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Picker-itis , 29 Mar 2011

What makes me pick?

So, I have been trying for years to figure out why I pick. I do it in my sleep, when I am wide awake, at work, at school, etc. I try and hide it or I tell white lies about what really happened...(ex. it's poision oak from my dog, or it's a food allergy). When it boils down to it, this is what I can come up with. I JUST DON'T KNOW. When people who know about my picking ask why, I can only tell them that I am like a housecat that sits on the carpet and sees that little loop sticking up. He has no other option, no self control, no way of stopping himself from scratching at that loop. He settles in to claw and pull even though he knows he will be scorned if he is caught. But he does it anyway. He just does it anyway. I am that housecat.
8 Answers
April 19, 2011
I have come to this forum a number of times in the past year but have never come away with an understanding of why I pick my feet. I pick the bottom of both feet; it started with the rough skin around the edge of my heels, but at this point I'm picking all the way up to the middle of each foot. I, too, have experienced debilitating pain and bleeding, and often am in so much pain that it's difficult to get around. But I still keep picking. I first remember doing this when I was 24 years old. At that time I was a practicing alcoholic in the throes of addiction. I subsequently went through treatment and a year later had stopped picking altogether. I am now 55 and returned to this bad habit a few years ago. Although I've always had a very stressful work environment, I've enjoyed my job(s) until a few years ago. The supervisor at one job took pleasure in shaming me in front of other co-workers. After 22 years of sobriety, I started drinking again and relapsed a number of times before I got back on the wagon for good. That was 4 years ago. However, my picking has intensified. This past fall, I lost a job (very unfairly, I feel) after 5 years and have been unemployed ever since (although very actively looking for work). That last job was the most toxic work environment I'd ever experienced - 16 people left while I was there and 3 more left after I did. The only reason I'm taking the time to share these things is because I've often wondered if my picking was stress related. I have become increasingly discouraged over my inability to find a job and my self-esteem is at an all time low. I'm often angry and I think I take it out on myself by picking. I don't eat my skin but I started saving it in a baggie a few months ago - especially the really large pieces. I have no idea why. For whatever reason, I think that the picking is a de-stressor. Or a form of self-mutilation because I'm so angry at myself. I'm really at a low point in my life right now. I used to see a therapist (although I never even thought to discuss my picking with her) but right now I can't afford to pay her - in fact, my unemployment doesn't even cover my bills. I noticed on a related link that there is on-line counselling available for "pickers" but it costs $185 for 45 minutes. A few months ago I realized that my sister had caught on to my picking, and I was mortified. I make sure I don't pick when she's around, but it takes a lot of discipline not to fall into that. Maybe I will never understand the reason why I pick my feet and maybe each of us has a different subconscious thought process that results in picking - but if anyone out there can share some words of wisdom, please do.
May 19, 2011

In reply to by addie

addie, I too am a foot picker. I'm 54 years old and I have been doing this off and on my whole life. I am also unemployed, and have been looking for work relentlessly. I hadn't picked my feet for over 10 years, and a week ago the compulsion started again. I pick my feet until they bleed and I am in so much pain, I can barely walk. I managed to keep this a secret my whole life, and I didn't think much about how dysfunctional this was until last night when I was sitting on my couch watching TV, and I couldn't stop picking my feet, even though it was causing me pain and I was bleeding all over the place. I had been up since 3:00 am yesterday morning and was exhausted, but I couldn't stop picking and finally was able to stop at 2:30 am to go to bed. I am so ashamed of what I am doing to myself. I know its related to my lack of self esteem, stress, and self loathing that has increased over the last 2 years of being unable to find work. I have also gained 40 pounds since I was laid off. When I look back at the worst times of my life, I realize those were the times my feet picking increased. I did it as a child when my dad was suddenly gone and my mom could barely feed us, so we had to share what little food we had between my 2 brothers and 2 sisters. My dad had been arrested for robbing a bank, I found out later, and I never saw him again. My mother was trying to spare us the shame, but it would've been better for us to know, than the stress of not knowing. Back then they didn't know what we know now about the psychology of children. Anyway, thats the first memory I have if picking my feet, I was 4 years old. The compulsion to self mutilate -via extreme feet picking- always occurred during times of extreme, or even not so extreme, negative life events. Divorce, my mom's early passing due to cancer, abuse endured by my second husband, ect. I thought it was behind me, an odd but fairly harmless compulsion, until a week ago. I realize now it was far from harmless and I was kidding myself, trying to ignore the distress signal it was sending. I think it is a combination of things that compels me to do this. It starts with a general sense of self hate, is propelled by life events in which my inward response is to blame my perceived flaws and worthlessness for the event, circumstance, or even other's behavior. It is, in my opinion, the outward sign of an inward self loathing. Why my feet? I think the fact that I have been cursed with perpetual calloused feet, and have always hated my feet (I even hate the way they look (my family would often lovingly call them "hillbilly feet"), made them the perfect target for my inner rage against myself. Who knows? I do know that what has helped me in the past was to keep the calloused skin shaved down with a foot razor you can buy at the drug store, but I have one if those in my drawer right now, and realize I purposely let my feet get bad in order to feed my compulsion. Self deception? I don't know how to stop this compulsion, but I do know it is fed by self loathing, and increased by life events, in or out of my control in which I blame myself for happening. I wish I knew how to love myself enough to stop.
May 20, 2011

