What Is Hair Pulling Disorder And How Can It Affect Your Life?
By: Danni Peck
Updated March 19, 2020
Medically Reviewed By: Whitney White, MS. CMHC, NCC., LPC
If you suffer from hair pulling disorder, you already know that it affects your life greatly, by making it difficult for you to interact with others or go about your normal day with confidence, but if you've never even heard of it before it can be difficult to understand. Trichotillomania, or hair pulling disorder, is a disorder where the individual is unable to resist the impulse to pull their hair to the point where they pull out their hair.
What Is Hair Pulling Disorder?
Trichotillomania is the compulsive pulling of one's hair. These individuals are not able to resist the overwhelming impulse that strikes them to pull their hair, even though they want to. Someone with this disorder will try to stop on their many times, but the compulsions and impulses are too strong to ignore. It's estimated that less than 2% of adolescents and adults suffer from this disorder, which is why many people don't even know that it exists until they experience it firsthand.
Though it is focused on pulling out the hair on the scalp, eyebrows or eyelids, compulsive pulling of any body hair could be considered trichotillomania as well. It's important to watch for the signs and symptoms of this disorder because it can cause a lot of stress and problems in the individual's life if it is left untreated for too long. That's because the hair pulling can result in baldness, which increases the shame and guilt that the individual feels when they engage in the compulsion. For younger sufferers, this can be even more dangerous.they engage in the compulsion. For younger sufferers, this can be even more dangerous.
The Symptoms Of Hair Pulling Disorder
The first sign of hair pulling is the actual hair pulling and potential bald patches or hair loss that come with it. Someone suffering from this disorder will go to great lengths to try and hide their actions because they feel guilt or shame from doing it. They may also feel embarrassed about the loss of hair and therefore will do whatever they can to try and cover up what they have been doing so no one will find out.
The individual will feel a sense of tension or overwhelming anxiety right before they engage in the behavior, which will typically get stronger and stronger the longer they try to resist the impulse. As soon as they pull the hair, they will feel a sense of gratification or even a sense of pleasure that helps them overcome the shame and guilt temporarily, though it comes back after the fact, along with the impulse to pull their hair again.
Other behaviors that use hair may also be common with an individual suffering from this disorder. They may play with their hair after they pull it out, eat it, examine it, chew on it or any number of other activities that relate to their hair. By watching for any of these types of behaviors, it's possible to get someone with this disorder the help that they need to overcome and work through it. Otherwise, the shame and the guilt of it can lead to even more problems as the individual continues the actions themselves.
Who Has Hair Pulling Disorder?
While anyone can get this disorder, it's common for it to run in families, which means if someone in your immediate family has the disorder you may have a higher likelihood of developing it yourself. This is important because you'll be able to recognize the signs much faster than someone who has never seen anyone with the disorder before. You'll also know that you should be watching for signs and symptoms because you have a higher likelihood than the average person.
Next, those with obsessive-compulsive disorder may experience trichotillomania as a manifestation of the symptoms. Because it's considered an impulse control disorder, it can be tied to the anxiety that may occur with this disorder or even with other disorders related to impulse control. If you have other disorders like this, it's possible that they could occur together, and you may want to look for side effects or symptoms that may occur together. It's important to watch for symptoms that don't fit with other disorders you've been diagnosed with, so you can be fully diagnosed or diagnosed properly.
Finally, those with high amounts of anxiety may be susceptible to this disorder because it's considered a stress reliever for those suffering from it. Because the anxiety builds up so much in the body, the individual feels that they must do something to relieve the stress. For those with trichotillomania, pulling the hair serves as a way to release that tension and relieve stress. The important thing is trying to find a more positive and productive way to relieve the stress and work on overcoming the anxiety that leads to this disorder in the first place.
Getting Help For Hair Pulling Disorder
What should you do if you or someone you know has this disorder? You should talk with your medical doctor and a therapist. Seeking a medical opinion first can help you make sure that the symptoms you're experiencing aren't the result of an underlying medical condition or side effect of medication you're taking. If there is no underlying medical condition, your doctor may prescribe medication to help with impulse control.
Because this is considered a type of impulse control disorder or an obsessive-compulsive disorder, it's extremely difficult, if not impossible to overcome by yourself. It is likely that you've tried to stop this behavior on your own with no success for this reason. With professional assistance recovery is definitely possible.
Now, if you're like most people, the idea of searching through your local options seems daunting. You don't even know if any of them are going to be right for you or if you're going to feel comfortable with them. You may not want to visit a therapist's local office due to fear of others knowing you're in treatment or the stigma associated with it. Maybe you're busy and don't know that you'll have the time to make and keep appointments like that between work and other obligations. This is where online therapy can be very helpful.
BetterHelp is an online therapy platform that has thousands of licensed professional therapists available for you to select from. You can attend sessions via phone, video, or text chat on your favorite device. A therapist can help you develop new coping mechanisms for stress and tension and finding new problem-solving methods. By working through these things with a professional, it's possible end the behavior and create long-lasting changes that improve your life in many aspects.
If you're looking to get some help with trichotillomania or other problems, BetterHelp is a great way to go about it. You'll find that there are plenty of options for therapists, different treatment approaches, and the support you need.