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Scalp Picker

 I started picking my scalp as a kid. At first, I just picked dried skin and dandruff all over my head. I was enamored with the quantity and the texture of flakes of dried skin. During college, I managed to find a good medicated shampoo and cut my hair lower so the flakes stopped.

 

In 2001, during my senior year of college, I started to focus exclusively on one spot on my scalp that eventually turned into a hardened callous. I would go through a pattern of consistent scratching and picking and the callous would get hard enough that I could remove it with the tips of my fingernails. Sometimes, I would use a push pin to score around the edge of the callous so that I could get it off in one piece. I would keep the callous because I found it intriguing. It had the shape of a scab but a texture that was way thicker than any of the dried skin and dandruff flakes that I compulsively picked as a kid. At the time, I was under a lot of stress. My dad was struggling with an underperforming family business which contributed to family financial problems. I was also ending a 3 year relationship. And I was looking for a job and applying to grad school.

 

I ultimately landed a job, moved to a new city, and started grad school part time. I also started seeing a therapist and did therapy for depression and a social anxiety disorder. I was prescribed Paxil. I went to a dermatologist who surgically removed the callous on two separate occasions that spanned a period where I was able to stop picking and heal temporarily. I attribute the break in picking behavior to the medication and therapy. The surgical removal also helped because the dermatologist removed an area that was deeper than my push pin removal would go. The larger scaring area plus the healing ointment prescribed by the dermatologist managed to temporarily discourage picking. The dermatologist removed it because he could send it for biopsy even though we both knew that it was not skin cancer.

 

By 2006, I had started another cycle of picking. I had relocated within my company from a city in the Midwest to a city in the Northeast a year earlier. I was beginning to experience pain from what I would later find to be a bone tumor. Also, my family was struggling again due to my dad’s alcohol problems. The family business was also still doing poorly and he wasn’t working by this point. The family finances were in bad shape. I started seeing a new therapist and taking Wellbutrin. I ultimately was able to stop picking – this time without the dermatologist removing the callous.

 

Fast forward to today and I am back to my compulsive picking. I’m again under a lot of stress. The good news is that I’m getting married in just over a week but I think the stress of the wedding planning in combination with my job and work on another part time degree have brought me to my psychological limit again. I’ve been picking for about 2 months now. I’m also still compelled to keep the calluses even though I hate myself for it. I’ve had 3 sessions so far with a new therapist. I am attempting to stop the picking without medication this time. I thought the Paxil and Wellbutrin caused me to feel too desensitized even though they may have helped. I’ve instead opted for Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. The therapist also suggested I read two books by Dr. David Burns – “The Feel Good Handbook” and “When Anxiety Attacks”. I’ve managed to make a nice dent in the latter and I think I am really beginning to address some of the root causes of my depression and anxiety. Hopefully, I can break this picking thing once and for all this time.

InnerRage InnerRage 26-30 16 Responses Jul 14, 2009

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Today, I just realized that I've been picking my scalp. My mom has been on my case about stopping this habit, but I never thought it was a habit until now that I'm trying to prove to her that I can stop and I can't. I don't even notice when my hands are on my head picking it. I don't think I'm under stress or anything, but I do feel relaxed when I'm picking my scalp. I know it's a bad idea when I wash my hair and the shampoo burns my head sense I've been picking my scalp so much and I have a million of stop in my head that are pretty much bloody. I don't know how to stop this. A lot of people that I've read their story say it's stress, depression and anxiety but I don't feel any of that.

I didnt realize till today that I had a anxiety problem that it was serious. I have been picking at my head since I started working at my current job. I had picked before but never this bad. it may also be due to stress in my marriage. I dont know how to go get help, but I know I need help.

Thank you for sharing your experiences. I have a younger family member with trichotilomania and it made me wonder if scalp picking was also legitimate disorder. I know that young kids pick at their scabs, but always felt ashamed that as and adult, I pick at my scalp almost daily. My mom and sisters both 'scratch their heads.' Why do we do this?! Often when I find a small scab, I actually put it between my front teeth to see if it makes them stick together, almost like taffy. I can't believe I just said that! I am a worrier/anxious person now, but was a happy-go-lucky kid until I hit puberty. Something in my brain changed then.
Is this some sort of self-cleaning gene gone haywire? It hurts sometimes when I pick and I feel horrible and shameful after, but it must be a compulsion. Otherwise, I'm a fully functional adult with a great marriage, family, career, and hobbies. What the heck?

Not only do I pick my scalp, but I ruthlessly bite, pick and chew on the skin around my fingernails until they are dry, cracked and bleeding - and very, very painful! I've been told this behavior can lead to staph infection.

