On this blog we talk a lot about the value of support in overcoming dermatillomania. We therefore advocate for compulsive skin picking sufferers to open up about their struggles with the disorder to someone you trust and feel you can confide in. However we do recognize that this is far easier recommended than done. One of the characteristics of this disorder is that the behavior consumes the person with immense shame and guilt.
For those of you who are new to the BFRB (body-focused repetitive behaviors) community, you may not have heard about the Trichotillomania Learning Center (TLC) Annual Conference. This is the only even of its kind that unites clinicians, researchers, patients and their loved ones for an entire weekend focused on sharing knowledge, resources and information about the various BFRBs. The date for the next conference has been set for April 15-17, 2016 in Dallas Texas, with registrations already open.
If you have any interest in any of the BFRBs, be it compulsive skin picking, hair pulling, or any of the other BFRBs then this conference is for you. It doesn’t matter if you are a clinician with years of experience, a parent concerned for your child, a friend of someone who picks, or if you are a skin picker yourself; if you have any interest in learning more about this debilitating condition then this conference is for you.
Body-focussed repetitive behaviors (BFRBs) are prevalent in both men and women, and yet the majority of information and awareness we get about BFRBs such as compulsive skin picking and hair pulling, is from women. While there are male skin pickers out there blogging and sharing their experiences, they are in the minority. This in turn perpetuates the hesitance of men to come forward and speak openly about their struggles with this disorder. In a previous post we shared the goal of one brave gentleman who will be publishing his memoirs, of which his battle with dermatillomania is a huge feature. In this post I would like to share with you the YouTube channel of another brave young man. In this particular video he not only talks about his compulsive skin picking, but also shares some tips on how he is trying to overcome this behavior.
Artist and advocate for body-focussed repetitive behaviors (BFRBs), Liz Atkin is no stranger to the skinpick.com blog. We first introduced Liz last year when we outlined the highlights of her interview with BBC radio’s Felicity Finch, and then again in July this year when we shared a video of her speaking to an audience about her experiences with compulsive skin picking as part of the Critical Voices Campaign.
Through her efforts to raise awareness about dermatillomania and other BFRBs through visual art, Liz has become a spokesperson for dermatillomania sufferers everywhere. Her most recent contribution to the campaign to educate others about the condition and foster a better understanding of those suffering with compulsive skin picking, was to display her art at the David Geffen School of Medicine, followed by a talk with students explaining how she uses art to battle dematillomania.
When you are an active participant in the body-focussed repetitive behaviors (BFRB) community, it seems incredible to think that there is lack of awareness of these conditions. Yet research shows that there are still many undiagnosed cases of compulsive skin picking and hair pulling disorders, among others. This is largely due to the shame and stigma surrounding the behaviors, but also due to the lack of awareness of the fact that these are clinically recognized psychological disorders and that it is NOT an indication of weakness or failure on the part of the individual sufferer. Sure there are many who engage in similar behaviors only habitually, but there comes a point where a habit evolves into something which impacts negatively on the person’s functioning and they find it hard to stop despite this. When this happens compulsive skin picking cannot be considered just a bad habit. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM5) of the American Psychiatric Association (APA) diagnoses this as Excoriation Disorder and describes key clinical features of the disorder.
Skin picking disorder, although common, is not very well known. However through the efforts of advocacy and awareness groups like the Canadian Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors Support Network (CBSN), more and more sufferers are starting to recognize the struggles they are facing with on a daily basis as a clinical condition they do not need to be ashamed about. Those who have been brave enough to share their personal pains and gains with the daily challenge of living with dermatillomania have also been instrumental in helping so many who struggle in silence to come to terms with their condition and to the help and support they so desperately need and deserve. One such individual is John Serpentelli, a gentleman who has been challenged by compulsive skin picking for more than 30 years. John has had an incredible journey in overcoming his body-focussed repetitive behavior (BFRB) as well as other addictions and has decided to share his experiences in his memoirs. I asked John to share a bit about himself and what his memoirs are about.
People who compulsively pick their skin suffer varying degrees of severity of the behaviour. For some it may entail light scratching or popping of pimples, while others pick at their skin until it bleeds. Continuous picking over time inevitably leads to skin damage and causes the individual great shame and embarrassment. Many skin pickers suffer with this condition in silence for fear of being harshly judged. This is often not an incorrect assumption as the lack of awareness of this condition often leads to it being misunderstood. Friends and family of skin pickers struggle to understand the reason someone is not able to stop picking at their own skin and cause such visible damage. Some even think of skin picking as an attention-seeking behaviour, while many also perceive it as a form of self-harm.
BFRBs, or body-focussed repetitive behaviors is an umbrella term for impulsive pathological grooming behaviours including hair pulling and skin picking. Although its cause is unknown,
“research indicates that BFRBs are neuro-biological disorders and that genetics may play a role in their development.”
Since most people afflicted with a BFRB can hide the symptoms of their disorder from others, many people are unaware of even close family and friends who suffer from this condition. The severe psychological impact of BFRBs can lead to feelings of isolation, shame and loss of control.
The Trichotillomania Learning Centre (TLC), a non-profit organization dedicated to those suffering from BFRBs, launched BFRB week on October 1st to help raise awareness amongst the global population about this disorder which affects thousands of people worldwide.
He goes under the blog name Bleachnjam. He’s not a doctor or a therapist or indeed any type of professional that assists with Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRB’s), but those who suffer with the disorders are the experts when it comes to understanding how to respond to someone who picks. There are a huge number of people worldwide who are silently suffering from BFRB disorders and who desperately need to be understood. After over twenty years of suffering from dermatillomania, a condition which causes the sufferer to pick at the skin from anywhere on their body, he started an online journal to help raise awareness on skin picking. He found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), where sufferers are encouraged to focus on their thoughts, behaviours and feelings, was the most effective form of therapy to help him deal with his disorder. In a recent blog post, he addresses the family, friends and colleagues who don't know how to respond when seeing the person picking and gives advice on how to react when they see someone picking.