Do I Have Trichotillomania?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

For years, when I get very frustrated or angry, I frantically (rapidly and repeatedly) scratch the top of head with both hands. I have done this os long it has become a “tell” to those who know me very well. I do not pull my hear out, but I do this scratching. When I wore a mustache, I would stroke it and my then wife would tell I was thinking about money.

My question: Is the frantic scratching of my head with both hands, when I am extremely frustrated and/or angry, is this a form of Trichotillomania? I do find this scratching somewhat satisfying if not soothing, and I have tried to stop this behavior for years, but to no avail. I become aware of it quickly, once the scratching stops, but this is somewhat impulsive and maybe even a little compulsive (in that I have not been able to stop over years but I can stop but usually not until the tension is released.

A: No, your habit does not meet the criteria for trichotillomania. Trichotillomania is the recurrent pulling out of one’s own hair that results in noticeable hair loss. I think what you’re describing might be best coded as “Impulse Control Disorder Not Otherwise Specified.” Impulse control disorders are characterized by an increase in tension until the person feels he or she just has to do some action followed by a release of tension.

But I have to wonder why it is important to you to have a label for your behavior. I actually don’t like it that an impulse to do something that relieves the individual and doesn’t bother anyone else is labeled as a “disorder.” We live in a time when there’s a tendency to make common behaviors into diseases. In instances like yours, I see ithe behavior as a harmless tension reliever. At some point in your life, you happened on head scratching as a way to relieve a buildup of anxiety. It’s a coping tool that has apparently served you well. Unless it is interfering with your social life or your career, I’d suggest you and yours have a sense of humor about it and leave it alone. Trying to stop it after so many years might create enormous tension – that you would want to relieve with the scratching!

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 16 Dec 2010

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2010). Do I Have Trichotillomania?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 24, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2010/12/16/do-i-have-trichotillomania/

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