In reply to by rbpicker

Dear rbpicker, thank you for your response - I identify with so much of your story. I am really sorry that you have been unemployed for two years! I hope we both can find work soon! My mom has bad feet and has regular appointments with her podiatrist to shave off callouses and corns. She doesn't pick though. After my freshman year in college, I had developed large, hard, thick callouses on the bottom of my feet (probably from walking miles around campus in clogs all year long!) After complaining about foot pain, my mom sent me to her podiatrist to have my callouses shaved off - I was fascinated by the whole process and remember that my feet felt much better after that appointment. Six months later, I remember trying to do the same thing myself with a single edge razor blade. I cut deep into the callouses without hurting myself - and then tried picking the thick, hard skin off with my fingers. I'll bet this is where it started. I also remember a childhood neighbor of mine who had athletes foot and would pick her feet every morning and evening. I thought that was so bizzare! Little did I know that I'd be doing the same thing twenty years later. I definitely identify with low self-esteem and self-hatred. They've been my constant companions most of my life. But it's weird to think that these are the reasons I pick, because when I'm doing it, I feel a sense of gratification. Yet I'm compelled to keep picking until there are no more places to pick - and often go way too deep, which results in blood and pain. Which, in reality, is self-mutilation - an arse-backward form of mutilation. What scares me is that I have spent many years in therapy, trying to "love myself" through religion, positive self-talk, AA meetings, therapists - and I still hate me, after all these years. I'm not sure I'll ever get to the root of the issue, and am very discouraged after so many attempts to get myself "together". You said you wish you knew how to love yourself enough to stop; I hope you find the avenue to make that happen. I often wonder if it's even possible to like myself. I've been trying for so long. Thanks again for your post.
May 03, 2011
I really like the house cat thing. That's exactly what goes on in my mind. Even though I know my friends will see what I've done and get mad I do it anyway. I can't help it.
May 04, 2011

In reply to by Sandbox458850

Me too it's hard for me to see the scabs there just waiting for me to pick at them or of I manage to pull away I still have the image of my scabs in my head and I think of where I need to pick next and then I fall into the need of having to pick and so I do.
May 04, 2011

In reply to by Sandbox458850

Yeah, I remember watching my cat at home one day and freaking out because she is ruining my carpet in the front room. I sat back down on the couch and my dad said "You know she just has to do it. She can't help it." From that point forward, I respected her for it because I know what that feels like. That's why I shared the metaphor of being a housecat.
May 04, 2011

In reply to by Sandbox458850

Same here. Mum growls me when I'm having a good session with my back, face and scalp, but I keep doing it over and over. Grrr. The amount of time I spend destroying myself creeps me out. I do it every spare second I have.
May 04, 2011
I have the same question? Why? I know better. I am "in control". I dont like the outcome.*********Has anybody ever thought about the genetic/ brain make-up component of this whole skin picking thing? I have a cousin who picks her face quite relentlessley and has as long as I can rememember. My sibling also does so but isnt as balls-to-the-wall needles and blood like I can be. I have read studies done on animals that "overgroom". Mice that had the mutant hoxb8 gene were overgroomers and that cats will compulsively overgroom in response to stress.

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