Hope for Hair Pullers: Healing Lessons of Ending Hair Pulling

by Abby Leora Rohrer

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."
-- Helen Keller

From the ages of twelve to thirty-nine, I suffered from compulsive hair pulling. Two years ago, I successfully healed from my compulsive behavior. Based on this experience, I believe that healing from a compulsion or addiction is a universal journey which is available to anyone at any time. The journey requires that the sufferer look inside, take responsibility for his own problem and remain flexible while following his own guidance.

Here are some of the lessons that I learned along the way:

  • I learned that to heal, I had to believe that healing was possible for ME.

First of all, instead of having hope I would heal, I needed to get to the point where I really understood deep inside that our beliefs create our reality. If I couldn't believe that it was be possible for ME, a hair puller, to stop pulling, then it wouldn't have been possible for me to do it. Because I could actually "see" myself on the other side of hair pulling with a full head of hair, then I was  consciously and unconsciously able do everything necessary to achieve my goal.

Years ago I had a sense that I could move through hair pulling and that permanent healing was possible for me. I didn't know how I would get here, but I was determined to do whatever it took. Reading Real Magic and You'll See It When You Believe It by Dr. Wayne Dyer helped me to incorporate the concept of how my thoughts create my reality. I then had tools to align my thoughts with my intention to stop my pulling.

  • I learned that to fix a problem, I had to be willing to focus on it--not just to make it a priority in my life, but to make it THE priority in my life.

Can you fix a flat tire without making it THE focus of your life for at least a few minutes? Although this seemed obvious to me in terms of dealing with any external problem, it wasn't obvious to me in dealing with my compulsion.

How many hair pullers have been willing to focus directly on a their pulling and to make healing it THE priority in their lives? At 12 years old, I put my hair pulling on the "back burner" and decided to get on with my life. After all, there was no known cure--what else could I do? Many of us fear that if we focus directly on the problem, it and our inner pain will worsen and we are unwilling to take this risk. This fear is real and justified, but to heal you must be willing to move through this worsening stage. As I began to focus on my hair pulling, my pulling did increase. As I continued to "front-burner" it, I found that I was strong enough to deal with a temporary worsening in order to reap the greater rewards of ending the problem for good.

  • I learned to view hair pulling as a gift--from which I could grow!

I began to see that my hair pulling was not THE problem, but a symptom of a larger underlying problem about the ways in which my life wasn't working. From M. Scott Peck, M.D., "....Occurrences that once seemed to be burdens now seem to be gifts, including the very symptoms from which they have recovered." and from Robin Casarjian, "If you are ill and your body and physical symptoms are always seen as the problem, you lose the opportunity to gain insight into deeper personal issues that may be at the root of some symptoms."

I learned to maintain a hopeful, childlike excitement about discovering my repressed feelings even in the midst of pain and sadness. I began to embrace my emotions and to feel that I was on a treasure hunt, knowing that in releasing old feelings, no matter how painful, I could get closer to my goal to end the compulsion. At each step I uncovered clues as to what to let go of and where to look next.

At one point I did a tremendous amount of inner work in an attempt to rid myself of my repressed childhood emotions. I attended reparenting therapy which introduced me to inner child concepts and put me in touch with my issues in growing up in a dysfunctional family. However, I did the bulk of releasing my repressed anger through the use of techniques from Recovery of Your Inner Child, by Lucia Capacchione, Ph.D. This process was not without risks in and of itself. Following the release of a huge well of childhood anger, I experienced an accompanying physical release which came in the form of full body hives.  This physical release lasted for over 6 months and taught me how strongly our emotions impact our physical body.

  • I learned that for me the use of the word "compulsion" meant powerlessness and victimization. I found that changing to an "addiction" perspective gave me a sense of ownership, responsibility and control.

I had always wanted to discover that "one" incident from childhood which had caused me to begin to pull out my hair. Of course, I had memories of childhood trauma and bothersome events, but none pointed directly to my pulling. With a new addiction perspective, I started to see that I used my hair pulling as a "numbing agent," my drug of choice. I realized that my parents had modeled the use of addictive behaviors as their way of handling feelings. They had no experience of honoring their own feelings, so they could not teach me how to honor my own. I was an overly responsible child and I believe that I chose hair pulling as a way to handle my own feelings so my parents didn't have to take care of me on an emotional level.

My own parents' beliefs about feelings were passed down through the generations to them and on to me. Unfortunately they are also encouraged throughout our society. We are taught the behavior of compulsions and addictions in our families, while societally we hang onto mass denial of this process. We are never the addicts, "others" are. Even though to do so could empower us, we rarely use the word addiction to refer to ourselves.

