The origin of the term Dermatillomania is from Greek:
Derma - skin
Till - pull
Mania - madness
Dermatillomania is one of those words that's fun to say out loud. It's a tongue twister that gets the full mouth into action. It has rhythm. It has a very telling origin, too.
The word itself, dermatillomania, has a lineage that dates all the way back to ancient Greece. When the one tongue-twisting word is broken down into smaller words, a very appropriate picture of the disorder is revealed.
Dermatillomania is, of course, a disorder that affects the skin, thus the "derma" portion of the word. Derma = skin (from Greek). None of the skin on the body is off limits to a patient with this disorder. Most people pick at the skin that is easiest to reach, such as the skin on the hands, arms, neck, face and scalp.
Others target areas of skin that can be reasonably well hidden under seasonally appropriate clothing. These folks' bodies may be hiding secrets under the backs of their shirts or under a hat, scarf, or other head covering. Long sleeves or pants in hot weather may signal a compulsion to pick the arms and legs.
Breaking the word down further, we find "till," which means to pull (Greek). Think of pulling a plow behind a horse, cow, or tractor to break open the soil for planting. No one knows what causes an individual to begin picking uncontrollably, destructively, at their own body but theories exist. Some theories point to trauma, illness, chemical or hormonal imbalance, violence, abuse, neglect, and very low feelings of self-perception and acceptance.
Perhaps the person suffering from dermatillomania is subconsciously plowing away at the older, outer layer of spent skin in order to find a fresher, livelier person beneath.
In today's vernacular, "mania" is often associated with crazed psychotic behavior that adds chilling drama to big-screen movies. Indeed, there was a time, in ancient Greece, when mania simply meant madness. Dermatillomania can be translated to mean that someone has an illness that produces an overwhelming desire to pick, pull, and plow away at his or her own skin. Even though they know it's painful, unsightly, and almost impossible to justify.
One of the ways to combat the compulsion is to identify the specific triggers of an individual patient and learn to recognize signals and avert the destructive behaviors before they get started. Once started, the picking can last for hours. The compulsion can last for years.
For more information about Dermatillomania causes and treatment, get the Complete Guide to Picking Disorders today.