmed cultural nature to look for a magic bullet or quick-fix for the problem but before trying to employ will-power or another “magical” solution to stop your painful problem, think about the deeper reasons why you do it. Why do you need it? What purpose does it serve? What is the message or “gift” within the problem that’s eluded you?

3. Living beings only continue to perform behaviors that, on some level, serve them. Recognize this and stop trying to rid yourself of the problem before allowing yourself to savor the benefits. Until you do, every intractable self-harming behavior will own and control you, rather than you owning and controlling them. In other words, as long as you believe that you’re a victim of the behavior, rather than benefiting in some way from it, you will maintain your victim status.

4. There is likely a personally-legitimate reason why you’re doing what you’re doing. Every seemingly negative habit has both rewards and consequences. Remove your self-judgment and take an objective look at what needs are being met by your self-harming behavior. Most sufferers of painful habits and addictions are intelligent and sensitive people. They do what they do to find a way to deal with inner conflict and, on some level, their chosen behavior works. Cut out any shame you feel and try to get to the bottom of how and why your “problem” meets your needs. In the case of trichotillomania, when directed, many hair pullers can quickly and easily identify 50-75 ways that their needs are being met by pulling out their hair. Whatever your self-harming style, you can do the same.

5. You’ve likely heard it a million times before but, start journaling! It’s a great way to listen to yourself and to get your feelings out of you and onto the paper. When you finish, don’t reread it, instantly shred it! The very best thing you can do after you journal is to shred what you’ve written before rereading it. This way your journal becomes the safest place to speak your truth and express your feelings. Shredding stops you or anyone else from criticizing what you’ve written.

6. In Western society we tend to view our lives in a compartmentalized way. Consider that every single moment of your life has led you to the place where you are now. Take a look back and further back. Stop seeing the separate threads but view your life as one tapestry in which this present moment has arisen. Some of the threads are hidden behind others but every single one is present in the design that you see before you. Core reasons behind our present-day negative behaviors often begin in the first six years of life. Don’t worry, you don’t have to consciously remember all of the details, but you can put yourself in a mindset that allows memory to resurface simply by intending it to be so.

7. Healing is a completely natural process that is always trying to find its way into our lives. Most people either resist it or don’t recognize a healing opportunity when it crosses their path. Stay mindful that healing is always available to you, always trying to happen and always works for your highest good.

8. The reason why we resist healing is because it often comes by way of a painful emotional time. Recognize that your current emotional pain often stem from past emotional moments that you cut off in mid-stream because you 1) didn’t know how to handle the situation, 2) it wasn’t safe at that time to feel or express your feelings, or 3) you were afraid of your feelings. Now that you’re an adult, you can likely handle much more emotionally than you realize. Grab your courage and be willing to finish your old trapped emotions. Instead of “managing” your anger, find safe ways to finally release it. Slow down and grieve your old losses. Stop running from, denying or shoving your feelings to the back of the closet.

You can effect a transformation of your self-harming behavior into liberty. Freedom is the result of a mind-shift that sets the stage for a long-term change in external circumstances. Whether your plight is compulsive hair pulling or another seemingly intractable behavior, transformation and freedom are possible for you, if you’re willing to take look inside yourself with a compassionate heart and make the personal commitment to focus on healing until you are free.