In the early 2000s, the Trichotillomania Learning Center launched Trichotillomania Awareness Week to raise awareness about hair pulling from October 1st-7th while destigmatizing trichotillomania with #Trichweek. In 2013 this yearly celebration broadened its reach through the newly formed umbrella term Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs), and then became BFRB Awareness Week, or #BFRBweek.
What are BFRBs?
Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs) is an umbrella term for a chronic behavior that causes a person to consistently cause physical damage to oneself through a compulsive act in order to relieve anxiety.
BFRBs are pathological grooming behaviors that are thought to be driven by similar impulsive urges, linking them together but manifesting in several ways (ie skin picking, hair pulling, nail biting).
Why Is Awareness Important?
According to TLC, approximately 2-5% of the population has a BFRB.
Due to the embarrassment caused by the visible effects of BFRBs, a lack of knowledge from medical professionals, and the shame surrounding a mental health compulsion directed at oneself, many believe they are the only ones living with their condition.
This isolation can exacerbate the BFRB along with additional mental health concerns, such as anxiety and depression. Raising awareness encourages those struggling to seek help and look for community support while educating the public, improving the lives of those with BFRBs.
How #BFRBweek Started
“By the time 2004 rolled around, the non-profit Trichotillomania Learning Center (TLC) that I established in 1990 had already existed for 14 years. (Today it is known as the TLC Foundation for BFRBs.)
The early years were often difficult, with folks always wondering if we would survive! Grace itself touched us, in creating a committed core of volunteers stretching across the US, that believed deeply in the value of the work we were doing. We were a small community, but had already launched an updated website, hosted 12 previous Annual Retreats and 11 Annual Conferences held across the country, and TLC’s newsletter In Touch had about 2400 subscribers.
Incoming phone calls ranged between 50-150 calls per week. As summer rolled into Fall, it was time to prepare for our Retreat. The 2004 Annual TLC Retreat was to be held during September, in Auburn, Washington, at a lovely retreat and camp center called Camp Berachah. Almost 200 community BFRB members showed up, ranging in age from 9 to 82 years!
The group included adult pullers and pickers, parents, and about 20 pulling and picking teenagers, along with maybe 15 presenters. Coming together for the TLC Retreat was food for not only my own soul, but many others; how we looked forward to it every year! Even more powerful than the Annual Conference (which was held in a large hotel like a Marriott), the Retreat offered a transformative, immersion-based, and nature-surrounded experience unrivalled by anything I had ever known.
People attended from around the country, and the world; showing up alone, knowing no-one, yet being irresistibly drawn by the possibility of finding solace, tools, relief, and most of all, a sense of community; that we were NOT ALONE in this struggle. The flooding tears of first-timers every year said it all; expressing wordlessly the profound gratitude for,
“I am seen and heard; I have come home to heal.”
Attending the Retreat was a life-changing experience; years of shame and isolation fell away, life-long friendships were formed, new concepts of self-care and treatment practices were learned, and when we all headed home, we were just a bit more OK than when we had arrived. On the second day of that 2004 retreat, we held a brainstorming session called “What does the BFRB Community Need?” And oh my God, it was wonderful! The whole group attended, and then broke down into smaller groups to develop ideas.
Christina speaking at a retreat in the 6 month trailer for the documentary, Trichster (2015)
Then, we took all the ideas and consolidated them into the 3 main subjects;
Outreach, Education, and Treatment.
It was a total hoot, as folks suggested things from celebrating BFRBs on Halloween (you know, Trich or Treat!), to creating a roaming vaudeville show that would traverse the country… So many ideas, from skywriting to mountain climbing!
We had already pretty much established that the organization was doing all it could to support access to more informed treatment through the creation of the Professional Treatment Institute, a 3-day professional training course being developed by members of our Scientific Advisory Board to train other providers, as well as our ever-growing list of state-by-state treatment and service providers (still not many, but certainly better than before!).
So, we zoomed in on Outreach and Education; What could we do, in ways that would support the cause, from our far-flung homes around the world? TLC was not able to provide funding for activities, but it could help with providing emotional support, brochures, information, area speakers, and most importantly, help to get the word out, if someone was willing to take action! Rolling the categories together, we brainstormed about the impact of personal networking; individuals educating friends and family members, we brainstormed guidelines for how to host neighborhood and regional events, how to contact local media, and came up with a game-plan.
We would designate the first week of October as Trichotillomania Awareness Week; which became #BFRBweek a few years later. And the TLC website would provide anyone who wanted to participate with a list of do-able ideas, offering information, samples, and advertising, both in the newsletter and on the web, which was quickly becoming a huge global outreach platform.
Each year, I am so amazed at the inspirational outreach of people in our community, as they teach the world around them, often becoming vulnerable, sharing honestly and openly what was never shared before, and taking a stand for healing, both for themselves and others.
