Dermatillomania: Do 'Normal' People Pick Scabs?

***Possible Triggers for Self-Harm***

I’m sitting here on my sofa, contentedly watching A play Saints Row. Legs folded comfortably over one another, relaxed, comfortable. A perfectly ordinary way to while away a dark and rainy November evening.

Except for one thing. As I sit here with my lower legs bared, I cannot help but be drawn to gaze upon one of them. You see, I’m mesmerised by a deep, beguiling, dark flow of blood pouring out of my shin.

I’ve not started self-harming again, in case anyone finds this a perturbing state of affairs. Or rather, that is to say, I didn’t sit down consciously with my scalpel or a knife, and inflict a gaping wound. I have no idea how the gash got there, but that part doesn’t really matter anyway.

What does is that the wound was healing – until I pulled the scab off it, and re-opened it to the air and all its multitude of dangerous impurities.

I pick every scab on my body. Regularly, and compulsively. I have some fairly hardcore eczema in my ears, and I have the most disgusting, lurid habit of digging scabs of dead skin out of both aural cavities with hair grips (I know. I know! But if it’s not hair grips, it’s my nails – so should you ever encounter me in person, make sure I have one of the former with me ;)). And as for spots – I squeeze the few of the fuckers that I get without exception, and in fact actively go in search of others – usually non-existent – to burst. In that way, I end up picking random bits of skin; in doing so, I frequently and unwittingly scar myself.

I have always engaged in these anti-social behaviours, much to the repulsed chagrin of my manner-minded mother and, to a lesser extent, A. When, historically, Mum would call me up on an incidence of same, I would simply say that I couldn’t help it.

I continue to hold to that prerogative. I truly feel that there is no way to control any of this mistreatment of my skin; frequently, the actions are unconscious, but they are always compulsive.

So anyway, I never really thought much about the nature of the phenomenon until recently, but if I had, I suppose I’d have termed it nothing more than a bad habit – and one that was not, at least to some degree, particularly unusual. Since my descend into utterly chaotic madness (as opposed to ‘mere’ clinical depression), though, I’ve come across the term dermatillomania.

According to the linked Wikipedia article, in order for compulsive skin picking to be deemed dermatillomania, one has to experience anxiety in relation to it. Whilst in my case, that doesn’t commonly precede picking, what does happen is that – should I be stopped from scratching – then I’ll start panicking.

Arguably then, I suppose I could say I had this ‘condition’, being as it is compulsive, and obsessive. But perhaps I’m just over-pathologising myself – it would hardly be the first such time, would it?

Either way, I can’t imagine not skin-picking. It’s one of those things that just cannot compute in my tiny, limited brain. So, bad habit or dermatillomania – do other people really not do this, or is it just that they have enough self-control to avoid indulging the practice when they’re in polite company? I can logically accept that it’s the former, but I cannot truly believe that the latter is not the more accurate picture when fully painted.

Is this yet another manifestation of my wide-ranging madness or it just…meh? Do you do this or do you honestly, truly not?


A side note: A and I are off to Laaaahhhdahhhnnn in the morning. Tomorrow, to my delight, we will finally meet bourach for the first time. Yay yay! Sunday sees a lunchtime meeting with my best mate Daniel, and (hopefully) his partner Craig, then drinks in the evening with the lovely CVM. And – Jesus Christ almighty – Monday night sees the long-awaited awards ceremony. GAH! I know I was banging on last week that I was excited rather than nervous, but I’ve just lost a mission on Saints Row six times in a fucking row and packed, so now I’m in an apprehensive rage, which has led to a still-excited-but-OH-FUCK-I’M-ACTUALLY-GOING-TO-THIS-THING sense of…well, oh fuck, I’m actually going to this thing.

Wish me luck as I take my worried strides in the unknown…

Bye, by the way! See you next week. I’ll try and post about how the awards went on Tuesday (or, as I probably more accurately mistyped, Ruesday. Rue because I’ll no doubt feel slightly deflated at not winning anything, even though I already know that’s going to be the outcome. Well, no one ever said I was rational). Love you all, lovely people. Take care. xxx


28 thoughts on “Dermatillomania: Do 'Normal' People Pick Scabs?

