I believe the path to hair pulling and skin picking recovery includes the following steps:
1) Learn to accept & love yourself whether you’re pulling or not If you withhold self-acceptance until you have complete recovery you create a battle ground within yourself. (Read Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach.) This is NOT the same as giving up, or accepting the pulling will never change. This is accepting yourself, regardless of whether you are still pulling or picking; not making your self love conditional.
2) Keep a calendar and rate each day from 0 to 10, 0 being 0 pulling or picking, 10 being your worst day. This will be your “scale” so that you can see improvement, even if you can’t see it on your head, face or body. If one month has 9s, 8s and 7s, and the next has 8s, 6s and 4s, you may not see a physical change yet, but you are on your way. This helps when you have a bad day. My blog at HelpForHairPullers.blogspot.com will expand on this.
3) People always ask, Is there a substitute for pulling or picking? Something I can do with my hands? I say, the real substitute is something you do with your MIND. If you usually go go go all day, and then suddenly sit down to watch a movie, get on the computer, read, and find yourself pulling or picking, then pulling is aiding you in the transition from doing to not-doing. Instead of trying to fight the pulling, you want to adopt a nightly ritual that will help the body release stress Before you sit down to read, watch TV, et al. I suggest before you sit down with a book or TV, SIT for FIVE minutes and either do a relaxation exercise (inhale relaxation, exhale stress, tension & tightness) or do a mindfulness meditation for five minutes. Your mind & body then get a chance to make the transition into a state of relaxation. Your urges will begin to lessen as you do this since you’ve already addressed one of the reasons you have urges.
4) Bring awareness to your conscious mind: I once worked with a 60-ish woman who had a severe cuticle picking problem. It was so bad her hands were bloody and nicked, and she was deeply ashamed. I asked her if she did this all day or at specific times. Oh it’s always the same, she said. I sit down at 5pm for an hour before my husband comes home and read the paper and have a glass of wine. That’s when I pull. So I asked her, Do you think about it before you sit down? Do you bring to mind the fact that this a dangerous time for you? She said she did not. “I guess I don’t want to think about it because I’m always hoping that I won’t do it.” When I asked her if there was ever a time in the past 35 years that she didn’t pick, she said no. I explained that what she called “hope,” I called denial. I urged her to simply acknowledge to herself before she sat down that this was a danger time for her, and it was important to be aware. This often is not always enough to make a change, but for this woman, acknowledging to herself before hand that this was a dangerous time for her allowed her to stop picking entirely. For other people it is one small piece in the bigger puzzle of trich and CSP recovery.
5) Until you understand & accept that recovery is a gradual process, you are unlikely to be able to recover long term. Pullers and pickers often proudly tell me they are perfectionists. Here’s the problem. If you are perfectionist, you are, by definition, a failure. Humans are not perfect, cannot be. So if you set a standard for yourself that is unattainable, you will always feel bad about yourself. The reason I suggest using a daily number (#2 above) is because recovery is generally a two steps forward, one step back kind of thing. The reason it’s so tough to recover from these disorders is that it’s quite common to have a “bad day” after having several good ones. And it’s just as common to think to yourself, “Oh boy, I ruined everything. Here I was doing well, and now I’ve messed it up. I guess I’ll NEVER recover, so I MIGHT AS WELL JUST PULL (or pick). That voice–the one that tells you that you’ll “never” recover? That’s the trich or CSP addiction talking. Think about it. If you tell yourself that you’ll “never recover,” you’re free to pull or pick! If you are a perfectionist about this, you are saying that either you suddenly stop and stay stopped 100% or you are a failure. Since that’s unlikely to happen, you in fact have now made it impossible to recover. What if, in order to get to zero, you have to achieve less and less pulling first? You might say, I did so well for three weeks, and I “ruined” everything all in one day. NOPE, not true, that’s impossible in fact. If you pulled very little or none for three weeks, and had one bad day, that means 21 of 22 days were good or even great. This is a huge improvement. And yes, I understand that you pulled out a bunch of hair and picked a bunch of skin. However, you didn’t “ruin” your progress. The more days you have where you pull less, the faster overall you’ll grow back your hair or heal up your skin.
6) Change your short-term goal. If your goal is to have your hair back or to have your skin clear, that’s always six months in the future. Your short term goal must be to feel good about yourself for improving and to validate yourself for any gains made, including gains made in awareness and self-talk, as opposed to lessening of the behavior. If you often say, I was so “good” for a while; now I’ve “messed” things up again. I have so little hair, or my skin is so messed up, “what’s the point” in trying to stop now. I look terrible anyway (and I’ll probably just pull or pick tomorrow). Here’s the POINT: You will feel better about yourself later if you pull even a little bit less right now. And if you don’t, you can learn to celebrate small victories. You have to admit you will probably feel bad if you continue to pick or to pull. So at the very least you are avoiding that. The POINT is, recovery is gradual. The hair and the clear skin come later: the small steps happen now. The POINT is, taking any step, however small, is a step toward recovery. This is a great point! The POINT is, Hey, even though I tried to tell myself that my hair is so messed up I might as well pull, I did NOT pull. Each day that goes on, and that you pull a little less, is another day that you can remind yourself, hey, I’m doing this. I’m making small steps these will add up. Good for ME! And every day you are able to pull or pick the smallest bit less, you are closer to the long term goals around hair or skin.
Changing the way you look at this so you understand it is not your fault that you have trich (but like any other disorder you could have, it’s your responsibility to yourself to address it), encouraging and supporting yourself as you recover, becoming more mindful, taking five minutes before those transition times to relax your body and mind, keeping track of the days with a single number (so you can look back and see that, hey, overall the numbers are getting lower), and accepting yourself no matter what, these are all important pieces on the path to recovery. Everyone can get there. Congratulations. You are on the path.