Can’t Stop Picking at Skin

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I don’t know why i pick my skin but i pick on it so much that i have scars and wounds that i tell my self my makeup covers. I have been having this problem since 6th grade when i first got pimples. At fist it was just once a month then it got worse. During 8th grade i picked EVERY SINGLE DAY. This year even though it might not seem possible it got a lot worse.I squeeze things that are nonexistent, acne (which i caused myself). Its not only my face its now on my back arms shoulders chest and i pick there too. Its s bad that when i go in public with a sleeveless shirt or no makeup i’m stared at like i killed people, or laughed at or just ashamed of. the strange part is i still do it every day. It somehow satisfies me. I’ve tried to stop by cutting my nails, painting them, wearing makeup, hiding from the mirror but that doesn’t work. This might sound really gross…but i have to be honest to stop picking so often i don’t brush my teeth or wash my face often to avoid the bathroom. I only wash my face and brush my teeth once a day and that’s terrible. Its getting out of hand specially since i’m only 15. How can i stop a problem that has been building up for 4 years.

A: Thank you for writing. It takes courage to admit that something has gotten out of hand like this. First, know you are not alone. Skin picking, like nail biting and hair pulling, is more common than you might think. It is a hard habit to break because it relieves anxiety or boredom or even fear. It gives you relief from one problem (an emotion) but then causes another one (damaged skin).

Some experts think it is a function of an obsessive-compulsive disorder. Others think it is part of body dysmorphic disorder. Still others think it is a behavior that is self-rewarding because it relieves some kind of stress or arousal. Whatever the cause, as you’ve already discovered, when it is left untreated, it gets worse and starts to limit a person’s life. The self-consciousness and shame make it harder and harder to want to leave the house.

So — it’s time to get it treated. You didn’t mention what your folks think about your habit. If you’ve managed to keep it from them, it’s time to have a serious talk with them. You are going to need your parents’ help to access treatment and to support you in managing the treatment you choose. A place to start would be with a psychiatrist who specializes in treating teens. There are medications that can help you manage the anxiety that may be at the root of the problem. Another option is to see a counselor who is trained in cognitive behavioral therapy to help you learn how to manage your feelings and interrupt the picking. Often a combination of medication and therapy is the key.

Your parents and siblings need to be in on the treatment. Nagging you, scolding or embarrassing you will not help. The people who love you need to learn what you uniquely need in the way of support.

You made an important first step by writing. Now take the next one. Ask your parents to help you get treatment. If you think you’ll have trouble explaining your problem to them, just show them your letter and this response.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Photo

 

 

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 26 Aug 2013

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2013). Can’t Stop Picking at Skin. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2013/08/26/cant-stop-picking-at-skin/