Skin Deep: Battling Excoriation Disorder

“She conquered her demons and wore her scars like wings.” ~Atticus~


Have you ever had to admit that you’re the hindrance in your own healing? *Raises hand* I have, several times. Not only have I had to acknowledge my participation in deterring my own emotional and spiritual healing, but in many cases, physical as well. One of my most problematic behaviors is picking at myself. I have an amazing talent at picking myself apart, theoretically, and literally.


One thing about myself that I’ve always been self-conscious about, is my skin, due to scarring. So why is it that I seem to be so personally invested in seeing to it that my skin stays broken? Why is it that I make a point in ensuring that I always have an area of skin on my body that I’m going to be unhappy about, obsess over, and want to hide?


This hit me hard as I was in the process of searching up and down the internet for skincare products that could help erase or reduce the appearance of scars and discoloration, while simultaneously picking at my skin, actively creating the very sores and scars that I’m seeking a solution for. Make that make sense. Sigh…unfortunately it's very commonplace for me.


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I researched the topic of compulsive skin picking; I also brought the issue up with my mental health professional, and learned this is a disorder, referred to as Excoriation Disorder. Mental Health America (mhnational.org) considers this a mental illness related to obsessive compulsive disorder. It is where one repeatedly picks at their skin, resulting in broken skin, swelling, and scarring. There is no known cause identified for this picking behavior, however, stress and anxiety are often cited as factors.


As someone who suffers from Excoriation Disorder, and also battles anxiety, this behavior has been a cyclical hindrance to my healing, and is incredibly anxiety inducing. For example, I’d sit down to do basic activities, such as reading, writing, or working, and would get distracted by an area of skin I can force a corner of my nail beneath, and my focus shifts to removing my skin. Once I’ve realized I’m breaking open my skin, I become upset, but I can’t focus on anything else. I’m fixated on my wound. When I’m finally able to stop, I’m then annoyed about the time I’ve wasted, as well as the scar that’s sure to form. This isn’t even as bad as it gets. My compulsion can also be dangerous. I’ve caught myself obsessively picking at my skin to the point of bloodshed, rather than being focused on the road I’m driving on. I’d exit my car and would immediately feel shame, attempting to hide my skin from anyone who may see. Sigh…the anxiety, pain, shame, frustration, compulsion, fixation, and procrastination of it all! It’s exhausting. But I’m on a correction mission.


Although I’ve suffered this disorder for a very long time, I only recently realized it existed. I’m still working to find solutions to eradicate the behavior, as well as solutions to reduce the appearance of the scars produced. It’s significantly important that I was able to recognize and acknowledge the behavior as a problem, and was able to consult with a mental health professional. I encourage anyone reading this to consider their behaviors, especially those that may seem harmless. Pay attention to how your own actions make you feel, during and after. I’m always an advocate for therapy, and if that is not an option, many mental healthcare professionals provide alternative mental healthcare outside of a therapy office. You have to search and find what works for you. Find your personal entrance to the steps that lead to your healing.


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