This painful secret of trichotillomania can be filled with shame but it’s helpful to know you’re not alone. My own story may help you or someone you know who suffers from it.
The older we get, the more comfortable we become with accepting the things about ourselves, others, and life with which we cannot change. However, what would it be like if what you thought you could not change you suddenly learned could be changed? Perhaps you never knew change was possible because this something (whatever you have in mind) had stayed “as is” for so many years.
As a therapist, I am constantly faced by clients in all stages of life who believe that certain aspects of their being or life are fixed…permanent…constant. In addition to permanency, sometime we decide that certain life experiences would be better left unacknowledged because it would be too embarrassing, too painful, or too shameful to divulge the truth, even to those who are loving and supportive. Or, no one else would be able to understand.
While I plan to have many more years ahead of me with a long healthy mane, I spent many years of my past keeping a painful secret due to the shame of bearing the truth. Myself, along with many other women of all ages-as much as 5% of the population- struggle as I once had with a mental health disorder known as trichotillomania, or hair pulling. The consequences, much like female alopecia (i.e female pattern baldness), are humiliating, devastating, embarrassing, and for some seem to be de-feminizing.
Unlike, alopecia, trichotillomania is hair loss as a result of what one is doing to oneself over and over while wanting to stop but feeling unable to stop or not knowing how to stop. Alopecia is a medical condition while trichotillomania is a mental health disorder treated with individual psychotherapy. Trichotillomania is not a self-harm behavior like cutting; it is a behavior either done out of habit or as a result of emotions which drive urges to pull. Hair is pulled one strand at a time from anywhere on the body-scalp, eyelashes, eyebrows, arm, leg, pubic region – with the progression of the disorder, if left untreated, resulting in complete baldness.
Hair is symbolic of feminism, sexuality, and sensuality; certain cultures require women to keep their hair covered to hide their sexual attractiveness. Hair is also referenced in different religious texts as being a symbol of power, holiness, modesty or sensuality. For those who are not religious, hair is another outlet of outwardly expressing the inner being. If none of this resonates, hair can simply be seen as another way to make choices in our life about how we want to appear (just like attire).
As we age, hair changes in color and thickness. Unless you are blessed, lucky, or continue to put time effort and financial investment into your “do”, hair can be a give-away for one’s true age. Yet, if you pull out your hair, any hair that is left untouched, gray or not, is a curse and a blessing. Those with trichotillomania can rejoice in the hair they do have, or the hair that is growing back, while feel concern that the hair that is still attached is an opportunity to respond to an urge and continue the habitual nature of the disorder.
This disorder is real and it is something many women are facing daily. It is possible to find freedom from the behavior and return to (in most cases) a full head of hair. The first step is recognizing there is a name for hair pulling. The second step is embracing the fact that you are not alone. If you, or someone you know, has been struggling with trichotillomania, in silence or in the open, I encourage you to share your story. Become open and accepting of this struggle you have been facing. Accept that perhaps unlike other parts of your life, this is something that can be changed for the better. Lastly, I encourage you to be the best form of “you” that you can be with or without locks!