Thank you all from the very depths of my heart for continuing to bring more and more light into shaded corners of human suffering though your own actions. We Really ARE in this together!”
In love and Service, Christina Pearson
We asked, and you answered!
Sharing your BFRB story is empowering in tackling the shame that keeps many sufferers in hiding. It can positively impact others to learn more about these conditions, challenge their inner dialogue, and seek a community where they’re safe and understood.
For Skin Picking Support‘s second #BFRBweek, asked what BFRB Awareness Week means to you and we are honored to have received powerful submissions from leaders and strong figures in the community, along with a brave post from an anonymous member! Check them out below:
“What does BFRB Awareness Week mean to you?”
“When I started my BFRB journey, I couldn’t imagine that this is where I would currently be. Like many of us, I began alone; thinking I was alone and struggling to find support. A small silver lining of the pandemic was that more effort was put into connecting online, which was well suited to me, as I already found it difficult to go outside.
It was during this time, that my life changed. I found the BFRB community -and we weren’t hiding! I attended support groups, community rooms, webinars, and met the admirable Angela from Skin Picking Support. Listening to others share and receive support was like hearing what I always wanted from my parents; it was amazing to just be understood without having to say a word.
After attending community rooms, I was invited by their lovely host Jude to attend the support group, BFRB UK & Ireland, and I was welcomed with a full heart. I heard so many stories I could relate to, shared insight, laughed and cried with soon-to-be friends. We made genuine connections that lasted outside of the group.
Tash Willson, England
BFRB UK & Ireland volunteer
I highly recommend that anyone with a BFRB attends a support group; it has helped me more than anything else. This community is wonderful -and I haven’t found a support group I dislike yet! Everyone’s journey with BFRBs is different, but I can now safely say that after connecting with people like me, I am finally free of the shame that was weighing me down for over a decade; and if my BFRB journey ended here, to me, that’s a victory.
Thank you BFRB UK & Ireland, Skin Picking Support and to the whole BFRB community.”
Kim Mills, England
Host of “Dermatillo-Diaries Podcast“
BFRB Awareness Week is and will always be an important week for me.
“I’ve lived with BFRBs for the majority of my life. Chronic nail biting as a child which turned into skin picking disorder from a young teen onwards, I’ve also experienced the temptation of hair pulling during my chemotherapy treatment.
Having BFRB Awareness Week every October means we – as a community – can share our lived experiences and raise awareness of our BFRBs. It gives us an opportunity to de-stigmatise and lift the lid on what life is like managing compulsive behaviours, as well as the quality of life it provides.
BFRB Awareness Week brings us all together to unite and connect, which is especially important when facing feelings of shame, guilt and isolation on a daily basis. It works as a reminder that we’re never truly alone in our struggles, and various forms of help are available as our community continues to grow and flourish.”
“I’m Aneela, co-founder of HabitAware & BFRB Changemakers non-profit. I’m also a BFRB researcher, peer coach & awareness advocate. I hid my compulsive hair pulling from about age 10 to age 30! 10 years ago I shared my trichotillomania secret with my husband and desire for something that made me aware of this subconscious unwanted behavior! It didn’t exist, so we teamed up with two friends and invented it!
This BFRB Awareness Week, I want to encourage you to HOLD ON TO HOPE! BFRB Recovery is possible and it starts with reaching out to community members for support, like myself and Angela @ Skin Picking Support and so many others!
You may have felt alone for so long. I know that feeling all too well. It’s not true. We are 1 in 20!!!
You may have felt ashamed for so long. I know that feeling all too well. It’s not true. There is no shame in a chronic health condition – just as someone with diabetes must learn to manage, so must we!
You may have felt angry at yourself for so long. I know that feeling all too well. It’s not true. The path to recovery is rooted in self-love!”
Aneela Kumar, USA
Love, strength, & awareness, Aneela.
Lauren McKeaney, USA
Picking Me Foundation CEO
“Everyone has skin picked.
And if you struggle with skin picking disorder, I want you to know you are also not alone. The tantalizing compulsion to scan skin searching for something to level and the countless focused picking episodes composed of hours fixing piercing imperfections, are not your fault.
Trust me, I spent almost 3 decades picking myself nonstop, never knowing why, and doing everything I could from making you ask too many questions. Now, I’m recovering with, not from, but with, the mental illness and I’ve dedicated my life to helping others do the same. Try and think of your skin picking as a teammate, signalling you that something is dysregulated, and the skin picking behavior is trying to get you back to ~just right~.
Once you can harness what your skin picking is teaching you, you can utilize that info to manage the behavior and greatly reduce skin picking flare-ups. Do your hands get noisy and start to wander when you’re getting ready for bed? This could mean you’re feeling sleepy, which your system tries to regulate by inducing skin picking, when perchance all this is signalling, is that it’s time for bed.
