The summer of 1994 produced one of the most grisly and well-publicized double murders in the history of the United States of America. Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend, Ronald Goldman, were brutally butchered on the front lawn of her elegant, expensive condominium just miles from the world-famous glitz and glamour of Hollywood, California. Although accused in both criminal and civil trials for the double murder, Simpson’s husband, one-time football great and actor, OJ Simpson was acquitted of criminal charges but was found responsible for their deaths in civil court. While the entire country remained enthralled by the legal twists and turns that came about during the two trials, one of the biggest surprises came with the revelation that the beautiful, charming Mrs. Simpson was apparently living a tormented life replete with self-doubt, insecurities, and domestic abuse that included violence running the gamut from physical to verbal to emotional. In the aftermath, it’s become clear that Mrs. Simpson was silently broadcasting her fears to the world with almost every public appearance she made. Looking back on photos of the lovely Mrs. Simpson, it's evident that she was a habitual skin picker.
Unfortunately, no one got the message. It is almost tragic to think that, if the general public were more aware of the problem of facial picking as a sign of emotional anguish, her frantic calls to 911 and other signals of distress might have been taken more seriously. Mrs. Simpson had developed a compulsive skin picking disorder that was considered merely a bad habit, a girl thing, at the time.
Today, however, after more serious attention has been paid to this almost-irresistible skin picking habit, conversation is more open. People now are more willing to acknowledge they share the same skin picking disorder as did Mrs. Simpson. In fact, now they are able to give a name to the “bad habit” when, before, it was something just not worth mentioning, as far as most people were concerned.
And doctors, particularly those specializing in mental health issues and dermatology, acknowledge that this compulsion for picking at skin on the face, and anywhere else on the body, is an issue that is dangerous in and of itself but is also a sign of deeper emotional turmoil that may require in-depth intervention. In fact, compulsive skin picking is now classified as one of a cluster of compulsive behaviors that fall under the diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Other behaviors that may accompany skin picking are nail biting and hair pulling. Still others may be more severe, even life threatening. In the spectrum of behaviors falling under the OCD diagnosis, compulsive skin picking is linked to anorexia nervosa, autism, Tourette’s syndrome, and Munchausen’s Disease.
Complicating diagnosis of the skin picking disorder are the circumstances under which different people feel compelled to pick. Stress-provoking situations are the trigger that leads some people to begin or resume aggressive skin picking. Others seem to be unconscious of their picking, as it often occurs as a passive activity while mentally occupied with other relaxing activities, such as watching TV, reading, even driving.
Another mystifying aspect of the diagnosis is the underlying reason to begin picking at skin in the first place. Many people suffering from compulsive skin picking do so as a defense mechanism against bullying from other people in their lives, such as classmates, parents, or spouses. Others experience the skin picking disorder as an act of aggression against themselves. It is often difficult to determine if the patient is victim or aggressor.
Fortunately, there is a growing interest in understanding and treating the disorder. Several skin picking treatment options are becoming available but there is still much more being left unsaid, even undiscovered as yet, about this disfiguring and dangerous obsession.
For more information about compulsive skin picking, causes and treatment, get the Complete Guide to Picking Disorders today.