What People Who Struggle with BFRB’s (Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors) Want You to Know

Last week, the first week of October, was BFRB Awareness Week. BFRB Awareness Week, which was created by the incredible The TLC Foundation for BFRB’s, and was all about spreading awareness about Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, such as cheek biting, hair pulling, nail biting and skin picking. I interviewed people in the online mental health community who struggle with all different types of BFRB’s, and then compiled a list of my findings – including advice to those with similar struggles and ways in which the public can help support us.

I hope you join us in the #SeeMeStand campaign. Even if you don’t – even if your struggles are still shameful for you to discuss openly, I hope this piece helps you realize you are never alone. 

 


 

What people who struggle with cheek keratosis (Cheek biting) and lip bite keratosis (Lip Biting) feel judged about because of their disorder:

  • “I’ve had people come up to me before and tell me that ‘my face will stay that way’ when I’m chewing on the inside of my cheek. It’s quite hurtful because they don’t understand that it is something I can’t control. Asking me to stop my behaviors is like asking me to stop breathing.”

What those who struggle with cheek keratosis (Cheek biting) and lip bite keratosis (Lip Biting) want the public to know:

  • “Sometimes I wish people know how anxious I really am. I think I put up a front only calm but I am so scared and self conscious all the time. I want to be met with compassion and love.”
  • “Don’t shame people for their behaviors because they usually already feel embarrassed.”
  • “What I want you to know is that a compliment or a smile goes a long way! If someone gives me a compliment or smiles it can boost my confidence a little bit. Sure, I may still feel insecure, but it’s a kind gesture.”
  • “I want people to know that I don’t enjoy doing these things and that it grosses me out too, but it is part of who I am and I’m trying to change it.”

Advice for people who struggle with cheek keratosis (Cheek biting) and lip bite keratosis (Lip Biting):

  • “My advice would be to create a team of support around you. People who get you, who love you. We all choose to survive in different ways and we should surround ourselves with those who don’t judge us for how we choose to survive. But also those who help us on our journey to recover.”
  • “To not let other people tell you what to do; you know your body and you know what coping strategies work for you.”
  • “Ignore the people who say that ‘it’s just a bad habit’. Most people don’t come into contact with these types of disorders, and therefore do not understand them. I took it all to heart when people called me ‘childish’ and ‘strange’ for having these behaviors, and I believed them. Now I know that it isn’t true…”

 


 

What people who struggle with Trichotillomania (Hair Pulling Disorder) feel judged about because of their disorder:

  • “I don’t really talk about it much. When I do it’s mostly just matter of fact I struggle with this and people don’t say much.”

What those who struggle with Trichotillomania (Hair Pulling Disorder) want the public to know:

  • “Don’t get frustrated with me I’m trying just pass me a fidget toy or try to distract me, but be patient with me. I do not like doing it either.”
  • “I want people to know that it’s not my choice. I can’t just stop it.”
  • “I just wish there were no judgements associated with the behaviors and resulting physical traits (be it scarred skin or bald spots or sores or anything else). As a society we need to start focusing on the character of others, not their dumb flesh prisons.”

Advice for people who struggle with Trichotillomania (Hair Pulling Disorder):

  • “Find a good support structure take time to take care of your body and love your body. Exercise and meditate.”
  • “Struggling with BFRB doesn’t mean that you aren’t valid. It is just your skin, hair, etc. Your skin/hair says nothing about your soul or who you are as a person.”
  • “I would tell others struggling with BFRB(s) that their compulsions are shared by many and that there are others out there who walk around feeling uncomfortable in their own skin because of the physical manifestations of the BFRB(s). I would tell them that relapsing is ok and an inevitable part of recovery!

 


 

What people who struggle with Onychophagia (Nail Biting) feel judged about because of their disorder:

  • “Even though I don’t talk about it, I feel as though people just know. I’m sure most don’t, but I always get super paranoid thinking that people are staring at me or judging me by what I look like.”
  • “I feel very much judged by others. People ask all the time what’s wrong with my nails or what happened to them.”
  • “Sometimes I feel like I get judged for my messy hands and nails.”
  • “I currently struggle with feeling self-conscious of my hands because I feel like I don’t have pretty hands like most females do.” 