I am a scalp picker. I deliberately use shampoos that I know will give me the most dandruff flakes. I pick the flakes and run them through my hair, lodging them under my fingernails. I don't know why but I love the feeling of the flakes under my fingernails. I also have one sore spot that is beginning to bald. I target this area the most because after I shower and let it dry it becomes "pickable" again. I eat the skin and dandruff flakes I pick. I don't know why I do this...texture I guess. I've been doing it about 20 years. I do it pretty much constantly. Public even though I try to be discreet. It's nice to know I'm not alone!

Im glad i have someone that has the same exact disorder. You know exactly how i feel. I dont even realize im doing it, i pick at school and the reason is because (this sounds completely dumb) i want every single little bump on in my scalp to go away or i pick a previous scab that ive already picked at. Its been a habit since 7 when i started getting dandruff.
You people are not alone💙

-A depressed 11year old

I also do it very often, for at least 20 years. Now I am 35 and I lost quite many hair. I love to eat the small pieces of dried skin which I can scratch and I also tend to do it also in public. It is good to know that is a disorder and even if I have no real damage on the skin

I've had this problem for most of my life as well. I pick at my scalp constantly, even when I'm out in public or at work. It's become such a habit I don't even notice that I'm doing it. I have scabs all over my scalp and have lost a lot of hair in the process. I am also a face picker and go through phases when I pick at every little imperfection on my face. As gross as it sounds, I like to squeeze the material (dead skin cells, oil, etc.) out of my pores, and the more the better. I don't know why I like it... I just do. Of course after an hour or so of picking, I look at my entire face and see that it's a swollen, red, bumpy mess. I wear a lot of make-up to try and cover the damage, but it doesn't help very much. I tend to hid my face as much as I can and become a hermit in my home so I don't have to deal with the embarrassment. I also pick at the skin on my legs and chest at times.

I've suffered from depression and anxiety for my entire life. I also had very bad eczema from childhood up to about age 18-19. Luckily, I managed to grow out of that. It seems many people who have picking problems have co-morbid conditions such as these. I'm convinced that it's a neurological abnormality that causes this need to pick. I also have auditory processing disorder & ADD. There's something definitely wrong with my brain, I'm convinced of that. I just wish there was more research focused on this/these conditions as I think they are all related in some way. So far, no medication has helped me to stop, and I've been on multiple medications (anti-depressants & anti-anxiety meds) for over 28 years now.

Hello, I do the same thing since I was a child and it's somehow comforting to find out that other people face the same problem. Under stress, I just can't stop scratching my scalp, and afterwards I always feel calmer and more focused. Results - my hair is falling out excessively. I am doing it unconsciously, so I am always worried that my friends and colleagues will notice it (my poor family has given up on trying to change it). But, for last three weeks (the longest period in my life!) I didn't scratch my scalp and I am very proud of it. I am not taking any medications but I used to go to the therapy. I feel better now and I have a feeling that we can learn to substitute that behaviour with something less damaging. I think the core of it is the sense of control - I have always wanted to control myself and I have always expected too much of myself - hence this disorder. But still, I have real cravings for scratching my scalp almost constantly.

Wow. I'm so glad that I'm not alone. I used to tear the skin off of my lips but then I moved to my scalp. I've seen many doctors and have been given lots of creams, shampoos and meds for anxiety and OCD (Lovex). I've done it since high school and all of my friends and family are aware of it and tell me to stop when they notice I'm unconsciously doing it. The thing is that I can't help it. I'll pick till there's blood, scabs and hair all around me and still go back for more. <br />
<br />
But I didn't know that there was a support group! Thank you so much for the info and for allowing me to see that there are others out there :) We can fight it, guys!

Wow. I'm so glad that I'm not alone. I used to tear the skin off of my lips but then I moved to my scalp. I've seen many doctors and have been given lots of creams, shampoos and meds for anxiety and OCD (Lovex). I've done it since high school and all of my friends and family are aware of it and tell me to stop when they notice I'm unconsciously doing it. The thing is that I can't help it. I'll pick till there's blood, scabs and hair all around me and still go back for more. <br />
<br />
But I didn't know that there was a support group! Thank you so much for the info and for allowing me to see that there are others out there :) We can fight it, guys!

Wow. I'm so glad that I'm not alone. I used to tear the skin off of my lips but then I moved to my scalp. I've seen many doctors and have been given lots of creams, shampoos and meds for anxiety and OCD (Lovex). I've done it since high school and all of my friends and family are aware of it and tell me to stop when they notice I'm unconsciously doing it. The thing is that I can't help it. I'll pick till there's blood, scabs and hair all around me and still go back for more. <br />
<br />
But I didn't know that there was a support group! Thank you so much for the info and for allowing me to see that there are others out there :) We can fight it, guys!

