This post is a reflection on some things I’ve learned from my first two years of coaching individuals to break free from the compulsive cycle of destructive skin picking. I feel like I have a good sense now of who will succeed when I am working with people.
Here are seven possible answers to the question, “Why can’t I stop?”:
First of all, let’s throw out the word “can’t”. I don’t believe you “can’t” just because you “haven’t been able to yet”. And neither should you.
Why haven’t you been able to stop picking yet?:
1) Has anyone taught you how? Or are you relying on willpower alone? Or has someone shown you one technique that you gave up on because it just didn’t seem to work? This is a complex problem that requires a multi-faceted approach and a lot of how-to. It may require an outside eye to figure out what strategies are likely to be helpful for you. And it may require applying a lot of strategies, techniques and lifestyle changes together.
It is helpful to view skin picking as an addiction that does not respond to willpower. (Sure, sometimes it may temporarily, but never reliably over the long-term.) You won’t be any more successful at trying not to pick than an alcoholic will at trying not to drink. You need to recognize you are powerless in view of a mirror, for example, or with your fingers uncovered. For a period of time you are going to have to view those situations as something to be avoided. Cover the mirror, dim the lights, bandage up your fingertips.
2) Are you ready?
You may really want to stop yet not be ready. Ready means you’ll do what it takes. It also may mean not having more pressing things going on in your life, to the point that you are not able to make a commitment to stopping. Because it takes commitment and work. It takes being willing to do what it takes. I know you don’t want to cover the mirror. Are you willing to do it anyway?
As a coach, I give people recommendations, which are concrete things to work on between sessions. The people who follow my recommendations make progress and attain results that they are thrilled with and proud of, like these clients who wrote me their success stories.
It has to be enough of a problem for you that you are willing to be inconvenienced by the steps you need to take to stop it. It will take work, it will take time, it will take lifestyle changes. It may take money. I don’t take insurance for my coaching services. Are you willing to make a financial investment? It may take other things, like talking to significant others about the picking, for example, in order to be able to cover the mirror. I’ve had clients for whom talking to their significant other was the turning point and most important step in their recovery, and I’ve had clients in the alternative situation, in which it wasn’t discussed and no substantial progress was made.
3) Do you have patience with yourself and the recovery process?
Chances are good that you are failing at making substantial progress because you get so upset when you do pick. There will be picking in the process of stopping picking. I would say it’s impossible to go cold turkey at this and be done with it forever. It’s really how you deal with the picking sessions that you continue to do that will make the difference in your success. Do you beat yourself up endlessly for it? Or do you recognize picking as part of your present condition, that you are in a learning process, and gently guide yourself back to what you need to do to make it continually better. It WILL get better when you work at it, but there will be bumps in the road. Next time you catch yourself beating yourself up, repeat, “I accept the progress of my recovery process.”
4) Do you have persistence?
Stopping the cycle of picking is a marathon, not a sprint. You need to consider how long and entrenched this habit is for you. You cannot expect it to go completely away quickly. Persistence is probably the number one quality you need to be successful at this, and in anything really! So, keep at it.
5) Do you have support, and have you given up the illusion that you can do this on your own?
To be honest, life itself is too hard to do on your own. (And who would want to?) Stopping skin picking is hard, and even if you’ve read my book and know what you need to do, chances are good that you don’t have the discipline to do it all. Don’t think of this as a weakness. We need each other. It’s human. I’m a yoga teacher (just as a volunteer once a week), but I simply cannot make myself do much yoga on my own. So I take classes.
It’s completely human nature to need accountability in order to get things done. No matter how much you may like your work or school, would you do anywhere near as much of it as you do now, if you weren’t being paid or being graded? Join the club! That’s one of the best things about a having a coach; not only do you get emotional support, expert education and motivation, you have someone to help keep you accountable for your actions. You don’t want to report back with nothing.
6) Do you have persistent negative thoughts and emotions (about yourself or in general)?
It’s a vicious cycle: picking usually leaves us feeling negative emotions, and negative emotions often trigger picking. Depending how badly you think and feel, the problem of your own negativity can leave you powerless to stop picking. It may need to be addressed first, or at least concurrently. There are many ways to change this type of situation. Eating better, exercise, proper breathing, meditation, cognitive therapy, reading books that teach you to change your own thinking, medication or essential oils that can powerfully affect your mood.
7) Do you tend to focus on what is wrong rather than on what is right?
You may not be recognizing your progress! Often I have to point it out to clients because sometimes they don’t see it. It’s human nature (not our best nature though) to tend to see the negative more than the positive. And I think it could be even more of a mental habit in skin pickers. That’s why I start each session by asking clients to tell me one good thing from the previous week or two since our last session. For some, it is SOOO hard at first. But a good thing to practice. You are much more likely to keep up the positive actions you are taking when you are encouraged that you are seeing some progress.
Got something to say? Start a conversation and contribute your comments below.
p.s. Have you downloaded my free “Freedom Kit”? It comes with a written and audio report, “Why you pick your skin and how to finally stop,” a video on “how to stop skin picking urges in two minutes flat,” and my “Live Free” newsletter in your inbox each month. Learn more here.