National Hypnotherapy Society | Body Picking - how Hypnotherapy can…

Have you ever found yourself picking at the skin around your nails, digging at imperfections on your skin, or picking painfully at your bottom lip? In a moment of boredom or stress, many people may find themselves overdoing grooming behaviours to the point where they’re left with a sharp sting and a pang of regret. For some people, however, this behaviour can become a repetitive, compelling, and harmful behaviour by the name of dermatillomania, or the hair-pulling cousin of this disorder, trichotillomania.

What is dermatillomania?

This disorder is also known as skin picking or excoriation disorder and is a body-focused repetitive behaviour that is related to obsessive-compulsive disorder. This disorder, as the names suggest, is characterised by a repetitive and compelling act of picking or rubbing at your skin. Commonly affected areas are fingers, faces and legs. The compulsive behaviour can result in significant damage to the affected areas, leading to scarring and discomfort.

Picking is often a reaction to stress. It can be triggered by feelings of pressure, stress, and when someone does not have control over a situation or aspect of their lives. Furthermore, engaging in picking can also come with feelings of shame, guilt, and frustration that can exacerbate the disorder in a vicious cycle. While some will use their teeth or fingers to pick, some will also use tools such as tweezers or nail clippers and inflict lasting damage.

While picking disorders can be rooted in childhood experiences or behaviours, they can become increasingly problematic with age. Ascension into adulthood comes with increasing stressors and responsibilities, such as employment, bills, and starting a family. This can cause people with skin- or hair-picking disorders to lean more heavily on coping mechanisms that they used as a child.

Managing picking disorders

Those that live with picking disorders may find tricks and tactics to stave off impulsive behaviours. Below is a list of common ways that people use for temporary relief from picking disorders while you are searching for a more permanent solution:

  • Wear gloves or long legwear so that the vulnerable areas are harder to see and reach.
  • Coat your nails in a foul-tasting varnish to discourage biting the affected areas.
  • Keep your nails short so skin is harder to pick.
  • Keep any picking tools in a hard-to-reach place.
  • Use fidget toys or similar devices to keep your hands busy and redirect attention.
  • Moisturiser can keep skin soft, reducing the amount of dry or flaky skin.
  • Keep the affected areas clean and dry to avoid infection.
  • Use mindfulness and breathing techniques.
  • Identify and reduce your exposure to any triggers.

A similarity that all of these methods have is that they can provide short-term relief or distraction, however, they do not fix the problem. While the end result of picking may be delayed or harder to reach, the compulsion and habit remains. To tackle the source of the problem and weaken our dependence on the compulsive behaviour, hypnotherapy can be a promising solution.

How can hypnotherapy help?

Hypnotherapy can help with picking disorders in different ways. It can help to disrupt the compulsive behaviour, and it can also be used to address the source of the compulsive behaviour so that it loses power as a coping mechanism altogether. Hypnotherapy can also allow you to adopt new, healthier ways of coping with stress so that you aren’t left without a way to manage your feelings going through the challenges of life.

Hypnotherapy can help you to identify your triggers. It may be feeling stressed, social situations, or before you go to sleep when you’re reflecting on the day. You may have developed the response to a trigger as a habit over time, or there may be a specific incident that planted the habit within your subconscious as a way to cope. Your hypnotherapist can help you to identify what the cause may be, with some approaches focused on identifying the root cause and allowing you to address it under hypnosis from a position of safety and understanding. The theory behind these approaches is that if the cause of a picking disorder is found and reconciled, then the resulting habitual behaviours will begin to lose their power over time.

Another approach that you may take with your hypnotherapist is to focus more on the here and now. If your habit has resurfaced during a time of stress, or you are feeling stuck in a cycle of shame and discomfort, then hypnotherapy can be used to interrupt that cycle. Some who suffer from picking disorders may benefit from finding new ways to deal with unavoidable stressors in their lives, redirecting their comfort from picking into comfort from walking, running, knitting, drawing, or anything that brings them joy. The comfort of picking comes with changing your focus onto something other than the situation and having control over something. Your mind and hands are engrossed in something to take you away from what is stressing you out. Under hypnosis, you can learn to shift your nervous attention onto something that doesn’t cause harm and further distress, weakening the neural pathways in your brain linking picking to relief and instead towards something different.

Hypnotherapy can also be used to build up your confidence and self-esteem so that you can feel more able to cope with situations and stressors that would normally trigger your stress response. You can learn to take comfort within yourself and learn how to regain control in situations so that your stress is less likely to reach the point where you need to pick in the first place.

There are lots of ways that hypnotherapy can help you to gain control of your picking disorder, gain some confidence and gain new ways to healthily manage the unavoidable stress that comes with life. There are lots of hypnotherapists that will be happy to help you on your journey towards better health. If this sounds like the right path for you, take a look in our register of accredited hypnotherapists to find someone who can get you started and give you all the tools you need for success.