I also pick my skin (on both thumbs). I recently started going to (psychodynamic) therapy myself and I just had a personal epiphany of sorts the other day--perhaps it will help you guys, as well.<br />
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During my therapy sessions, I realized that, as a result of several childhood traumas (my father's sudden death when I was 4; my mom and step-dad divorcing when I was 10; getting no real emotional nurturing from either of my parents due to their lack of understanding (they both had awful childhoods, as well), etc.), there was a part inside of me that was crying out for empathy--FROM MYSELF! I got so used to being rejected and having my needs denied that I eventually, and insidiously, began to beat myself up subconsciously for feeling vulnerable and needy (very human things to feel, right?).<br />
<br />
In this particular therapy session, I actually cried tears of understanding for myself...and realized what empathy and compassion really feel like. AND that I didn't need to look outside of myself for those benefits...I just need to trust myself and LOVE myself.<br />
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A couple of days later, I was Googling "where does self-distrust come from" and came across this page: http://sfhelp.org/ <br />
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It confirmed a lot of my intuitive feelings experienced during therapy--gave me some much appreciated validation--and also introduced me to the concept of "false selves" and the true Self. I encourage you all to explore the site and see if it resonates with you, too.<br />
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In a nutshell, the author proposes that when people are raised in "low-nurturence" environments as children--when they are not truly respected for who they are, nurtured by parents/care-givers and/or taught self-respect and empathy--part of one's psyche can split off and form a "Guardian" self that actively protects the scared/wounded/shamed/lonely/abandoned "inner child(ren)" within. "Guardians" can take the form of many habits and thought patterns, including denial; addiction; OCD; etc.<br />
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These guardians and inner children can eventually take over us and usurp the position of the natural born leader of one's subconscious--the true Self, who is wise, intuitive, calm, grateful, respectful, compassionate, etc. All that good stuff. Since we've been let down by caregivers before, we naturally become distrustful of them...and eventually, that wariness is transferred to our own inherent caregiver Self. We can only trust the "guardians" who mean well, but don't have the wonderful qualities of the Self that, when freed and allowed to "lead us," will invariably guide us to true happiness and growth.<br />
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I know it sounds a bit kooky, and I'm not sure how I feel about thinking about my mind as a fractured set of selves, but while reading the site...I suddenly realized: I have a Guardian in me that picks at my skin...to protect me. It protects me from bad thoughts and feelings by inspiring me to compulsively pick my skin in an effort to DISTRACT ME FROM THE NEGATIVE FEELINGS!<br />
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Since I realized this, whenever I've noticed myself picking, I step back from whatever I'm doing and meditate for a second--just clear my mind and let my true Self reassume its position at head of the table. I've even been talking to myself, and...well, it kind of helps! I've also been feeling like I trust myself more, the balance between anxiety and peace of mind tip in favor of the latter, and have been working on my personal concept of self-respect. It's been a really wonderful, exciting and fulfilling task so far.<br />
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I think that eventually I will stop picking, once I learn how to let my true Self be the boss 99% of the time. This may not help everyone, but I wanted to share in case it can aid even one more person. :) Please explore the website above--it's an incredible free resource--and consider therapy (again). Keep trying until you succeed!

The support group for pickers is still meeting every sunday at 7PM EST. Call in #: 1-270-696-2525 / Access Code: 12128

you are not alone i do the same thing. actually i didnt know that other people did this like i do and i didnt even know it was a disorder, ive dont this since i was a kid around 8 years old and now im 26. i pick the scabs off my head or any other bumps i can find on my head. i pick so much that my head gets red, sore, scaley, and i have lost a lot of hair. I just cant stop doing it, i also pick at the bumps on the back of my arms until they bleed and scab up again. I also pick at the bottoms of my feet.

You are NOT alone! I have recieved help and encouragement beyond my wildest dreams through phone meetings of Skin Pickers Anonymous (which is a subgroup of Obessive Compulsive Anonymous). I started picking my skin at six and I'm 30 years old and I pick everywhere on my body. I pick anywhere I can reach, sometimes for hours, and I pull my hair from my legs, chest, stomach, pubic area, and anywhere else I see "imperfections" I also pick my scalp and have had several very bad infections. I tried EVERYTHING to stop and over the years it's only gotten worse. I've tried cog behavior therapy, habit reversal therapy, talk therapy, blockers, abstinence, group therapy, online programs (not free) and every SSRI on the market. However, I recently found a 12 step group for skin pickers w/ OCD and now have HOPE and people I can reach out to for support. I have experienced repreive from my picking as I never have before! Today, I'm not facing this devistating illness alone and I no longer have to "figure it out." It's a HUGE relief and I have seen MIRACLES of healing and recovery. Please call in if you need support. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. SKIN PICKERS ANONYMOUS PHONE MEETING - Sundays at 7PM EST. Call in #: 1-270-696-2525 / Access Code: 12128 mment here...