What those who struggle with Onychophagia (Nail Biting) want the public to know:

  • “Of course I’ve felt serious shame in what I’ve done, but I don’t think society should treat me or anyone else with hate. I think we should be met with love and reassurance. As in if it’s noticeable, it’s friendly to help us out.” 
  • “I would love for people to know that I am still a normal girl who loves to dress up and look pretty. Sadly, I just don’t have nails.”
  • “…I would appreciate if people wouldn’t say things like, “Your hands were just starting to look nice again!” and things like that because it just makes me feel worse being as I would already be disappointed in myself.”
  • “I would like society to know that it’s not so black and white. I can’t just stop and it’s not in my control. I want people to understand I didn’t grow up learning coping mechanisms like a lot of people do and that, as a 23 year old, I’m having to spend years learning what most people already have mastered by my age, or at least, have practiced a lot.”

Advice for people who struggle with Onychophagia (Nail Biting):

  • “Don’t worry about what others think. It’s called beautiful uniqueness and I think it’s something that all of us have within. We should be allowed to go out in public and not worry what others think. You should wear that shirt or those shoes that nobody else has. Be unique. Have your own style. Have your own design. Don’t worry about the people that may judge you. If they do it, it just means that they’re insecure about themselves – they also need this advice – we all do!”
  • “Make a list of distractions that will help you fill the urge. I usually bite my nails or pick at my knuckles when I’m nervous, angry, or bored. So I downloaded new apps on my phone and mindless games (like Angry Bird! It’s so 2012, but it’s honestly so relieving to smash those pigs!).”
  • “I am very sensory so I get stress balls or fidget toys to help me resist.”
  • “Beating yourself up about doing these habits will only make it worse/make you feel worse. Accept that this is what you do and try to recognize any triggers, as well as things that ease these habits. It seems that everyone around me is perfect because they don’t seem to do anything like this, but I had to realize that if you are struggling with BFRBs you’re really not alone.”

 


 

What people who struggle with Excoriation (Skin Picking) Disorder feel judged about because of their disorder:

  • “People look at me weird when my scabs are bleeding.  Or when I’m rubbing my arms and my dead skin flakes off.  My mom gets mad when I bite my cheeks.  It’s something I don’t really understand and I don’t feel like others really understand either.”
  • “My ex boyfriend would point it out often, saying he didn’t like to hold my hand because of how rough the skin was. My mom also points it out too, I like to think it’s more out of concern, but the wording and tone she uses is often one of disgust.”
  • “I do sometimes feel judged by others because of my derma, sometimes because of the physical appearance of my face or arms or legs that’s a result of picking, but I do also feel judged if actively engaging in the picking action around people who don’t understand it. They may think my OCD-fueled focus is annoying or antisocial, or that I’m being somehow impolite or attention-seeking.”
  • “I don’t feel judged that much, but the nail biting and skin picking gets funny looks and people tell me to stop all the time but it’s not that easy. I’ve been told nail biting is “disgusting” and “puts men off”… it doesn’t help when people say things when it’s because of my anxiety disorder.”

What those who struggle with Excoriation (Skin Picking) Disorder want the public to know:

  • “I don’t feel like I do it consciously. It’s just something that happens. I would definitely like to not feel weird for it. To feel loved and understood even if they don’t really understand.”
  • “To just know that I try really hard not to do these things and I know it’s not good for me to do these things… telling me I’m ruining my face really doesn’t help my self-esteem.”
  • “It’s a compulsion, I guess. I don’t really know how to control myself. So more acceptance and understanding would been great.”
  • “I would want to be met with less assumptions. For me, picking my skin isn’t something I choose to do necessarily, it has become a habit and I don’t even notice I do it sometimes. That being said, people who point out how “gross” I’ve made my hands look imply that I’ve purposefully done this, and the lack of knowledge and willingness to understand is difficult for me to deal with.”
  • “I would simply like others to stop putting such stock in the physical appearance of everyone else. I would like to be awarded more patience and an understanding that what I am dealing with is a mental illness, it’s not some antisocial behavior I choose to partake in and it’s not just “popping pimples”.”

