When you struggle with an anxiety disorder, it can manifest itself in many different ways — both mental and physical. Some people get panic attacks, others experience weird aches and pains. And some people obsessively pick at their skin, chipping away at scabs, blemishes, and any mark they can find.
This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill plucking a stray eyebrow hair or popping a zit, though. Dermatillomania, more commonly known as skin picking disorder, is an anxiety-based disorder. Similar to obsessive compulsive disorder, skin pickers might pick at their skin so often, they sometimes don’t even realize they’re doing it.
Those who struggle with skin picking disorder may only pick at one part of their body (say, their face, scalp, or cuticles) but many sufferers pick all over, or also bite their skin (known as excoriation disorder), too. It’s estimated that 2-5% of the population struggles with skin picking disorder, so here’s what chronic skin-pickers want you to know about the disorder.
11. Yes, we know it’s gross.
When you struggle with skin picking disorder, you’re probably used to seeing cuts, scabs, and wounds all over your body in all kinds of strange places. But those around you may wonder what the hell is going on or comment on how gross it looks. Here’s the thing: We know it’s disgusting, but the anxiety of people seeing how we’ve mutilated our skin drives us to pick even more. It’s a vicious, unending cycle of embarrassment and shame about the picking, because we realize how gross it is, which causes us to pick even more.
Please be kind and don’t make judgmental comments. In fact, please just ignore it, even if it totally grosses you out.
2Yes, it hurts.
Skin pickers often pick past the point of pain, frequently causing bleeding, bruising, scarring, or sores where they’ve repeatedly picked. Of course it’s painful! We’re mutilating our bodies, and it can absolutely cause real damage to our skin, not to mention opening us up to potential infection. We are well aware. Pointing this out will only make us feel worse about it.
3But it feels really good, too.
That said, even though skin picking often causes the sufferer pain, most continue to do it because of the immense relief (and even pleasure) it provides. There’s a reason why millions of people watch pimple-popping videos online — there’s a real psychological satisfaction that comes with trying to get rid of a pimple, open wound, or scab on your body. We can’t really explain it, but it just feels good sometimes.
4We often don’t even realize we’re doing it.
When you suffer with this disorder, there’s a good chance you pick so often, you don’t even realize you’re doing it. Maybe you’re stressed out about something going on in your life, or are in an anxiety-inducing situation like a job interview or doctor’s appointment that would make even the calmest person anxious. Skin picking can be an automatic, instinctual response to anxiety or other stressors, and it can be hard to even notice that it’s happening until you’re covered in flakes of your own skin or starting to bleed. Once you start, it can be downright impossible to stop.
6Treatment is harder than you’d think.
Annoyingly enough, it’s very hard to treat skin picking disorder because, much like anxiety disorders, there’s no real cure. Talking with a doctor or therapist is your best course of action, but treatment is a slow and steady process that often leads to relapse. Sufferers can work with a therapist and try methods like cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) or habit reversal training, but there’s no magic switch, and sufferers rarely wake up one morning and suddenly never pick again.
The worst part about skin picking disorder? For many people, it’s an effective tool to soothe anxiety, especially in an acute situation. We continue to do it because it works, and it makes us feel better in the heat of the moment. It’s a great distraction from worry and stress, allowing us to focus on picking instead of an unpleasant situation happening in our brains at the moment.
6We can’t just stop.
Please don’t ask why we can’t just stop skin picking — or worse, tell us to stop — we are already embarrassed and ashamed of the way our disorder manifests itself. We likely do everything we can to try and hide it, minimize it, or downplay it. Please just remember that if you see us picking, that there’s likely a flood of emotions going on in our brains, and skin picking is merely the best way we know how to handle it. Instead, try asking us if we need to talk, or offering up a hug. You never know what a person might be going through.
If you’re struggling with dermatillomania, please reach out to your doctor or therapist, who can provide you with options for treatment. And if you think someone you love is struggling, please don’t tease or ridicule them about any marks on their bodies. It’s not just a bad habit or a weird quirk, and we don’t want to have to hide in shame.