The other day I was incredibly anxious. It had been a very long day, I was working on something that was due in two days, and I was unsure of how certain situations would play-out during the rest of the week.
I went to take a shower to calm down. Twenty-five minutes after that, I was staring at myself in the mirror; I had finally realized that I was picking at my face, and had been for the last twenty-five minutes.
The name for this kind of behavior, when it becomes more than just a bad habit, is Body Focused Repetitive Behavior (BFRB). I note the point “when it becomes more than just a bad habit” because, to some extent, it is normal to pick at certain parts of your body. Nail biting, skin picking, chewing on the inside of your mouth – these are all normalized as nervous habits.
These bad habits become BFRBs when they are chronic, cause damage, and have seen no decrease in frequency despite honest attempts.
The first BFRB that became a problem for me was pulling out my hair, or Trichotillomania. I would absently pull out hair from my head when I was partaking in activities that didn’t involve the use of both of my hands. I left hair wherever I was. I tried and retried to change this behavior; I put hats on to cover my hair, I wore gloves, I brought a Tangle with me wherever I went. Nothing helped. While cutting my hair was more of a personal choice than a BFRB choice, I did eventually cut my hair very short. It helped; I no longer had hair to pull out.
Without hair, I started casually focusing on my skin. It was only noticeable sometimes, when absent picking turned into absent scratching. Seeing as how my focus was my face, the scratching was more prominent.
While going through treatment for my ED, I learned how to maintain mindfulness when engaging in all activities. The mindfulness training allowed me to be aware of when I started to engage in BFRB. I now only find myself engaging in BFRB when I am so anxious or dissociate that I become absent.
BFRB is not a self-harm behavior, it is classified separately. It is an absent and unfocused. There seems to be a certain amount of genetic, and biological, predisposition to this behavior.
The point of this is that people with unusual behavior exist. The point is, there is no perfect person. Having to recount behaviors is hard, but there is value in the awareness and understanding that come from it.
The more generalized point is you can never know why a person acts the way they do. They may have a behavioral issue, they may have a disorder, they may just be having a hard time. There is so much that we do not know about other people. Stay kind.
More information on BFRB can be found here.