Advice for people who struggle with Excoriation (Skin Picking) Disorder:

  • “My advice to others would be that if you are able to quit your behavior, do it as soon as possible, or else it will be hard to quit in the future. In October of this year, I will be going on my ninth year with a BFRB, and I am trying to end it, but it is not as easy as it seems.”
  • “Don’t care about what others may think and don’t be ashamed. If  you want to stop, try to stop – for yourself.”
  • “Don’t be ashamed!! It’s so much more common than I originally thought! I graduated a year ago with a social work degree and throughout my schooling heard so much talk about it. That really helped normalize the behaviours for me and helped me accept myself a lot more.”
  • “Mostly I just want to say that they aren’t alone, and I know that’s cliche but when I was at a point where I didn’t know what I was dealing with, it felt very isolating and like I…wasn’t “me” or at least in control of “me”. You can deal with BFRB(s) and live a full life! All it takes is finding some strategies that help eliminate triggers. We can do this!”

 


 

What people who struggle with all types of different BFRB’s love about themselves (because there is hope and healing is possible!):

“I would have to say that one thing I love about myself is my freckles. I have a lot on my face that really stand out, especially in the summer. My skin isn’t always the clearest like the models in magazines, but my freckles really help cover it up most of the time. So even though I don’t look like the girls on the cover of Teen Vogue, I’m the girl on the cover of my life and my story so I want to try and make the best of it.”

“I personally love my face, even though it has scars from me picking at it as a kid. They are all over my face, but they show how strong I am and that I can recover from my behaviors. Once the skin grows back over my cuts, it feels like a second chance – like my body is giving me another chance to recover.”

“One thing that I love about myself is my smile. I have struggled with depression for years, and I can remember times where I just couldn’t bare to even fabricate a smile just because I was so void of emotion. Currently, I am in a manageable path and I just treasure being able to have a genuine smile again.”

“I love my smile.  I love my heart that keeps on loving and caring no matter how many times I’ve been hurt.”

“One thing I love about myself is that even through all my struggles I still try my best to help others and be inclusive in my day to day life.”

“I love that I possess an incredible amount of empathy because of my struggles. I’ve learned very early on not to judge people…ever.”

“What I love about myself is my hair maybe, and I like that I’m a kind human- at least I try really hard!”

“I love my resilience. It’s definitely a muscle we can all grow, but I really feel like I’ve worked hard to continually get up.”

“I think one thing I love about myself is I have the capability of being very strong sometimes. Sometimes I’m not so strong. But it’s ok! I’ve known myself to be a badass woman on many occasions, and I love that I have that in me (even if it doesn’t always come out). I love that I am able to fight, and that I have preserved through so many difficult times. I love that I’m a woman, and it makes my strength feel even more powerful.”

“I love my smile. I love to laugh and I just love how my smile looks. It lights my whole face up and just makes me feel good! I also love my heart, because of a lot of my own struggles I think I’ve become a really empathetic and caring person. I’m proud of that.”

“I love my freckles! And going deeper than that, I love how compassionate I am. And I truly value how I am no longer ashamed to speak up and share my story.”

 

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2 Replies to “What People Who Struggle with BFRB’s (Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors) Want You to Know”

  1. This is incredible and I can’t thank you enough. I rip my nails off, sometimes with my other nails or with my teeth. They were beginning to look good and then my anxiety grew, I destroyed them, and now they look worse than ever. So this post means a lot!!! Thanks!!

    Like

  2. This is incredible and I can’t thank you enough. I rip my nails off, sometimes with my other nails or with my teeth. They were beginning to look good and then my anxiety grew, I destroyed them, and now they look worse than ever. So this post means a lot!!! Thanks!!

    Like

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