"Dermatillomania" - Meaning

The origin of the term Dermatillomania is from Greek: "derma" - skin; "till" - pull; "mania" - madness

dermatillomania Dermatillomania is a multisyllabic word that slides off the tongue with rhythm. In some ways, it is a fun word to say out loud because it’s long yet easy to pronounce. However, the word itself reveals an appropriate picture of the disorder.

Dermatillomania is a disorder that affects the skin, thus the inclusion of "derma" in the word. Derma is another word for dermis which indicates the skin and comes 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 hidden under seasonally appropriate clothing. People may hide secrets under 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.

The second portion of the word contains "till," which means to pull in Greek. Think of pulling a plow behind a horse, cow, or tractor to break open the soil for planting.

Research has not yet defined a specific cause that leads an individual to pick uncontrollably and destructively. Some theories point to trauma, illness, chemical or hormonal imbalance, violence, abuse, neglect, perfectionism, emotional dysregulation, 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, then, translates to mean someone who 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.

Unfortunately, once started, a picking episode can last for hours and the compulsion to pick can last for years.

For more information about Dermatillomania causes and treatment, get the Complete Guide to Picking Disorders today.

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