Adult Resources
Obsessive Compulsive Spectrum Disorders

Hair Pulling

Hair plays an important role in the expression of our emotion.  In the expression of love and friendship we touch or comb each other's hair. Sometimes we are just content with brushing aside hair we see on each other's jackets.  This is a universal behavior known as "grooming."  Apes spend a lot of time in grooming one another's hair.

In anger we may want to pull and pluck the hair of the person one is angry with or if if that is impossible, pull and pluck ones own hair.  Hair pulling is an instinctive behavior that we normally learn to control and suppress as we grow up. However, this control may not develop in many people. People who suffer from this disorder are so ashamed that they hide their condition from others.  Many use wigs and eyelashes.

Children refuse public company for fear of exposure. Parents can not provide much help because they don't know much about the problem either. Even doctors have limited understanding of this problem due to the lack of scientific information available. It is believed that trichotillomania is a form of obsessive-compulsive behavior, as patients do not have control over their behavior.  Patients experience an increasing sense of tension before pulling out their hair.  They are often frustrated in their efforts to suppress this behavior because they experience significant tension when they try to resist pulling their hair.  Many describe that they experience some degree of relief, pleasure, or gratification when pulling out their hair.

Hair pulling is generally followed by guilt, shame or fear of losing control.  These emotions increase anxiety.  Some pull their hair absentmindedly, while others pull their hair with great concentration. Behavior therapy and medications both are found to be effective in controlling the problem. However, if the problem is severe, a combination of behavior therapy with medication is the best option, since symptoms are likely to return when medication is stopped.

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