My coaching clients often tell me this, “it’s like you’re reading my mind”. Not because I’m magic (or am I? ;-) but because there are certain patterns of addictive thinking common to behavioral addictions like chronic skin picking or hair pulling, as well as substance abuse addictions. Recognizing these thoughts and learning to not fall for them over and over again is key to succeeding at breaking out of the picking cycle.
The top thought that gets you picking seems to be universal. I have NEVER met a skin picker who doesn’t have this thought all the time: “Just this one.” Or some close variation: “I’ll just do a little bit.” “I can just get this here and that’s all.” “I’m in control, so I can do this.”
You have to recognize these in the moment as lies. Sure, occasionally you may have the self-control to do just one isolated pick and be done with it, but you can not rely on that, because for every time you succeed with that, there are many more other times you fall into much more picking than you had planned on doing.
You have to recognize that you have no control in this way. This is why the first step in 12-step programs includes acknowledging that you are powerless over the addiction and that your actions are driven by the addiction and not your choice.
I believe that the reason you fall for this thinking over and over again is that you have no other thought in your head at the time, or you don’t have the awareness that you are thinking. When the only thought you have is getting you to pick, you have no choice. So you need another thought. If you can be aware enough to recognize “oh there’s that troublemaking thought again. It is not to be believed,” that itself might do the trick, or you can follow it up with a thought that will lead you AWAY from picking.
What kind of thought will do this? Here are some examples for you to experiment with:
“It’s just a bump. I don’t need to.” – I still use this.
“Leave it alone.” – be sure you say this to yourself in a gentle way, not as a mean bully.
“Let it be.” – can be soothing
“I can leave it alone.” – your “can” language is giving you power
“Let me stand up.” – if you’re leaning into a mirror
“Let me look away.”
“Let’s just take these hands away.”
“I can take my hand away.”
“That’s a lie. Let me get on with ____ instead.” – whatever you were doing or planning to do.
Notice how all of these thoughts take you in a direction away from picking, whereas the original “just this one” thought is sneaky and tricks you, leading you into picking, again.
Those are a lot of options. I suggest you choose the one new thought that appeals to you the most that you think will work for you. But the work doesn’t end there, because think how many thousands of times you have had those same sneaky thoughts? You can’t expect to read this article, decide on a new thought and be “cured”. You have to practice and not get discouraged. I suggest you drill yourself daily, as in “when I catch myself thinking _, I immediately add the thought _”. Visualize the situation and you adding the new thought and refraining from picking. Say the new phrase to yourself all day so you remember it when you need to. Post it around you in places where you’ll see it and be reminded.
Don’t get discouraged. Think progress, not perfection.
Do you find any other self-talk thoughts helpful? Please share in the comments.
Love and support,
p.s. Here’s another post (with videos!) on other thoughts that get you to pick and how to change them.