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Beneath Trichotillomania

by Abby Leora Rohrer


As this New Year dawns, I realize that I’ve spent 41 years passionately focused on solving a single, but complex puzzle; compulsive hair pulling. 

My quest to understand started just after I began hair pulling at age eleven.  For the first twenty-seven years, I focused on it solely to free myself.  After achieving that goal nearly fourteen years ago, I shifted my focus to how my own puzzle might intersect with the puzzles of other hair pullers.

In doing so I’ve come to know beyond any doubt that inside every hair puller who’s been at it for more than a few months (regardless of age) is a little boy or girl with a broken heart. 

In other words, every hair puller has a STORY and within that story are the seeds to that person’s freedom. 

Their stories are filled with confusion, internal conflict and suffering. When we attempt to reduce trichotillomania down to a simple habit or a hereditary gene, we are taking people’s lives and stripping the meaning out of them. 

For me it was not about giving up a “little habit” or waiting any longer for a pharmaceutical solution, but addressing my own story on the deepest of levels.  I examined the very fabric and fiber of what I thought was me and realigned myself with the truth rather than those mistaken beliefs. This is the journey that results in freedom.

Considering long term hair pulling as a simple habit ignores and belittles the lives of those who have struggled so long to be free. Viewing it as “brain chemistry” ignores and belittles the compelling stories behind why hair pullers feel forced to harm themselves and leaves us powerless to help ourselves or those we love. 

Let's face it; anyone can heal a little habit. Nearly everyone has done so in one form or another by the time they reach their teenage years. If hair pulling were simply that, these valiant sufferers would all already be free. 

If we can learn to ask the right questions and really learn to listen, hair pullers have so much to teach us. There is a great deal of meaning in what they have to share about what drives them and why they remain caught in the web of trichotillomania. When we label it habit or DNA we are ignoring their important message for the world.

Here is some of what the stories of hair pulling adults and children have taught me over the last few years.

Seven Common Characteristics of Long Term Hair Pullers

Through anecdotal research and interaction with thousands of hair pullers and parents, I’ve identified the following common characteristics of hair pullers who have been hair pulling for six months or longer.

100 percent of trichotillomania sufferers and parents report the hair puller as very intelligent, highly-sensitive and intuitive.

While everyone knows what intelligence is, fewer understand the experience of being intuitive, and far fewer know the experience of being a highly-sensitive person. According to Elaine Aron (www.hsperson.com), author of The Highly Sensitive Person and The Highly Sensitive Child, high sensitivity is normal and inherited by up to 20% of the population.

Aron shares that highly sensitive people have nervous systems that are more sensitive and brains that reflect more deeply on the information it processes. Highly sensitive people are more easily over stimulated, stressed out and overwhelmed. Sometimes, Aron says, high sensitivity can be mislabeled as shyness, inhibitedness or fearfulness but up to 30% of highly sensitives are extroverts. 

Aron explains that our lack of knowledge about high sensitivity is because in our culture being tough and outgoing is the preferred personality-- and that this cultural bias works against those of us who are highly sensitive. Most highly sensitives have frequently been told, "don't be so sensitive," making them feel that just being themselves is wrong.  

  • 100 percent report having at least one very intelligent,
    highly-sensitive, and intuitive parent.

  • 89 percent report a history of unhealed trauma or abuse. 

Sometimes an event was perceived as trauma as a result of the person’s high-sensitivity.  In other words, hair pullers highly sensitivity  at times caused them to perceive a circumstance as traumatic or abusive that others who are not highly sensitive would not consider traumatic.   However, there were also many trichotillomania sufferers for whom the classic situations of trauma and abuse apply.  My description of trauma to them included: childhood moves, accidents or illness, catastrophes, loss of loved ones, including because of divorce.  The description of abuse included: emotional, verbal, sexual or physical.    

According to Tian Dayton, Ph.D. (Trauma and Addiction), “Unresolved and untreated childhood trauma is a primary cause of addiction and relapse,” and “the things that hurt us deeply are those we can be the most out of touch with on an emotional level.”   Many hair pullers are self-medicating inner pain that they don’t necessarily know they have.  In other words, some may unconsciously deny or disapprove of their right to their own painful story and use hair pulling as a long-term way to deal with disowned pain and daily reminders of that pain.         

  • 83 percent report unfinished grief from childhood.

These are leftover feelings of sadness because of childhood losses that to this day remain unresolved.  

    • 89 percent report a family history of addictive or compulsive
      coping styles or suppression of certain emotions,
      such as sadness or anger.

These hair pullers reported that their parents or other family members modeled using addictive or compulsive behaviors as a way to cope with unwanted or unresolved feelings, or that in childhood, they believed they were required to suppress emotions such as sadness or anger because these feelings were unwelcome in the family or were only allowed expression by certain family members.

  • 83 percent report a history of family turmoil, turbulence
    or a volatile childhood environment.

Many of their stories shared these characteristics.  While some reported a feeling of terror over being dropped off at school by a parent and worrying that they would forget to pick them up while others grew up in environments with constant turbulence and turmoil and the feeling that they had no solid ground under their feet. 

  • 94 percent report they perceived or felt abandoned
    by both of their parents at times during childhood.

For some this abandonment was the result of a divorce (one parent left the family while the other was emotionally devastated and scrambling to make ends meet, for example.) or a serious illness or death.  Others experienced a scenario where the parents were locked within a dysfunctional relationship where one parent was overly aggressive and the other was overly passive.  In this case, not only was the aggressive parent seen as abandoning, but the passive parent was viewed as equally or even more abandoning because they neglected or were unable to support the child when the child was unjustly accused or attacked by the aggressive parent.  

These are the types of wounds that long term hair pullers carry and they are exactly the type of wounds that can be healed by supporting them in reviewing and honoring their personal story.  All of my books and healing materials, including the Pull-Free, At Last! System, are designed to guide hair pullers through this process to finally free themselves.

Note:  This material was drawn from Abby Leora Rohrer's book, "Why Won't My Child Stop Hair Pulling?" available at her website specifically for parents of a child with Trich.

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