Do you pick, pull or bite? Let’s talk about BFRBs

A friend of mine gave me the chance to discuss something that affects so many of us without our knowledge. BRFBs or Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours can affect many of us who suffer from anxiety. So what do they feel like, and what can we do to overcome them? Who better to help us than someone who has been dealing with BRFBs for since her early teens! So let’s find out more…

Thanks for joining me today! Can you tell me briefly what BFRBs are and how we can identify them?

BFRBs (Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours) are typically characterised by repetitive and compulsive self grooming behaviours which can damage the body. These can include Trichotillomania (hair pulling from the scalp, eyebrows or eyelashes), Dermatillomania (skin picking) and Dermatophagia (skin biting) amongst others. Did you know they affect about 1 in 20 people?

That’s a lot more than I thought! And if readers could learn one thing about BFRBs today, what would it be?

That they aren’t “just a habit”, and how hurtful it can be when someone says that to you. Please don’t minimise or dismiss the complex behavioural disorder which can cause pain, embarrassment and mental turmoil for the individual.

It’s often mistaken for a form of self-harm, but that isn’t the case. For those with BFRBs, the behaviour relieves tension, anxiety or stress and can be done with little awareness that you are even engaging in them. They are not intentional self injuring and often after an episode of the behaviour you feel dismay at the damage which has been done.

That must feel upsetting…

It can feel embarrassing, confusing, frustrating, frightening, lonely and out of control. BUT there are things that can be done to help support you on your journey of understanding your BRFB. You can seek therapy like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or Habit Reversal Training (HRT) both of which can help to reduce the behaviours, but for many a BFRB is a lifelong condition and having day to day self-help strategies can really help too.

Can you tell us more about some daily strategies to manage repetitive behaviours?

  • I like fidget items such as the Pop N Flip from The Works, or Adaptapals from Typo; there are all sorts out there to choose from that work for you. If I don’t have anything around, it can help to fight the urge by squeezing my hands into fists, then counting up to 50.
  • Physical barriers can also be helpful. I use eco-friendly plasters from Patch on my fingers, some people use cotton gloves to avoid picking. For those with Trich (Trichotillomania) may use a hair system, hats, or even have a (really cool) shaved hairstyle.
  • Mindfulness can be particularly hard for the anxious minds of those with a BFRB, but meditation through Headspace or a Yoga class can help to release stress, including about your BFRB. I also recommend the book Overcoming Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours by Charles Mansueto for further guidance.
  • There is also a lovely and welcoming BFRB community who you can connect with, and they can support you on your journey of understanding your BFRB and loving yourself. Your local support group will be listed on the foundation’s website – www.bfrb.org. They also host conferences that can provide support too – mostly online following Covid19 restrictions!

Related reading: Top Tips for Practicing Mindfulness

What advice would you give to those who want support from their family and friends?

I would say to sit down and talk to them about what you would like them to do when they notice that you are engaging in the behaviour. Frustrated family members might slap your hand away from your mouth, hair or skin to try and prevent you from picking or biting but that can feel threatening, uncomfortable and like a punishment.

I find a gentle word or passing me one of my fidget devices to redirect the impulse is the most useful, and it gives my loved ones a sense of empowerment that they are being helpful without upsetting me, which is a win-win as upset can trigger more of the behaviour!

Thank you for joining me today and sharing your thoughts and experience!

Thank you for having me! And remember, if you need more information and support, visit www.bfrb.org

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