The ABC's of Compulsive Hair Pulling and Trichotillomania

by Abby Leora Rohrer

As a former twenty-seven year hair puller, now healed for more than twelve, I've had lots of time to think about what led me into compulsive hair pulling and what led me beyond it.  I now teach chronic, longstanding compulsive hair pullers how to heal themselves.

Here are a few facts before we begin.  I came from a family of five children. I was the youngest girl and the only hairpuller in the bunch.  My oldest sister was a skin picker.  None of my other siblings nor my parents exhibited any behavior connected to trichotillomania that I am aware of. 

Rather than viewing obsessive hair pulling as an illness I now believe that, for me, it was a normal way to cope given my beliefs, feelings and perceptions. about myself within my family and my culture. 

These ABC's are my perceptions about my upbringing and my healing.  I share them with you in the hope that they will help you to connect more deeply with yourself or your hair pulling loved one.

  • A is for feeling Alone:

Internally I felt isolated, misunderstood, and alone growing up as a child in my own family of origin and within my wider community.  I felt extremely out of place. 

Many of my adult hair pulling students have reported similar intense feelings of isolation from their families of origin and society.  We found it difficult to connect with and feel as if we belonged, though we were very good at adapting and making it look on the surface as if everything was fine. 

  • B is for feeling Betrayed:

I felt emotionally abandoned and frequently betrayed by both of my parents.  Though he rarely got physical, my father was chronically angry and controlling.  I now know that his anger was usually unjustified and the result of his own emotional issues.  My mother, who suffered from chronic depression, remained silent and did not defend me in the face of my father's attacks of repeated rage.  In fact, she often defended or made excuses for my father's behavior.

Again, many of my students share a similar perception. We felt emotionally abandoned by our parents.  Sometimes, we felt this way because one parent was angry or controlling, while the other parent was cowed or coerced into remaining quiet and did not defend us in the face of the stronger parent's personality. 

Sometimes the circumstance was not because of an angry parent but because one of our parents was chronically emotionally or physically ill.  Regardless, we viewed this chronic acquiescence as a repeated betrayal of us. While I cannot say that all of our families had a classically recognizable (emotionally) abusive quality like my own, we frequently felt abused. 

  • C is for feeling Cut-off and Captive:

Because of my father's rage and my mother's chronic emotional illness, we had a closed family system.  There was an unspoken rule that I was too timid to break, and this stopped me from speaking about my situation or going outside of my family for help.  I also did not have any perspective about a life beyond what was "normal" for me and my family.  I felt cut-off and captive; there was no escape and I felt powerless to help or change anything.

For me, hair pulling was a beacon signaling just how powerless and alone I felt.  It allowed me to remain in the family and to cope without significantly increasing the volatility of my family. 

My adult students also report having felt trapped in untenable family situations in which they believed they were powerless to escape.  Hair pulling also became their way of coping. 

Hair as a Metaphor for Personal Power and Spiritual Connection

The main compliment I remember about my worth as a child was connected to my hair.  People always commented on my beautiful curly brown ringlets.  It was my one claim to fame as the last child of five. Having grown up with the Old Testament, I learned from the story of Samson and Delilah that hair is a Western cultural metaphor for personal power. (I once read a survey in O Magazine that a majority of men said that they would prefer impotence over baldness!). So my own self-worth and personal power was definitely tied to my hair as a child/teen.

I don't recall anyone ever positively commenting on my intelligence or perceptiveness of which I had a great deal.  I had at least one older sibling who already had the title "Intelligent" sewn up and my perceptiveness and truth-speaking were not valued in my family.  Apparently, I came to believe that in my family beautiful hair was valued over these inner qualities and strengths.

Because of my feelings of family abandonment, betrayal and captivity and because, for me, hair pulling became an addictive coping tool, I also felt cut-off from the source of my spiritual power, from God. 

I now believe that when humans see themselves as abandoned, betrayed and cut-off from the source of their inherent power, and they are unable to directly or safely voice these feelings because they perceive it as unsafe to do so, it is a natural and normal built-in human reaction to pull their hair out.  This sends a signal to your clan and culture that you are internally suffering and need for things to change.

Without exception, I and my students who have healed their trichotillomania, have connected with and healed our deeply powerlessness due (often) to feelings of early isolation, abandonment, captivity.  Many times these perceptions were held unconsciously and only understood upon close examination.  Without taking these steps I believe we would not have healed.

For a deeper explanation of this topic and how it applies to healing compulsive hair pulling, please refer to my complete Pull-Free, At Last! System materials.

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