A common response among my coaching clients, in individual or group programs, when I ask midway through what they’ve found the most helpful, is often simply talking about their picking. Talking about what they’re dealing with with someone who understands and is not judging them. Someone who doesn’t think they are crazy or weird or at fault in any way.
I used to be surprised and even a little disappointed at these answers, expecting instead that they would mention some amazing technique that I taught them, or my adept detective work at uncovering the root causes of their picking. But the fact remains that many times it is not what I know or teach or help them discover that they feel is the most valuable. It is instead the great relief and unburdening effect of talking to someone who is simply understanding and non-judgmental about their behavior.
I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised if I recalled my old self. Thinking back to 2010 when I was a member of a therapy group for skin pickers and hair pullers, I can remember a bit of just how normalizing it was. I was SO surprised and relieved to even find such a group, even though when I first attended I was apprehensive, fully expecting to be one of a group of real “weirdos”. But I was pleasantly surprised by how un-usual everyone seemed. There were cool and interesting people who I never would have guessed had these problems if I had met them in “real life”. It even surprised me how many of the women had boyfriends and husbands. I was long-single myself and, in my head, singledom and picking were linked. But I was confronted with the evidence of a different reality.
Talking about these body-focused repetitive behaviors with others who understand goes a long way in reducing the shame we feel about doing them. It breaks down walls in our minds around our faulty thinking about ourselves and our worth and ability. We experience a release of negative stuck energy, which flows away and frees us up to simply get on with the work of actually stopping them, if that’s what we desire to do. Shame holds us back. It glues us to the picking, you might even say.
Shame is unnecessary. The truth is that these are normal behaviors that have just gotten out of hand for one reason or another, or more likely a complex combination of more than a couple of reasons. Everyone picks a little bit. Even animals. Monkeys groom each other for hours. It’s an everyday social happening for them.
We also know that grooming behaviors can get out of hand with animals too, especially when they’re stressed. Lab mice and rats sometimes “barber”, or overgroom their fur, an expensive problem that ruins lab experiments when they do it to the point of infection. Sometimes house cats and dogs do it. My elderly cat Cookie was licking her fur too much last June (especially when we were away and she missed us) until I started sprinking quercetin on her food for her allergies. Chickens in captivity sometimes pluck their feathers out and get better when given tryptophan to rebalance their neurotransmitters.
We live in stressful times. Typically away from nature, not sleeping enough, not eating traditional natural foods, sitting too much, having so much electrical stimulation, information overload, too little exercise, pharmaceutical side-effects, traffic, rude people, I could go on and on. And I haven’t even begun to mention the stress created by our own thoughts. No wonder we have come up with all sorts of coping mechanisms that can become addictive. Sometimes it’s too difficult – who doesn’t at times want to escape.
Just understanding that these are normal behaviors that can easily get out of control reduces shame. Sometimes what we need the most is to be presented with information that’s a little at odds with what has been rattling around in our heads, probably for years. Just having another person talking to you in a calmer, more reassuring way than the voice in your head does can help too. Even if that person is speaking to you from a book. That’s one reason why my book helps people. When people write to me and say they saw themselves in my book, it was through my written words that I have shown them they are not alone. The words broke up that shame and isolation they felt around their behavior. Readers much more rarely mention any specific interventions even when they mention things like they haven’t picked in two months.
If you feel a lot of shame around your behaviors, I hope I have made a convincing case to encourage you to be brave and speak to me, or even join one of my groups.
I would like to begin another small group coaching program starting soon. We meet via video conferencing (scary at first but VERY de-shaming and wonderful) from the convenience of your home, wherever you are in the world. Please contact me to express your possible interest, let me know your schedule and inquire about details.
Love and support,