Guest Post by Ariel Taylor – a writer and mental health advocate. TrichStop.com
Many people are completely unaware of this condition called trichotillomania that affects two to three percent of Americans. But if you are aware of the condition of compulsive hair pulling, there are some things about it that you don’t know.
People With Trichotillomania Feel Alone
Just like with so many conditions that many others don’t know about, people with this condition often believe they’re the only ones with it. Some don’t even realize there’s a name for the habit of hair pulling.
Like with so many things, social media has expanded awareness of trichotillomania and helped people with the condition feel better about themselves. Increasing awareness of this condition has also given sufferers a feeling of empowerment. They’re not the only ones with this sometimes strange condition.
One of the most important parts of finding out they’re not alone is the knowledge that people with trichotillomania no longer have to keep their feelings about the condition inside. Now, they can talk to other people who really know what it’s like to have this hair pulling habit. This serves to decrease the anxiety and shame they sometimes feel and that can increase the compulsion to pull hair.
Finding out there are others with this condition also helps people with it to know these others also find it hard to stop. They begin to understand it’s all right to try to stop, then have a slip-up. They realize everyone has set backs.
People With Trichotillomania Are Self-Conscious
One of the things about people with this condition that others don’t know is they don’t want to have it. So, when they engage in hair pulling, the very obvious results lead them to feel very self-conscious about their appearance.
The bald spots on the scalp that can occur with this condition are very obvious and draw a lot of attention from others. This unwanted attention causes very significant anguish and anxiety. These negative emotions can lead to more hair pulling.
People who experience this hair pulling compulsion may spend a great deal of time working on their hair. Attempting to hide the bald spots can lead to hours in front of a mirror, trying different styles or trying to brush the hair just right to cover up the scalp. Even if they get their hair just right, they still think about and worry about it staying just right all day.
They Don’t Expect You To Understand
It’s hard enough for people who deal with the travails of trichotillomania to understand why they do what they do. How can someone who hasn’t felt the strong compulsion to pull their hair out (literally!) understand it?
An interesting addition to this is people with this condition don’t really need those without it to understand what they go through. What they need with those who never felt the compulsion to pull hair is to accept and support them, to recognize this is a struggle they deal with daily. Loving them without condition, being positive about them as people, and encouraging them are significantly important.
At least some of the time, people with this condition don’t really want to talk about it, either. Yes, they understand the need to vent feelings at times, but not always when you want them to. The shame connected with this kind of behavior makes it difficult for them to talk about it, even with others who share the disorder. Sometimes, people with trichotillomania don’t want others to know how much they suffer.
On the other hand, there may be times when those who experience this condition do want to talk. At those times, they need to feel free to come to you. And you need to be available. It’s important that you don’t try to force them to talk, no matter how much you want to help them. It may take a long time for them to get to the point of wanting to talk about this condition that is so strongly upsetting.
There are times those who have this condition just need space to deal with their feelings by themselves. Just think how difficult it is to have this hair pulling compulsion and live in a society where hair can seem to be worshipped. Consider how many advertisements there are for hair products. And all of them feature someone with such wonderful hair. Having to see this over and over can lead to significant depression and anxiety. Both of these emotions have been shown to increase the impulse to pull hair.
People With Trichotillomania Don’t Always Want To Stop
It isn’t easy to try to stop the compulsion to pull hair. Even though there are ways people can stop, they don’t always want to. Sometimes, it’s just easier to sit and pull hair.
At least part of the reason for this difficulty is the rewarding effect of hair pulling. Since the behavior begins as a result of mounting tension within the person, the relief they experience when they pull hair is pleasurable. When the tension increases again, it is pleasant to revert to the behavior that decreases it.
Stopping this kind of reinforcing behavior requires a great deal of work and motivation. People can’t always keep the level of motivation required and don’t want to put in the work. One failure sometimes leads to giving up.
They Can Sometimes Ruin Their Hard Work In Minutes
Even when people with trichotillomania are successful in making strides toward stopping the behavior, it can all be undone in just a short time. Because the hair pulling behavior can occur almost unconsciously, only one instance of engaging in this behavior while studying or watching television can lead to a cascade of hair pulling.
One Last Thing
Think about this: Any discomfort you experience with your eyes is felt a million times worse by those without eyelashes. Even crying hurts.