by Aneela Kumar, "trichster" & cofounder of HabitAware, a smart bracelet to help you become aware of your subconscious behavior (whether it be hair pulling, nail biting, skin picking, thumb-sucking or another). With awareness, you are able to gain control, retrain your brain and replace the behavior with a healthier one. (This article was originally featured on The Mighty.)
BFRBs are life-threatening. They won’t kill you — but they sure do make you feel like your life is over.
“What is a BFRB?”
BFRB stands for body-focused repetitive behavior. This is essentially an uncontrollable and subconscious action which causes damage to one’s body. Included in this group are trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking) and onychophagia (compulsive nail biting).
“Come on, those just sound like bad habits. They don’t sound life-threatening.”
Having a BFRB may not kill you in the physical sense, but people with BFRBs who don’t get help can feel like they’re dying inside. I know because I live with a BFRB — I’ve had trichotillomania since my early teens.
In my early 20s my trich was at an all time high after being cheated on and dumped. My heart was broken — and I was taken back to when I first started pulling as a 12-year-old child watching my father wither away from leukemia. My only consolation was pulling out every eyelash and eyebrow hair I had. It somehow eased the pain, but with it came more reasons to shut out the world. I thought I was ugly and undeserving.
So yeah, I can absolutely attest to the fact that having a BFRB is life-threatening. The baldness and scars are permanent reminders that not only feed our internal guilt and eat at our self-esteem, but also gives bullies a reason to have their fun. All of which make it feel like life is over.
Growing up pulling out eyebrows and eyelashes meant constantly worrying my makeup would wipe or wash away. I hid my pulling from everyone I knew, including my parents. I still remember this one time my dad pulled up to a friend’s house to drop me off at her birthday pool party. I got last-minute jitters and ducked down in the backseat, begging him to take me home — I didn’t want to be caught.
The stress my BFRB caused me, the physical marks it left and the mental anguish of going outside “looking like that” all make daily living a chore. The compulsive pulling, picking or biting is trance-like. We aren’t able to live and enjoy life because our time is spent locked in a bathroom fixing a wig or makeup to cover it up. If not locked in a bathroom, we are locked in our own heads — trying to convince ourselves no one will notice and that we should just go out to that party we were invited to — only to finally give in to our BFRB and sit at home. And so we miss out on life’s key moments with friends and family, losing out on the opportunity to share joy and just live.
It’s hard when we feel like no one understands the struggle we endure. When people don’t understand why we can’t “just stop” engaging in our hair-pulling, skin-picking or nail-biting behavior, they:
- Judge us.
- Stare at us.
- Whisper about us.
- Laugh at us.
All this isolates us from the world and strengthens the narrative in our minds that there is something wrong with us and we are worthless.
“But what can I do about that?”
For those who don’t even know why they are engaging in these “weird” body-focused repetitive behaviors, for those whose lives are being threatened by this disorder, for the ones who are dying inside, I want them to know there is a small bit of hope for a better life. And that bit of hope lies within you, dear reader. Yes, you have the power to save a BFRBer’s life with just a few small simple actions:
- Show some love to someone at school or work you think may be struggling with a BFRB with a warm hug or an invite to hang out.
- Share this article so you can help someone who is hiding their suffering realize they are not alone.
- Donate to TLC Foundation for BFRBs (bfrb.org), the only American non-profit dedicated to funding research for a cure and supporting the BFRB community.
HabitAware's smart bracelet, Keen, helps you become aware of your subconscious behavior (whether it be hair pulling, nail biting, skin picking, thumb-sucking or another). With awareness, you are able to gain control, retrain your brain and replace the behavior with a healthier one. Check out habitaware.com for more info & to order, or email Aneela@habitaware.com with questions.