Guide To Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

March 1, 2024

Individuals who have suddenly found themselves pulling their hair or picking their skin may actually be suffering from a compulsion. This behavioral condition is often difficult to explain scientifically as it seems to often occur with little thought behind the action. Certain stressors may cause a compulsion to begin, but why it causes a specific reaction is still unclear. While quite a few compulsive behaviors have been studied thoroughly and some sense has been made of them, this is not the case with body-focused repetitive behaviors. This set of compulsions is still largely under investigation and fully not understood by the scientific community. This article will attempt to shed some light on what body-focused repetitive behaviors are and what they can do.

What Are Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors?

Body-focused repetitive behaviors essentially describe a set of compulsions that end up harming the body physically. They are different from other behaviors like burning oneself or even cutting because body-focused repetitive behaviors require body-to-body contact. Many individuals are likely asking what body-focused repetitive behaviors are because this set of compulsions are among those that are the most poorly misunderstood and misdiagnosed. The cause for body-focused repetitive behaviors is still unknown. However, there does seem to be a close association with these behaviors and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Body-focused repetitive behaviors, currently, are still being debated on whether they should be included under the category of self-harm or not. The reason for the uncertainty is because the compulsions are not usually performed with the intent to actually harm the body. Instead, they are performed as an attempt to fix or correct a perceived imperfection on the body. The damage that results from the compulsion is a side effect of the behavior. It can also be used as a coping mechanism for when an individual experiences an intense emotion.

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One of the compulsions often associated with body-focused repetitive behaviors is dermatophagia. This is more commonly known as compulsive skin-biting. When an individual perceives something is wrong with their skin, they may feel a compulsion to bite it. Clearly, this can cause a great deal of damage, especially if they continue to bite the same spot. Similarly to when a dog bites at their skin to remove a flea, an individual injures their skin when they perceive a flaw with it. The compulsion is likely linked to a belief that by biting the area, they can remove the flaw. However, instead, they can cause themselves a great deal of skin damage. The germs in their mouth might also end up infecting the wound they made, which could cause even more of a problem to arise. One method to deal with compulsive skin-biting is therapy. Cognitive behavioral therapy is often used to remove the bad habit and replace it with one less damaging to the body instead.

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Another common compulsion attributed to body-focused repetitive behaviors is trichotillomania. This compulsion is when someone starts pulling their hair out of their scalp. While the hair does not have to actually leave the scalp to be considered trichotillomania, and instead the hair just needs to be pulled, it is typical for someone suffering from this compulsion to pull their hair right from their head. Obviously, this is quite damaging to the scalp. Not only can make it their scalp bleed, which could lead to infection and other dangerous problems, but it can also result in early baldness. Since the compulsion is performed because of a perceived flaw in their hair, if they tug their hair out and develop a bald spot, then they may be more inclined to pull their hair out repeatedly because the flaw has expanded. Even without direct removal of the hair, pulling on it can damage the roots. This can cause the hair to either appear weak or have a tendency to fall out quickly.

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While most individuals likely do whatever they can to remove it if they feel as though they have a hair in their mouth, individuals who suffer from body-focused repetitive behaviors might actually choose to eat the hair instead. This compulsion is known as trichophagia. While trichophagia can sometimes occur because of a deficiency in protein or other aspects of nutrition, for patients who suffer from body-focused repetitive behaviors, the compulsion is usually performed because of a perceived imperfection in their hair. This can sometimes be coupled with tugging their hair out of the scalp and then ingesting it.

Eating hair isn't a good thing. The body cannot breakdown or dissolve hair that easily. Much like a cat, it can ball up inside the body and cause quite a few problems. In some cases, patients may need to have surgery to remove the ball of hair from their stomach. It can also cause them to choke, which can damage their esophagus. Therapy can be used to unlearn the behavior and adopt a better one.

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Formerly known as dermatillomania, excoriation is the compulsion of picking at one's skin. While everyone may occasionally feel an odd impulse to pick their scabs, excoriation takes it up a notch. Once an individual perceives that something is wrong with their skin, they start to pick at it incessantly. This is usually done until the skin starts to bleed. Much like skin biting, if left on its own, the skin might develop an infection and the individual could suffer greatly. Skin picking is one of the most common compulsions under body-focused repetitive behaviors. It can also be one of the most damaging because individuals continue to pick at their skin even after it has become damaged. Their entire arm might be covered in wounds they've performed on themselves. Certain medications may be administered to help reduce the amount of skin picking, but therapy is usually the best option. This helps replace skin picking with a healthier behavior instead.

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