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How To Support a Loved One With a BFRB


It’s that time of year again! Body Focused Repetitive Behavior Week—October 1 through October 7, annually—is in full swing. For those of you who don’t know, BFRBs are disorders that concern a behavior towards one’s body that they cannot control. Some of the most common BFRBs include trichotillomania (compulsive hair pulling), dermatillomania (compulsive skin picking) and onychophagia (compulsive nail biting). People who suffer from these disorders often suffer in silence and shame, which is why awareness week is so important. Because BFRBs are not common knowledge or widely accepted, it’s hard for hair pullers and skin pickers to know that they aren’t the only ones experiencing their disorder.

Awareness week is also a popular time for long-time victims of BFRBs to “come out” about their disorders, shedding light upon the BFRB community in the hopes finding self-acceptance and maybe even helping others to discover they are not alone in their struggle. The process of learning about and accepting your BFRB can be long and hard, so if someone you know or someone you love has one of these disorders, here are some ways you can help and support them without overstepping your boundaries.

First and foremost, do your best to understand their disorder in a respectful way. They may not be able to tell you everything about it, because they might not know their self, and they might not be completely open to sharing, but value what they say over any other resource you find. BFRBs differ in experience for every person with one.

While every experience is different for every individual, the BFRB community can all agree on some things. For example, the following phrases should never be said to someone with one of these disorders: “Doesn’t that hurt?” No, it’s a form of stress relief. It’s soothing. “I’m so mad I could pull my hair out.” No, actually, you aren’t. “Just stop!” Trust us, if we could, we would.

When someone you love has a BFRB, it’s important to realize that nothing you can do will “fix” them. There is no known cure, only cognitive behavioral therapy—and medications and supplements that benefit some people, but not all—so as much as they may or may not appreciate your efforts, you are probably not helping. Their struggle with their disorder is something they will have to overcome on their own, but your support will mean everything.

It is also very important to remind them that their disorder and their suffering are valid, and you love them regardless of it. Trichotillomania, Dermatillomania, Onychophagia and countless other BFRBs are not always recognized in the mental health care system, and patients are often told that they simply have a “bad habit” that they might not even need to be concerned about. This can be frustrating and undoubtedly adds to the shame victims of these disorders feel. BFRBs are also highly stigmatized within society. Trichotillomania has been featured on My Strange Addiction and is not generally talked about positively in the media. This also makes it hard for people with trich and other BFRBs to feel self confident, when their only representation is that of an unsub on Criminal Minds.

Regardless of whether or not they’re treated as so, Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors are just as common—if not more—and as valid as any other mental illness. It is estimated that 1 or 2 in 50 people suffer from some body-focused disorder. This awareness week, make an effort to educate yourself on theses ‘taboo’ disorders in order to help shed light upon this overlooked community!

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