  1. Yeah everyone does it. Roald Dahl even spoke about it in Matilda, something like “a scab is something you have to endure until you can pick it off and flick it away” if memory serves me well.

    You could delve deeper into the relams of “if your intent is to actively prevent that particular wound from healing then it’s self-harm”, but the automated nature of what you describe doesn’t really fit that IMHO.

    Totally normal 😀

  2. Oh gosh, where do I start?? I have picked skin, scabs and spots for years now. At times (mostly during episodes) I have made my face resemble pepperoni pizza.

    Why do I do it?? Sometimes there is no rhyme or reason but a lot of the time I find the sensation of picking enjoyable, a comfort. It’s soothing in a way, it also gives me something to do in times of boredom. Stress wise, it gets extreme. Needles are used to extract tiny black heads which creates a white head which becomes a crater. I can’t stand to see any sort of pus on my face. I would rather a scab.

    Nullfuture will testify, he is forever telling me to stop picking. Yet I can’t. I spend at least an hour everyday using cover up make-up to hide the evidence (never really works). Yes I regret it, my son has picked up on it and has started asking me what I am doing. Sometimes he pokes my face.

    I’m not diagnosed as having dermatillomania and to be honest I don’t see a point. I’m already in therapy for impulsive and compulsivness and many other things. I think its possibly too ingrained in me. Too automatic.

    • …a lot of the time I find the sensation of picking enjoyable, a comfort. It’s soothing in a way, it also gives me something to do in times of boredom.

      Yes! This!

      And I do exactly the same vis a vis blackheads. I even go for imaginary ones.

  3. In response, no, i truly, do not. Ive never picked scabs or spots as they heal. Ill squeeze a spot if its blatantly needing it, no one likes yellow, its not a good colour for the face, but am quite happy to put up with it as it heals. The only time ive been obsessed with interrupting a healing process, was when i requried stitches to put my wrist back together. (Not my finest moment). I satisfied my macarbe curiosity by intently watching, the ever so fed up looking, but patiently professional doctor, sewing me back together with some rather snazzy dayglo blue thread. I couldnt leave it alone, and against my gp’s advice (no surprise there), removed the stitches myself once the wounds were suitably stuck back together, via the magical process of ‘healing’. I have to say a i took alot of pleasure and time in doing it. Some scissors and a pair of eyebrow tweezers doing the same job my gp would have done with whatever they may have used. After? I felt virtually medically qualified in the art of stitch removal. Id do it again, however im no longer on talking terms with my ‘tool’ fetish. Therefore, my newly found medical skills will no longer be required in self treatment. Go me.

    Or, in short, no. I dont pick my scabs. Guilty as charged for blog hijacking. Removing my mumbles forthwith.

    Good luck for all the official award caboodle.

  4. …as an addendum…

    I don’t think it’s a problem that we pick scabs [or ears or spots or anything else, I’m gonna stop there though coz Marigold’s getting pissed at me ;)] I think it’s more of a problem that many of us have become almost programmed to second-guess ourselves and wonder “is that normal or is it because I’m loony?”. I myself check things out with people, asking something along the lines of “what would you do in this situation, I just want to check if it’s OK or if it’s something I should try to stop doing”. When really, at the very bottom of it all, does it really matter? If it’s something that doesn’t cause you or anyone else harm, why not just carry on happily and not worry about if it’s down to mentalness or not? If it’s something that does cause you or someone else harm, then it’s something you should try to stop anyway no matter why you [we] do it, isn’t it? I use me biting my own nails as an example here. It’s not linked to loonydom at all for me, yet it causes me harm so I should try to stop anyway even though it’s not a fruitcake feature.

    I think sometimes we are so used to having our every move analysed that it’s easy to forget we are all a mish-mash of Traits. Some of them are personal to us, some of them came from family/friends/other influences, and some will be down to teh mentalz.

