What Not To Say To People With Trichotillomania

The first time I can remember pulling my eyelashes out, I was around 3 years old. I am now 23 years old. 20 years is a fairly long time to have had trichotillomania for, and in those years I've heard my fair share of bullshit around the disorder. After chatting with other friends and readers of this blog who have trichotillomania, it seems we hear the same old lines coming from people who just don't understand the disorder (or bother trying to understand it). You know, those people who either have blatant disregard for your feelings, or perhaps those characters who love to think they have the magic cure because they took psychology GCSE. Either way, a lot of the things we hear a lot of the time from loved ones or strangers alike don't do anything to help us- and in fact could make us feel worse. So I thought I'd jot down a few of the reoccurring classics as a hint of what not to say to someone with trich! I'll do another post with ways you can help those with the disorder, but for now, here's some of the things that will make our eyes roll....

Why don't you just stop?

Ah, yes. I hadn't thought of doing that. Trichotillomania is quite a shocking disorder perhaps solely due to the fact that, bluntly, we rip hair from ourselves. We pull the hair out, often to the point where we make ourselves bald. Others just don't understand why we would do that to ourselves. Well, nor do we, really. But we do know that we don't want to be doing it. We would give anything not to have this disorder- it is not a choice. Therefore, we can't just stop it; if we could, there is no way on earth anyone would have trich! We battle ourselves daily to try and stop our hands from reaching for our lashes, scalp, brows (or wherever else), and it is certainly not as easy as just 'stopping' these compulsions. Remember that it's not just a bad habit, it's a disorder.

You need to try harder to stop.

Similar to above, I often get told that if I just tried that little bit harder I might be able to stop pulling. If only it was that easy! Over the 20 years I have had this, I have tried so many things and thrown so much money at therapy or different solutions to try and help me stop pulling my hair out. I try every single day to stop, and I try so hard. It annoys me when outsiders assume I don't try, simply because if I was actually trying hard, I wouldn't have it anymore (and obviously, I still do). It's really not the case. Trich is an endless cycle of trying and failing; just because we still do it, it doesn't mean we're not putting in the effort to stop.

You would look so much better with natural lashes and brows.

I can't begin to explain how insulting this is. I was told this quite recently; firstly, thanks for saying I look bad (luckily I'm secure enough in myself not to care about what others think!), secondly, who are you to comment on my appearance, thirdly, if you did think that, why voice it (the expression 'if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything' comes to mind) and fourth, insulting someone can hurt them and be really damaging if they're not in a good place. What is being rude going to achieve? Some people insult your appearance in hope that it will stop you doing further damage. This won't work. I for one used to hate the way I look; I was repulsed by what I do to myself, how ugly it made me. Telling me that trich is ruining how I look is just going to make me feel worse about myself and keep me in that cycle of pulling.

Why do you do something like that to yourself?

I don't know, I just do! If I knew why I started, perhaps (just perhaps) I would be able to stop. But I don't. And probably never will.

Don't you think it's a bit weird?

Probably, but telling me I am weird just reiterates the self-hatred that trich brings. Using that kind of language really stings. We are well aware that it isn't what is deemed as 'normal' behaviour, and often already feel isolated and so alone with the disorder. Telling us this isn't going to help; it's just going to add fire to our negative image of ourselves and confirm in our minds that we are freaks. No, it may not be 'normal', but then what even is 'normal'?!

Why would you want to hurt yourself?

Actually, for many of us, it doesn't hurt. Perhaps at first it did, but I for one am completely desensitised to any 'pain'. Pulling my hair out is almost like a release; it's a satisfying feeling, so I'm not actually hurting myself. (I've written more about what it feels like to pull your hair out here if you want to explore this point further!). And again, I don't really want to do it...I just can't help myself!

I'm sure you'll grow out of it at some point.

Ah, wishful thinking. I'm sure so many teenagers hear this one. 'It's just a phase', 'a manifestation of teenage angst'...the disorder is never seen as what it is- it's always minimised or seen as less significant, less important, not a 'proper' illness. Compulsively pulling your hair out isn't a 'phase' that you will likely grow out of. This is a real illness and needs to be treated with the seriousness of one. Given the fact that I've had it pretty much all my life and it doesn't seem to be getting any 'better', I very much doubt I will grow out of it. Perhaps people say this to me in hope, because they feel bad if they imply I will have this for life. But I know the reality of the disorder- I know I probably will have this for life. At least saying that makes it seem a bit more serious than labelling it as a 'phase'.

You're just doing it for attention. 

Again, I've written a whole post all about the labelling of those with mental illnesses as attention seekers! It's so frustrating to still hear mental health being spoken about with links to attention seeking, despite how much amazing progress that's seemingly been made surrounding open conversations and beating the stigma around it. However, the stigma is still there. Unfortunately, I've been told many a time that I pull hair out because of jealously of a sibling and because I wanted attention from my parents. Nope, not the case. As if I would give myself a disorder to get attention away from my brother; who on earth do they think I am?! If you actually have a conversation with someone who has trich, or even do a quick Google search, you will quickly find that no-one wants to have trichotillomania. NO-ONE. The fact that some people thing this is something we want to live because we want attention is just completely beyond me.

I hope this gives a little insight into the things we hear on a regular basis. If you have trich, please let me know if there are any I've missed off that you hear a lot!

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  1. My beautiful 18-year-old daughter has been pulling her brows and lashes since she was 13. I maybe have been too hard on her after reading this post. It's just so hard to understand why she can't stop pulling! My daughter is excited I've agreed to pay for her first microblading session. I wish she'd wear false lashes, but she doesn't want to trouble with them. She wears heavy liner, but I think the lashes are so important. I just discovered this blog and will share it with my daughter. Thank you for sharing your journey and shedding light on Trich.

    1. Thank you for your comment, and I'm sorry to hear your daughter wears trich. I think it's good that she goes without false lashes; once you start wearing them it's difficult to like how you look without them. Just see it as confidence- and they are a faff so she has the right idea! There's no right way to 'cover' the baldness- if she's happy to go without false lashes then good for her. I wish I could adopt the same attitude!


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