I can't stop pulling my hair out! 3 ways to reduce the urge

“It makes me want to pull my hair out!” Have you ever said this when you’re angry, upset or frustrated? Some people do this literally and can’t stop. It’s called trichotillomania.


What is trichotillomania?

Trichotillomania, or trich, for short, is the name for a compulsive hair pulling habit. Sufferers pull hair from their head, eyebrows or eyelashes or more rarely from other areas of the body. Men can pull their beards.

The habit often starts when young and affects an estimated 2- 5% of the population, women make up 90% of the sufferers. In comparison, nail-biting another BFRB (body-focused repetitive behaviour) touches up to 30% of the population.

Many suffer trichotillomania in silence, sometimes not knowing that it has a name or that others experience this too. It can leave you feeling alone, isolated, ashamed and wondering what is wrong with you. Families feel helpless when the habit takes hold of a loved one.

The pulling cycle 

There is more to this habit than simply pulling.

A certain tension can build up beforehand, some sufferers talk of a tingly sensation on the scalp associated with an irresistible urge to pull.

The pulling relieves this tension, sometimes mingled with a certain pleasure that the painful pulling feeling procures. The pulled hair is either simply discarded or you can indulge in certain ritualistic behaviours, for example touching, playing with or observing the hair. In some rare cases, sufferers eat the hair - trichophagia.

There’s a certain relief and release for a while as well as a feeling of dismay and self-loathing at the damage done before the urge starts again and the cycle repeats itself.

Focused or unfocused pulling

Focused hairpulling is done consciously, with a concentrated search for a certain type of hair (a certain length or colour or feeling) which when found gives a certain satisfaction. This may be done in front of a mirror or with a pair of tweezers.

Unfocused hair pulling is done when you're unaware - almost as if you’re in a trance - while watching tv or engrossed in a book or driving on a familiar route. When you snap back to reality you realise the damage you’ve done.

The emotional impact of trichotillomania 

The bald patches, patchy eyebrows and missing eyelashes that are the result of pulling can have a devastating effect on your self-confidence. You feel that you have no control over yourself or your urges and hate yourself for it.

You may avoid social situations as they increase feelings of anxiety, fear, shame, self-consciousness and embarrassment. 

You may limit your life and any opportunities, perhaps stopping doing things or not even starting them as you worry about what people will say or think. 

Relationships can suffer as you attempt to hide your habit from loved ones or they don’t understand how you can’t just stop

A lot of time, energy and money can be spent covering up or trying to repair the damage.

When you strategically interact with yourself and change your inner reality, you change your outer behaviour. 

Three steps to stop hair pulling

Here are 3 strategies that you can put in place today to reduce your urge to pull

1. Breathe

By practising simple breathing exercises several times a day you can gain a certain calm and inner stillness releasing the hold anxiousness, worry and stress can have over you.

When you take a few conscious breaths, you become calmer, muscles relax, your mind slows down and you can reset yourself and your energy.

Here’s how:

Sit comfortably, relax your shoulders, soften your face, unclench your jaw and with your eyes gently closed and your hands by your side or on your thighs, focus on your breath, observe and then gently lengthen the out-breath. 

You can accompany the out-breath with a word that gives you a feeling of peace: 'relax', 'release', 'let go' are examples

Trichotillomania thrives on stress, decide to thrive on calm.

2. Plan to keep your hands busy

If you tend to pull when you’re bored, keep yourself busy. Programme your day so that there are no blank spaces. Take up a practical skill, knitting, crochet, embroidery, painting, cooking etc. anything that keeps your hands creatively occupied and offers you a sense of achievement and boosts your self-confidence. Practise a sport, walk, jog, sing…you are so much more than a habit!

Trichotillomania thrives on boredom, decide to thrive on action.

Illustration of woman with head in hands3. Speak to yourself with love

All too often we use negative, harsh, unkind words when we speak to ourselves. Words that lower our self-esteem. Why? Stop when you catch yourself doing this! It won’t help you in any way.

Use words that make you feel good, positive and happy about yourself. Say them often, repeat them and believe in them. Write them down, have them with you always. This is an example you might like:

"I’m a lovable, beautiful, vibrant person with lots to offer the world."

Words touch your feelings and change your behaviour.

Trichotillomania thrives on self-sabotaging thoughts, decide to thrive on self-love

I became interested in this condition for two reasons.

Firstly through working with several trichotillomania clients, I deep-dived into how it can be successfully managed or treated using cognitive-behavioural hypnotherapy.

And also because I used to have a BFRB (body-focused repetitive behaviour) habit myself, not hair pulling but skin picking - dermatillomania. This experience let me understand firsthand how a habit can become obsessive, guilt and pleasure intertwined and difficult but not impossible to stop. 

How can cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy help you stop pulling?

The deep, relaxed, focused mindset that hypnosis offers, lets you accept suggestions, explore feelings and imagine new behaviours and outcomes in the peaceful realms of your imagination. When you strategically interact with yourself and change your inner reality, you change your outer behaviour. 

You discover that you can swap out unhelpful thoughts and feelings, stop or manage unwanted behaviour and urges and create a different reality for yourself.

When I work with clients, I use hypnosis and a range of cognitive behavioural, relaxation and mindfulness techniques so that you learn skills and techniques to:

  • Release stress and anxiety deeply and completely both physically and mentally.
  • Accept yourself as you are now and learn to keep your focus in the present moment.
  • Gain confidence and self-esteem that breaks the cycle of negativity and bolsters your self-belief. 
  • Identify and stop self-sabotaging thoughts and increase the presence and power of life-affirming positive thoughts.
  • Understand your habit as an external observer and put effective strategies in place that disrupt and destroy its hold.
  • Keep strategies to hand if you suffer a relapse.

If you’re ready and willing to put in the work and the time, working together with a CB hypnotherapist can at last release you from the overwhelming effects of this habit.

Some people stop the habit completely, for others there will still be periods of relapse that you can learn to manage and so reduce the negative effects. 

Just imagine how life could be if trichotillomania was no longer disrupting it! 

Hypnotherapy Directory is not responsible for the articles published by members. The views expressed are those of the member who wrote the article.

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Teddington, Middlesex, TW11
Written by Morag Stevenson, Cognitive Behavioural Hypnotherapist
Teddington, Middlesex, TW11

Morag Stevenson is a cognitive behavioural hypnotherapist who specialises in helping people overcome and manage stress and anxiety. She's particularly interested in helping businesswomen feel more confident. She also specialises in helping people overcome trichotillomania and other BFRB's. She works using Cognitive behavioural hypnotherapy.

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