The Do’s and Don’ts of caring for a loved one with a BFRB
Let me preface this by saying that I am not a medical professional (or even an adult for that matter). However, I do have the experience of being a sufferer of trichotillomania for several years with an unsupportive family. I also know that there are very limited resources when it comes to sufferers of BFRBs and their friends/significant others/family. BFRBs manifest differently to different people, so take this all with a grain of salt. These are just things that have found to be true in my years of struggling with my trich, and if you are a sufferer, feel free to add on anything that I have missed! I hope that this can be a little helpful!
Slap/grab/pull/or have any contact with their hands at all
If you think you are helping with this, you are gravely mistaken. Most times we will know if we’re picking/pulling, with a few exceptions. Even if we are not aware, this reaction is never okay, much less helpful.
Get visibly angry/frustrated/upset
Believe it or not, we are not doing any of this on purpose or for fun! It’s quite the nightmarish condition, with almost no help available to us at all, despite it being more common than you would think. We are more frustrated at ourselves than you will ever be at us, so adding your frustration on top of it all will only make it considerably worse. Let me echo the first phrase none of this is done on purpose or ‘’for funsies’’ if you get angry there is literally no reason for it and you’re being an asshole to a person who’s already suffering. Any display of frustration or aggression will most likely make your love one feel not only disappointment at themselves for pulling/picking, but a disappointment to you for pulling/picking.
Question them while pulling/picking as to why they are doing it
You know we have this condition. While pulling/picking sometimes flares at random, stress can be a large factor figured into it. Cornering them and asking why they’ve started to pull will only make it worse, and the added stress will make it considerably harder to stop, at least in my experience. If they are trapped in a stressful situation, do your best to remove them from it and ask questions later. Berating them while they are pulling/picking is literally one of the worst things you can do and I repeat it will not help in any way, shape or form or get them to stop. It will make it worse.
Do not confront them about recent hair loss/scabbing
Believe us. We know when we’ve relapsed. Having someone come up to you and mention it is basically like having your ‘’failure’’ being thrown in your face. It’s upsetting, very upsetting.
Do not question them as to ‘’Why do you do this?’’; ‘’Why don’t you just stop????’’
If we could stop we would. No one, literally no one enjoys ripping out their own hair/breaking open their own flesh/whatever your behavior entails. If there was some magic button I could press that would cause me to stop pulling out my hair, I would do it! However, BFRBs are legitimate disorders.
Would you ask someone who had a broken leg, why they just won’t take off their cast and walk? Would you tell someone with a peanut allergy to just eat a jar of peanut butter and get over it?
No! Of course you wouldn’t! Because that’s a ludicrous idea!
The thing a lot of people don’t understand about BFRBs, is that if we do not do our behavior, for most sufferers it can be physically painful. While the thing is destructive, and seems painful and easily avoidable for the observing party, for the sufferer it’s almost unavoidable. Not only can it be painful, it’s hard to focus on literally anything else when you have the urges.
This is also demeaning, and makes it seem like we would have to put in no effort at all to give us a magical ‘’cure’’, just because you brought us this piece of very obvious advice that we have heard a thousand times before. The reality is that in order to stop pulling, you have to literally fight a battle with yourself and learn tools against yourself for the rest of your life, knowing that at any time you could ruin years of hard work. It’s terrifying and by no means is it easy, so don’t treat it like that.
Do not go through their rooms/floors/trashcans/vacuums looking for evidence of their relapsing
This should be a given. Not only is it invasive of our privacy, I can guarantee that we know exactly how much we’ve ‘’slipped up’’ and have already spent every waking hour of the day beating ourselves up about it. You may think you’re helping by ‘’alerting us’’, but it’s only beating a dead horse and making our lives that more miserable. It also makes us feel like a criminal, or that we should have the power to just wave a wand and say ‘’Be gone my illness! Be gone!’’
Make jokes at their expense/Demean them/Treat them as a burden or embarrassment
Plain and simple. If you love them, you wouldn’t and will not do this. If your loved one does this to you, I would advise you to get them far away from you. You are not an embarrassment. You are worth the world and more than your BFRB.
Listen to them. BFRBs are almost never talked about, so of course you’re not going to understand it! Ask them to tell you what you need to know about their condition. Communicate with each other! However remember to apply common sense and respect with the questions you ask. If you love them, this should not be a problem!
It may be incredibly odd to you at first, but once again, it’s a condition that doesn’t get a lot of coverage. Your loved one has trusted you enough to open up about their condition to you, which was probably incredibly embarrassing and scary for them. Please try your hardest to be supportive of their journey to recovery/ongoing battle with a ‘’gross’’ mental illness.
Learn what helps with their urges/what you can do to help!
BFRBs are different for everyone! Learn from your loved one if there’s anything you can do to help them with their urges and flareups! Who knows, there might be something you can do to help, or you can at least learn when to steer-clear.
Treat them like a normal person
Having a BFRB doesn’t make you into some sort of freaky monster. It’s just like any other mental illness. We are still living, breathing and functional people!