Do you know someone who constantly bites their nails or picks at their skin? Well, it may be more than just a bad habit.
When these behaviors are continuous and compulsive, they are most likely attributed to a mental health disorder called "Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors." Over 5% of Americans suffer from these behaviors, yet chances are you've never heard of this until now.
According to Lindsey Muller, a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor, the most common habits that people need help with are hair pulling, nail biting, skin picking, lip biting, and hair twirling. Muller has also worked with over eaters where this engagement has become routine. The term "habit" may imply to some that these behaviors are learned and easy to get rid of. This is not the case. Such behaviors present and suggest there is an underlying emotional or cognitive challenge that needs to be processed and worked through. Therefore, such "habits" are often symptoms for something deeply rooted. There is a reason the action is being done over and over--part of my job is to determine the function and what purpose does this repetitive behaviors serve?"
Treatment involves addressing the interaction between thought, emotion, and behavior. Additionally, awareness of these habits is imperative. Almost everyone engages in some type of habit but not everyone is aware of such action. For those that want to break the habit or behavior, a good starting place is to change patterns. Identify triggers or situations where the behavior often occurs and then do something different.
Here are some solutions for common Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors:
Kitchen canter: Returning to the kitchen two more times after dinner
Solution: Make it a closed kitchen after a certain hour where the rule is you are not allowed to step across the doorway.
Pulling Your Hair Out: If you are twisting or pulling you hair as a behavior.
Solution: Keep your hands in your lap or make sure your arm does not have a resting place near your scalp. Set a timer across the room so every 5 or 10 minutes you have to stop a pulling episode, stand up, and walk to shut off the alarm. Taking such an action breaks the behavioral pattern that has developed.
Such self help strategies, which can be brainstormed and implemented, are a temporary fix for a habit but in no way serve as a replacement for therapy with a professional. The issues underlying the habit still need to be addressed.
Ms. Muller is a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor Intern (#1687) practicing in Los Angeles. She has attended several universities across the country including Lehigh University, Auburn University, Valdosta State University, The University of Iowa, and Carlos Albizu University for her bachelors, masters, and doctoral level education. The exposure to various lifestyles in such geographic locales in addition to her personal passion for international travel has aided Ms. Muller in providing culturally relevant therapy to children, adolescents, and adults of all ages and backgrounds.