Body dysmorphia and skin picking

Serra asks:

“I’ve been struggling a LOT with the state of my skin / skin picking compulsions.

I have body dysmorphia so I feel like a lot of my skin issues are fear based, and I make matters worse by picking things that weren’t too bad to begin with. Leads to a lot of self loathing and unable to leave the house at times.

Any tips on how to stop skin picking? I’ve tried just about everything it feels like from distractions to wearing gloves.

Also if anyone else has BDD (body dysmorphia disorder) please reach out, I’ve yet to find a community/ forum to help me with this.

My Answer:

First of all, big hugs! Not an easy thing to be dealing with.

Here’s some stellar advice from fellow Love Vitamins on how they managed to tame the picking beast.

I think the overall thing with any of these behaviours (both compulsive skin picking and BDD obsessing) is that there is a strong emotion behind them that is driving it. Without addressing those anxieties that drive it, there won’t be much progress.

And believe me — don’t feel like you’re alone!!! I think the majority of women here have dealt with this to some degree or another.

The underlying belief generally boils down to something like “no one will love me if I look like this”. That’s pretty frickin terrifying.

So it spurs massive anxiety and then we immediately want to do something to ease that anxiety.

Which leads to picking or obsessive mirror checking or avoiding social events, or just trying to control our lives in some way because the acne or our appearance makes us feel out of control.

The action is a reaction to the anxiety, because our irrational minds think it will ease the anxiety.

And it might for a second, but it leads to more anxiety because now we’ve trapped ourselves inside our own little prison of rituals and obsession and avoidance and picking.

Steps to tackling this might include:

Identify your Realistic Motivation

What does picking and obsessing take away from your life or prevent you from doing?

And what would you rather be doing with your time instead of picking and obsessing? How would you rather feel about yourself (no matter what your physical appearance is)? What do you want your life to look like?

WHO do you want to be?

(Note: just to reiterate…  these goals should not be tied to what you look like. What you look like isn’t the real problem here. The problem is the perception of it)

Keep this vision in your mind at all times as it will help you to stay motivated on this journey of healing.

Watch Your Thoughts

Watch your thoughts in order to identify negative ones about your appearance, which are based in beliefs that you have about yourself and what others think of you.

Recognize that thoughts are mostly just a bunch of gibberish flying through our brains.

Thoughts are not necessarily true and they can be replaced with thoughts that would serve you better to reach your goals of happiness and self-contentment.

Challenge What You Believe

Challenge your beliefs as to their validity or usefulness in you living a happy life.

What’s the actual evidence that those thoughts are true? What’s the possibility that they aren’t?

How do you know everyone thinks you’re disgusting or that no one will ever be attracted to you?

How is it possible that other people with “physical flaws” end up being loved and happy?

What are thinking these thoughts doing for you and how are they in contrast to your goal?

Be Kind to Yourself

Learn to treat yourself with kindness and compassion as if you would a friend in the same situation.

Be compassionate with yourself and what you’re going through.

Be nice when you have setbacks.

If you don’t believe you deserve love and compassion, then challenge that belief too — is that really true? Does believing that serve your goals of happiness?

Could you forgive and let go of the negative circumstances that made or make you feel undeserving of a happy life?

Replace your Negative Thoughts with Positivity and Encouragement

When you catch your thoughts that are negative and self deflating, change it to something positive.

You could say something like “Okay, hold on there — that’s not necessarily true and thinking that isn’t useful to me. I’m sorry, and I’m here for you in this struggle Serra! You got this!”

Give Yourself Some Love & Care

Engage in self care and stress relieving activities… making time for yourself, doing fun things you enjoy, taking part in your hobbies, creating, exercising, breathing, meditation, laughing.

Anything you can do to get yourself in a relaxed state more of the time will be helpful for your recovery.

Take a Baby Step Towards Your Fears

Make baby steps to face your feared situations. Identify what things you avoid because you’re terrified of judgment.

If you always blow off your friends, go out with them one night. If you would never go out on a date, go on one. After each baby step, up the ante for next time.

Take Another Baby Step Towards Your Fears

Make baby steps to reduce your rituals that you use to control the anxiety.

Look in the mirror 20 times a day? Let’s try only 15 this week. Wear five pounds of makeup? Try only 4 this week.

Continue to up the ante by reducing rituals slowly over time.

It’s Ok to Feel Completely Terrified

This is the biggest one: acknowledge and accept that this process is going to make you feel uncomfortable and scared.

You may right now be like …. no I can’t do any of that. Because all of that would feel terrifying.

And you’re right, it will. And that’s okay.

Trying to avoid feeling uncomfortable and unpleasant and scared is what drives us to these behaviours in the first place.

It’s okay to feel bad. You won’t die. Nothing will actually happen.

If you just feel what you’re feeling (about anything that makes you anxious) and acknowledge that it sucks and just let it be there, then that’s when you’re going to get better.

When you let painful feelings be there and don’t try and do something to make them go away, it tells your brain it no longer has to fear the thing you fear. Next time, it won’t serve you with so much anxiety.

What you resist persists… what you face dissipates!

You may be interested to know I got rid of chronic anxiety and panic attacks by doing nothing else except focusing on the terrifying feelings in my body and actually inviting my brain to make the feeling worse.

“Come on. Bring it on. Make me feel worse” I’d taunt my brain.

That was the only thing I tried that ever really worked… and I was shocked that it worked SO well.

I don’t suffer anxiety or panic attacks anymore at all. Sounds crazy but it works. it’s like finally getting brave enough to turn the lights on to look under your bed and finding out the monster never really existed.

Plus if you can accept feeling bad as something that’s just a thing and doesn’t need to be avoided — then it means you might actually tackle this process of healing from this.

This process will take you out of your comfort zone. But let that be ok.

Get Help — This is a Lot to Do on Your Own

This is a lot of stuff to tackle on your own.

If this is a very deep and long standing problem in your life that is significantly impacting your happiness, which it sounds like it is, I really urge you to seek help.

Cognitive behaviour therapy (which is basically what I have described in the steps above) has been shown as the most effective treatments for BDD and compulsive skin picking.

I really urge you to get help from a therapist trained in CBT for BDD who can work with you through this process.

Again, I know that might seem terrifying, but let that be ok. If it’s a money thing, ask yourself what the personal cost would be if you continue on this way for years?

You can also consider trying natural seratonin boosting supplements like GABA, or yes, pharmaceutical anti-depressant options. Even it’s just to take the edge off enough to get you in to get some help.

Sending big love. And positive energy. You can heal. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.

Believe it and don’t give up! You are more than your thoughts, your thoughts are not you, and there is a different and better life out there waiting for you 🙂