I’m pulling my hair out over here!
Every Behaviour Serves a Need: Case Study–Trich
Trichotillomania or Trich, is the overwhelming urge to pull out hair—on the head, eyebrows or eyelashes—often to the point where bald patches occur. It is usually triggered or heightened by stress.
Earlier this year, a new client, Julia** arrived at my office, looking defeated. She sported zero eyelashes, painted on eyebrows, and very peculiar short tufts of hair which sprang up at odd angles atop her head within her otherwise long hair. Julia had trichotillomania.
While attacking the hair on her head was a relatively new development, she had been pulling at her eyelashes and brows for years. And because the behaviour had been with her for so long, she was beginning to worry she’d be plagued by it forever. At various times, she’d make the decision to stop. She’d give herself a stern talking-to, reinforced by clear, reasoned, logical arguments.
Then, she’d summon all her willpower and through sheer force of will, would manage to repress the desire for a little while—but it was never sustainable. Just when the eyelashes grew long enough to attach extensions or wear a dab of mascara, *BAM*! --she’d once again find herself tearing them out.
Sometimes with a manic intensity–trapped in a repetitive, desperate, self-destructive cycle.
Rinse and Repeat
Inevitably, the destructive cycle would repeat itself because:
THE MANIA HAD NEVER BEEN A CONSCIOUS CHOICE
Julia didn’t WANT to continue. She knew she looked odd with random tufts of short hair springing up over her head, and no brows or lashes to frame her eyes. She owned a mirror. She wasn’t blind or deluded. She just felt helpless.
The reality is, it’s impossible to convince the irrational/subconscious mind with a rational argument– especially when it thinks it’s “helping”.
Julia’s attempts failed because she was focused on the wrong thing, in the wrong way.
Because she was attacking the symptom, instead of the underlying cause, the habit was “impossible” to break.
Remember: every behaviour serves a need.
EVERY BEHAVIOUR GIVES YOU SOMETHING
Sounds weird, right? What could this mania possibly ‘give’ Julia, aside from self-loathing? To find the answer to that, we have to look closely at what's actually occurring.
Trichotillomania (along with a host of other undesirable behaviours) is rooted in stress.
Stress that’s building up.
Getting bigger and bigger.
Heavier and heavier.
Not at all surprising considering the events and social climate of the past few years. As I write this, it’s May of 2023, and off the top of my head I’m recalling the year 2020 opening with Australia ablaze. And a barrage of crises quickly followed: a new disease no one knew how to treat, the announcement of a global pandemic, lockdown, masks everywhere, murder hornets, supply chain disruption, food insecurities, job losses, economic insecurities, racial tensions, polarization of society on politics, doctrine or wealth, Iran, Ukraine/Russia, inflation, interest rates rising (affecting mortgage costs and triggering defaults), greedflation, and on and on and on.
There has been unprecedented stress accumulating on a GLOBAL scale, and that will have a negative impact. I’ve seen a marked increase in stress related issues in the last few years: OCD, Insomnia, Hypochondria, Phobias, Self-Mutilation, Manias, and more.
Why? Because, by and large, we don’t teach our children how to effectively self-regulate (i.e., how to avert an escalation) or how to self-soothe.
Self-soothing is a skill that is modeled and learned, often within families, and you can’t pass on skills that you don’t know yourself.
So you do the best you can.
You hang on.
You try harder.
Maybe you drink or gamble or scream at your partner.
Maybe you adopt quirky rituals to keep you safe.
Or maybe you simply tie a knot at the end of your rope and hold on.
And whatever you do works for a while… until it doesn’t anymore. And then undesirable behaviours start to surface—like pulling out your hair.
Remember, trich is a stress reliever--a 'release valve' because all of that cortisol has to go somewhere. It can't keep building up or you'll explode. Your body knows that, and your subconscious (tapped into that need and endlessly creative) finds a solution. It may not be the best solution, but it works and it'll keep you alive, which is the only real goal of your subconscious mind.
Interestingly, people often come to me as a last resort, thinking I’ll wave my magic wand and *POOF* the unwanted behaviour will disappear, but, alas, no. Granted, your mind is infinitely powerful and is capable of miracles and hypnosis is an amazing tool to harness that innate power.
If you neglect the root cause or underlying issue, there’s a very good chance the problem will ultimately re-occur or pop up in a different way, meaning you’ve wasted your time and money—a result no one wants. The goal is to SOLVE the problem and arm you with all the tools you need to succeed today and in the future.
So… back to Julia and our first meeting:
Julia sat down on my couch, and nervously looked around. She was obviously hesitant of me, of hypnosis, and embarrassed by her need for help. Eyes downcast, she described her problem, its progression, and the deep shame she carried.
Heartbreaking. And not her fault.
Time passed, and as we chatted, I watched her eyes brighten and her body relax, as though relieved of a million burdens.
We discussed what was actually happening, and why, and spent time selecting constructive, sustainable options that felt right and good to her. From there, we moved forward with the hypnosis and replaced old, unhelpful habits and beliefs with the tools and strategies she needed to flourish.
Julia’s feeling *much* better. She’s smiling and confident and her hair has grown back.
Most importantly, Julia doesn’t need me anymore… and that’s a very GOOD THING!
**Julia is not a real person. She is a composite of various clients.