We learn the societal mores of being tough and not showing how we really feel.  "Don’t cry or they'll give us something to cry about." "Don't grieve for longer than the day of the funeral." "Don't feel anger without a damned good reason."  "Don't feel sad and if you do, don't ever show it to anyone else." "Don't believe what you know inside to be true, only look outside of yourself to "experts" for your answers." And "don’t let your children have their own boundaries." When we adhere to these familial and societal norms, at an early age we strip ourselves of our personal power and creativity. For additional information on this concept read When Society Becomes an Addict by Anne Wilson Schaef and Bradshaw on:The Family by John Bradshaw, Ph.D.

My use of the word compulsion did not serve me. As a society we don't have the experience of numbers of people recovering from compulsions. To me compulsion meant suffering with a lifelong affliction. It meant looking outside myself for answers to problems even most experts have no experience or success in treating. Switching my focus to one of addiction gave me a proven model for healing. Societally we know that tremendous numbers of people conquer their addictions. We also know that it's hard work, but that people actually come out on the other side, stronger and happier for their efforts. In healing, I came to a new understanding and appreciation for The Twelve Steps of AA although I am not associated with any group and view the use of these steps as a part of a larger picture of recovery.

  • I learned that I needed to find a way to honestly express and honor my feelings, whatever they are--without judgment.

"When you understand that your addiction results from an inadequacy, the question becomes how you will respond to your inadequacy--by reaching for another drink, (or another hair, my note)....or by reaching inward for those things that fill the whole?" Gary Zukav, The Seat of the Soul.

I found that I needed to be totally honest with myself about my feelings, whatever they are. Whether or not they are personally or socially acceptable, they are my feelings and I can no longer repress them. A valuable initial step in my healing occurred a few years ago when I finally admitted to myself that pulling out my hair was pleasurable and I was not yet ready or willing to give it up.

I later learned that I needed to find a way to explore and honor my feelings on a permanent basis. During a time of extreme emotional crisis, my sister suggested that I begin journal writing, as she had found this process to be of tremendous benefit. Although it wasn't the first time she suggested it, this time I was desperate and decided to try it. Very quickly, journal writing had a profound impact on my life. Not only did it provide a place to put all of my thoughts and feelings, but the immediate benefits to me were a sense of peace, quiet, clarity and self-honoring I had never before experienced.

I used a specialized type of journaling which allowed me to freely feel, without judging my feelings. I am sure that there are many ways to "find one’s voice," but the key is to do it in a way in which judgment of any kind is not possible.

  • I learned that to heal I had to find a way to interrupt the cycle of addiction.

I began to understand that what perpetuates the "endless cycle" of addiction is the fear of not being able to stop the behavior and our judgment about what the behavior says about us. I needed to find a way to stop the cycle and I decided to experiment with my life. I acknowledged that hair pulling has pleasurable aspects and I allowed myself to enjoy the pulling WITHOUT fearing the consequences or judging my behavior. This interrupted the cycle and In a short while I was ready, willing and able to move onto the next step to actually let go of my hair pulling.

This lesson was also pertinent after I stopped pulling. Letting go of an addiction does not mean that the urge automatically disappears as it does during times of "remission". It's easy to stop pulling in "remission" because we are not confronted with our urges. As Gary Zukav says, "....As you hold to your intention, and as you choose again and again and again to become whole, you accumulate power, and the addiction that you thought could not be challenged will lose its power over you." To continue to resist the urge, I developed a "managing statement." Whenever I feel the urge to pull, I say to myself, "That is an addiction and I don't choose to do it." My urges come very infrequently now and when they do I easily and confidently manage them.

In my experience, healing from a compulsive behavior is possible for anyone with determination who is willing to focus on the problem. It takes a firm commitment to your own personal growth and an unwavering belief that you can heal.

I had to be willing to experiment with my life in order to see which ideas and concepts felt right for me. I embarked on an intense period of study, reading books about family dysfunction, inner child work, addiction, spirituality and how people grow through adversity. Throughout my process I took whatever resonated deep within me and threw away the rest. I was no longer willing to unquestioningly accept someone else's prescription as to what would heal me. I began to trust my own intuition about what would work for me.

I spent time pondering the question, "If I take away my hair pulling, don't I need a substitute?" I felt that removing such a significant part of my life would leave a large void and that if I didn’t put something positive and rewarding in its place, then I wouldn't be successful at letting it go. I decided to replace my hair pulling with the method I found for honoring my feelings, journal writing and meditation. All the while it seemed that I was looking over my own shoulder with an intense curiosity to see whether my intuition and ideas could really work for me. They did and now I am free of my pulling. Maybe they can also work for you.

If you’re a hair pulling woman, you may wish to research TrichotillomaniaFree Women’s University where I teach the deeper lessons of how to stop your self-judgment and hair pulling for good.

If you’d like more help to stop hair pulling you can visit my 123TrichotillomaniaFree web site which discusses my book, What's Wrong With Pulling My Hair Out? It's a great place to begin. It is also available from this website and can be purchased right now using this order link.

If you’re an adult male hair puller or a woman hair puller without internet access who is ready to commit to your freedom, you may wish to consider the Pull-Free, At Last! System available at www.PullFreeAtLast.com