TRICHOTILLOMANIA, LIKE ANY CHALLENGE, CAN PUT STRESS ON A RELATIONSHIP OR EVEN BREAK IT … BUT IT SURE DOESN’T HAVE TO.
“I didn’t sign on for this.” It’s a common cry for many people who find themselves confronted with the unexpected reality of a relationship partner battling an addiction. It can be even more of a mess when they enter a relationship convincing themselves they can handle it, or better yet, thinking they’ll be the catalyst for their partner to change. Nothing could be more of a setup for failure. The long, slow decline will wear out the strongest of personalities until they wake up and realize they have no fight at all left inside.
Trichotillomania, or “trich”, as it’s commonly called, is a compulsive disorder that drives individuals to pull out their hair. This is not exclusive to just the hair on one’s head; body hair — anywhere it grows is an optimal target. Although trich is more commonly found, at least at inception, in teenagers under 17, many adults have successfully hidden it and suffered with it for years. It’s been accused of resembling a tic, a bad habit, an impulse control disorder or even an addiction. But I’m not here to speak about it from a possible chemical/brain perspective. I leave that to the experts in medicine and addiction to decide. I’m here to address trichotillomania from the real-life, everyday realities of what people are losing when they don’t know how to support their partner, husband or wife who is dealing with this issue. In the end both parties will suffer if certain steps are not taken, none of which is a guarantee of anything more than the possibility to overcome this individually and to remain intact as a couple.
Trichotillomania is a “challenge”, not a “problem”
First things first — let’s admit the issue is present and a challenge to our existence. I stopped short of using the word problem, because I want people to understand that the words we use to describe ourselves, and others, can be an additional handicap we don’t need. The word challenge inspires us to work with it and hopefully overcome it. Problem will trigger every unresolved issue since birth, causing them to rise to the top and swallow us whole.
Get support, both of you. If you’re in this together, then approach it as a team. In this case, each person must work his or her own process. If you’re challenged by trich, it’s important to dig in and decide on a course of action, both behaviorally and chemically, deciding if Western or Eastern medicine (or a combination thereof) works best for you. A disciplined regimen can do wonders. Support might include one-on-one therapy, or a potentially richer path may involve a support group. Finding other people you can relate to can be very therapeutic in eliminating the notion that you are suffering alone.
If you’re supporting your partner, you may want to explore a support group to avoid your own isolation around uncomfortable feelings and beliefs that can and will easily surface. The most challenging position we can put ourselves in is to believe we’re the “only one” feeling this way. It will also be helpful to do research and really understand the physiological and psychological experiences and behaviors associated with trich. Engaging in conversation about trich with your partner is a great way to break down any barriers that might be separating you. Also, check back periodically on certain websites, such as www.trich.org, since learning about new treatments and developments will keep you one step ahead.
Trichotillomania: Changing what you can change
Reexamine many of your lifestyle choices, especially around diet and exercise. A healthy diet and exercise will impact your body on the mental, physical, emotional and spiritual levels. Using the body’s ability to manufacture and release endorphins will provide added supportive. A great balancing regimen such as yoga will help one to quiet the mind and work with the anxiety that gets produced as thoughts begin to take on a life of their own.
Have a straight-talk session once a week. Each person gets to discuss wins, insights and old challenges that may still be lingering — and any feelings that are present. Each gets a 10- or 15-minute window to share whatever is present and to do so without interruption. The other person gets to listen and reflect back what his partner is sharing. This session time means active and empathic listening, no interrupting, judging or fixing. Just the mutual freedom to express and share will provide relief to any uncertainty, anxiety or despair.