What are Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors (BFRBs)? 

Everyone pops a pimple or may bite their nails when they’re stressed, a lot of people can stop during or not act on the urge to scratch or pop a pimple. For a certain group of people, this is not the case, and the action is a compulsion. The disorders classify under BFRBs – Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors.

Some of the most common types of BFRBs are picking skin (Excoriation Disorder or Dermatillomania), biting nails (Onychophagia), or pulling out hair (Trichotillomania). These behaviors are not ‘odd quirks’ or ‘bad habits.’ This compulsive behavior can get so severe it affects their daily life, self-image, personal relationships, employment, and school. Individuals often feel embarrassed or ashamed of their compulsions. Blood from scabs seeping through clothing. Scars. Piles of hair from where they were sitting. Bald patches. 

While BFRB awareness is spreading, the truth about these disorders is still not common knowledge. According to research, about 1 in 20 people have a BFRB (Anxiery.org). That number seems pretty high, yet many are unaware they have it. BFRB’s are not considered self-harm even though the outcome is damaging to the body. They can go alongside these preexisting disorders as well as depression, OCD, and anxiety, but the exact cause of them is unknown.

Like a lot of mental illnesses, there is no ‘cure,’ but it can be managed with therapy, medication, and learning healthy coping mechanisms. Some find hobbies or fidget toys helpful, like spinner rings, tangle toys, knitting, sewing. These can offer a similar sensation to destructive behavior and offer some catharsis. 

What is it like to have a BFRB?

Here is a powerful short film that depicts the struggle of BFRBs. They depict the physical and emotional sides of the disorder. Trigger warning: blood, skin picking, emotional distress, self-harm.

What can you do to help?

Don’t shame someone who exhibits these behaviors. If someone is in the act, never call them out in front of other people. If you have concerns about that person’s well being then talk to them personally. Be an active listener and supportive of the person in question. It is not your job to try to ‘solve’ or ‘cure’ that person. You can recommend therapy to that person if it might be helpful for them.

October 1-7 is dedicated to BFRB Awareness Week. You can share information on social media, start conversations, and spread awareness and positivity.

The TLC Foundation
Candian BFRB Support Network

Article sources:
Expert Consensus Treatment Guidelines
Prevalence of body-focused repetitive behaviors in three large medical colleges of Karachi: a cross-sectional study

Read also:
Eating Disorders: What They Really Are
Body Neutrality In The Age Of TikTok And Quarantine
The Irrational Hatred Of Stretch Marks