This #bfrbweek2023, I want my fellow skin pickers to know that the skin picking may not stop. But the suffering can. Be gentle with yourself after skin picking, this disorder already tears us apart and doesn’t deserve a minute more of our time. And choose yourself over the illness that chose you, #PickingMe over skin picking. You got this loves!”
“BFRB Awareness Week is something I look forward to every year but it wasn’t something I always knew about. For most of my life, and like many others, I suffered with my BFRB in silence.
When I was 10 years old I started pulling out my eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair. It was something that just started happening to me without any rhyme or reason that I can think of, and believe me, I have thought about it. No one in my family understood what was happening so they quickly sought out medical professionals. “Help our daughter! Please! Help!” is what I imagined my parents saying to everyone we met. Sadly, I didn’t have to imagine the responses because I heard them. “We don’t know how.”
As I got older I stayed quiet about my BFRB. With missing eyebrows, eyelashes, and hair from my scalp it was hard to avoid the negative attention I was receiving. I came up with so many lies it was hard to keep track.
Barbara Lally, USA
Author, Podcast Host
I imagined my classmates thinking to themselves, How many times can someone get gum in their hair? Can eyelashes really fall out on their own? I didn’t want to share with anyone about my trichotillomania because I knew they would judge me. I was already being judged.
I just wanted to disappear…
It wasn’t until I was an adult that I started to tiptoe into the idea of sharing about my trichotillomania. It was 17 years into my trichotillomania journey and I was exhausted carrying this secret with me. I knew there were other people in the world with trichotillomania and BFRBs that I could relate to, it just seemed like not one of them lived near me. I started an anonymous Instagram account and my life completely changed.
Once I started sharing my story, hearing the stories of others, and becoming part of a community, I felt so much better. I felt at home! I was able to release the heaviness of shame. I wasn’t alone. I was far from it. This led to me dedicating my life to spreading awareness and helping others in the BFRB community. I used to think my trichotillomania was the worst part of me. Now I know it’s the best.
BFRB Awareness Week means other people won’t have to suffer in silence the way I (and many others) did. By talking about it we can shorten the amount of time people think they are the only ones. By being authentically ourselves we can kick start people’s self-love and self-acceptance journey. By sharing on social media we can show people that there is nothing wrong with them – that having a BFRB is part of being a human. By continuing to talk about BFRBs even after the week is over we can show them that they will always be loved just the way they are.
Warning: Graphic Photos
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“BFRB week is important because it’s an opportunity to spread awareness beyond the community, because the more people that are aware the more understanding there can be from friends and family and people can learn how to talk about it in a more compassionate way.
I feel shame about what I have done to myself. I pick at my legs using sharp tweezers and I also pick at my feet and I have picked off all of my toenails and as they grow back I pick them off again and again. I am concerned about infection so I keep them clean, and I am blessed to receive excellent support from my GP and I visit the nurse regularly who monitors my healing and encourages but never judges me.
I would encourage anyone who picks to reach out and accept the help, it’s the first step to reducing shame and starting a path of recovery and or self-care, receiving regular support makes an enormous difference as the path to recovery or acceptance is never straightforward, life is difficult for us all in many ways and for us this is one manifestation.”
“Thank you all for sharing your incredible journeys and inspiring messages with Skin Picking Support! In these submissions, your strength and perseverance shines; they will undoubtedly have a positive impact on those who are struggling with BFRBs. 💜
As the first person who publicly came out on television with this condition in 2009, I never imagined so many people in the world actually suffered with what I kept as my “dirty little secret” since childhood.
Before there was ever skin picking awareness, I thought horrible things about myself; I was ugly, disgusting, a freak of nature, and more, some which I had been told by people in my life. Trying to hide my skin became overwhelming, and I tried to end my life at 18.
I believed I was the only one and isolated myself until early adulthood when I decided I wasn’t going to live in secret anymore. After freeing myself from that mental prison, my picking dropped from up to 8 hours a night to approximately 2, before I received therapy in 2015 (after appearing on The Doctors).
Angela Hartlin, CA
Author, Skin Picking Support founder
With more people coming forward over the years to several grassroots and non-profits forming, #BFRBweek is a reminder of how far we’ve come in such a short time and how banding together has only made us stronger in 2023.
No matter what you’re going through, you are not alone. Reach out for the support you deserve to begin your journey of healing and acceptance. Not only can your BFRB get better, but so can living with it.”
I cannot thank everyone enough who participated in this year’s call for community awareness! Sharing your journey is not only healing for yourself but it inspires others to shed the shame of these all-encompassing disorders. Your contribution to Skin Picking Support, and BFRB community as a whole, creates much-needed representation for thousands who believe they are alone or who are currently unable to break their silence. Your stories are important in destigmatizing these conditions and normalizing our experiences!