On today’s episode of mental-health-related things that are embarrassing to talk about but that I talk about anyway (because it’s important!) – BFRB or body-focused repetitive behavior.
Body-focused repetitive behavior is an umbrella term for a group of repetitive self-grooming behaviors that cause physical damage through pulling, picking, biting, or scraping the hair, skin, or nails.
I want to preface this by saying that I’m not a doctor or mental health professional. My purpose is to share information with you about mental health so that A) You know that you’re not alone and B) You feel empowered to advocate for yourself!
So please remember that I am *only* speaking from my own personal experiences.
For example, I didn’t even know that BFRBs were a thing.
I just thought it gross that I couldn’t stop biting my nails. Because that’s what society tells us, that these behaviors are choices because we are weak-willed, lazy, or have disgusting habits that we don’t want to change.
Content Warning: semi-graphic description or nail-biting/skin picking.
I suffer primarily from the body-focused repetitive behavior onychophagia, which is biting my nails and the skin around my nails.
I’ve often said you can easily see the state of my mental health by looking at my fingers. When I’m not anxious, they’re pretty much fine. When I’m very anxious, they’re bitten down to the point of bleeding, and the skin around my nails is picked off and an angry red.
Sometimes it even gets so bad that it hurts to pick things up with my fingers.
And each time I promise myself “That’s the last time I’m doing that.” And inevitably it is not the last time.
It’s directly related to my anxiety. It immediately helps me focus my mind on something other than being anxious which gives it a self-soothing aspect. Most of the time I’m not even doing it consciously and often when I catch myself doing it I want to stop but can’t.
In the past, Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors were sometimes considered self-harming behaviors but they are not! They are a group of disorders that we do not consciously choose to do.
Common Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors
Trichotillomania – hair-pulling, involves pulling out the hair from the scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, and other parts of the body resulting in bald patches.
Excoriation – skin picking, involves scratching, rubbing, picking at, or digging into the skin, usually because of scabs, ingrown hairs, and acne.
Onychophagia – nail-biting, involves biting the fingernails or toenails or the cuticles leading to bleeding, soreness, and even infection.
Onychotillomania – nail picking, destructively picking at or pulling at your nails or the skin around your nails.
Rhinotillexomania – inner nose scratching, picking or scratching the inside of your nose.
Lip Biting – repeatedly biting or tearing at the skin on your lips.
Cheek Biting – biting at the inside of your cheeks.
Tongue Chewing – chewing or biting on the sides of your tongue.
Not everyone who bites their nails or picks their skin has a disorder. These are actually very common actions. They become classified as BFRBs when they cause physical harm (like sores or bleeding) and you’re not able to stop.
Here are some of the things that make Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors what they are.
- They cause feelings of shame and embarassment. For example, wanting to hide your hands or having anxiety over anyone seeing bald spots on your body.
- They disrupt your life or stop you from doing things that you want to do.
- You want to stop but can’t.
- They result in negative physical or social outcomes.
So, for anyone who hides their hands or looks at their sore fingers and wishes they could stop – I see you.
There is no cure or one thing that works for everyone. Some people have success with self-care, for example, moisturizing their skin so it’s less likely to have blemishes or wearing fake nails so they can’t bite theirs.
Other people have success with therapy or even medication.
BRFBs can also be a result of things like OCD, ADHD, or Anxiety so being able to manage your mental health can stop the repetitive behaviors. As I said, everyone is different so that’s why it’s important to talk to a professional.
Here are some resources that might help!