What would you call a condition that nobody talks about, except for the millions of people who have it, each of whom thinks that they’re the only person in the world who has it? It’s called Skin Picking.
Anyone who has suffered with Skin Picking Disorder knows the silent shame that accompanies it every day. Part of that shame is rooted in the belief that a “normal” person doesn’t tear into their skin – that a “normal” person doesn’t lose control of their behavior to the point of causing so much damage to themselves. There is no one “type” of person who suffers with this destructive condition–they come in every color and from every walk of life: women, men, teens, college students, cheerleaders, waitresses, professionals, stay-at-home moms, and grandparents.
Here are 7 tips to help free yourself from this often-devastating condition:
1. It takes time.
You didn’t get to this level of skin picking overnight, and it won’t go away overnight. Slip-ups are normal – picking less, and then more, and then less, is a normal, predictable, and expected part of the process. Think two steps forward, one step back. Also, progress may alternate between internal and external changes. So for some, learning to better express your internal emotions may coincide with a temporary increase in picking. There may be some down days, but as long as the overall trend is towards less picking, then you are on the road to success. It may sound like a cliché, but it is important to remember that this is marathon, not a sprint.
2. Be good to yourself.
Everyone experiences stress, but how you manage and respond to the stress in your life is up to you. Individuals with Skin Picking Disorder are often more sensitive than others to over-stimulation from their surroundings. Basic stress management practices can make a world of difference in helping you better manage your urges to pick your skin. Some simple stress management tips include:
- Maintain a healthy, balanced diet.
- Don’t smoke.
- Don’t drink to excess.
- Don’t use recreational drugs.
- Get regular exercise.
- Get 7-9 hours of uninterrupted sleep.
- Manage school and work so that you aren’t overwhelmed.
- Take up meditation, or yoga, or exercise outdoors.
3. Perfectionism is a four-letter word.
Perfectionism generates anxiety and a sense of failure because it never lets you take credit for the good things you do (including resisting an urge to pick!). Nothing anybody can do is ever “perfect,” and perfectionism is a setup for perpetual self-loathing and disappointment. But there are ways to challenge that voice of perfectionism.
First, notice it and what it is saying to you. Then, challenge the validity of those thoughts by asking yourself: “Would I hold anyone else to this standard of perfectionism? Is there, perhaps, a kinder and more realistic way to think about this?” Noticing and challenging your unrealistic and perfectionist thoughts gives you the opportunity to choose to support yourself instead.
4. Don’t give up just because you slipped up.
Skin pickers often tell me that they have “blown it” because they picked their skin after not picking for a day, a week or more. But slip-ups are a normal part of the process. It is critical to realize that there is a difference between a temporary “lapse” and a full scale “relapse.” And that difference is you.
If you choose to over-focus on a recent lapse as evidence of “failure” or as proof that you don’t have what it takes to manage your skin picking, then you will be far more likely to throw in the towel. Focusing on a recent lapse leads people to see themselves as powerless, and to assume that they just can’t achieve the goals they have set for themselves. That type of thinking means you are over-focusing on the slip-up.
Instead, give yourself credit for all of the time you didn’t pick. If you can come to see that each time you don’t pick is a win, then you never lose.
5. They aren’t judging you.
You may worry that other people see your skin and are judging you because of it, but that doesn’t mean that they are actually doing so.
Most of the time, people are not spending nearly as much of time thinking about you as you think. Simply put, people are self-centered – they are focusing on their own lives, not on you.
- Even if they are thinking about you, they probably aren’t thinking about your skin. Most people have other things to worry about than your skin.
- They may actually be thinking positively about you and about your good characteristics. Is your skin really the most important thing about you? Is it not possible that others recognize aspects of your personality and character that are admirable and likeable?
- What other people think of you is really not important. What really matters is how you think about your self.
- What other people think is not something you can control, so why waste your energy in this unproductive way? It is incredibly important to challenge the inner critical voice that mimics what we believe others are saying and thinking.
6. Try stop-picking techniques.
There are some very specific techniques that are a part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) which have been found to be effective tools in combatting Skin Picking Disorder. These techniques are a type of Habit Reversal Training (HRT) and include the following from our Stop Picking handout:
- Keep a log of your thoughts, feelings, and actions in picking situations.
- Use “habit blockers” such as gloves or band-aids on your fingers in situations where you are likely to pick.
- Occupy your hands in high-risk picking situations, like nail polish or a book.
- Throw away tweezers, comedone extractors, needles and other picking implements.
7. Don’t use skin picking as an excuse to keep from having a great life right now!
Everyone has issues, problems and challenges, and one of yours just happens to be skin picking. It’s not whether or not you have problems that makes for a meaningful and fulfilled life, but rather how you deal with them. Don’t put your life on hold until you finally stop picking your skin. You have a life today – live it!
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