    • I think in my case – mentalism entirely aside – I’m a very analytical person (I’m a INTP, innit!). I like to know reasons, rationales, to have names and references for things. Admittedly, I never really thought about the reasons for picking and suchlike until recently, and I suppose that’s where batshittiness comes into play, because it was in that context that I became thus curious. I don’t really care if it’s a ‘disorder’ or not – something I failed to make clear in the post! – but I am interested in any possible psychological reasons for it.

      That said, I’m forever whinging about Paul reading something big into something very little, so I can and do accept that it’s maybe just “one of those things”. I still find it intriguing, though. In a rational sort of way, it doesn’t seem like a wholly sensible thing to do, yet we can’t help ourselves.

  5. I’ve always done it back to long before I had the dubious pleasure of being mental. Sometimes I do it subconsciously, sometimes it’s more deliberate and destructive. Is it self-harm? At its worst maybe but compared to things I’ve done in the past, I’m not that bothered with stopping it.

  6. Never going to stop it myself. As noted, it just doesn’t compute in my tiny brain that one cannot do it. A and Mum may find it gruesomely unpalatable, but they’ll just have to learn to live with it :p

  7. I don’t know any normal people. 🙂

    But yeah, I know this one. And I reckon that it does get far, far worse at times of stress. I am covered in scars and my skin becomes horrific when I am stressed, partially due to the wonders of that little bastard bane of my life cortisol, but equally due to the fact that I cannot leave lumps, bumps and peeling skin alone. The scars and then more prone to becoming welts and spots, and the cycle continues. Pick, Pick, Pickety Pick.

  8. Oh yes. I do this too. I do it a lot more when I’m stressed. I pick at any lump or bump on my skin, like I have this obsessive need for my skin to be perfectly smooth. In doing so I turn the smallest pimple, over time, into a huge dry scabby mess. I fucking hate it.

    • Totally get this: I try to squeeze the living fuck out of any bumps I find, despite knowing logically that they’re not zits. It’s left me with a shitload of unnecessary scars.

  9. I do this, all the time. I can’t leave a scab or a spot alone. I’m also a little strange in that if I have a pair of tweezers on me, I could easily tweeze myself silly. Arm hair, leg hair, everything but head hair has to be gone, I just pick and pull until I’m covered in lumps and bumps. That is totally an anxiety thing though, I only do it when I’m stressed/anxious/otherwise mental. In fact, I think my skin picking is anxiety related too, the amount of times I’ve found myself in appointments absent-mindedly picking at a scab, I barely even notice I’m doing it until it gets pointed out, but it does make me feel better. Weird.

    Have a fantastic time in London, love! xx

  10. Hi Pan, I feel for once that I can shed some light on your question based on my experience. Your question being, is everyone like that or something. Sorry to misquote but I am lying in bed trying to type and scrolling back up the page to copy your exact words is too much like hard work given my current balancing laptop on my hand and knees state… anyway…..

    I am sure everyone has had the urge to pick a scab but not everyone has the same compulsions about it that you have. I have dermatillomania as well, but it is actually distinctly a problem of one of my alters who has some difficulties with anxiety. The way you describe yourself is exactly how I am when that alter is active. I don’t have exczema (not sure if thats how you spell it!) but I will pick at any tiny bump or blemish to create sores and then get stuck in a spiral of picking and aggravating it and then thinking I need to pick and squeeze it more to get the ‘badness’ out even though it wouldn’t have been there if I hadn’t started picking it in the first place. Anyway, my point is, when that alter is not around, I don’t have the problem. I don’t think about it; it’s not like I am resisting an urge; I just don’t have the urge in the first place. That’s probably what normal people feel like with regards the issue.

    For me I can see it is directly related to anxiety and because that part is often anxious, mostly a problem for them. It may not always be a conscious anxiety and often it’s not a conscious habit, because I won’t notice I’m doing it until my husband starts telling me to stop, but then it is a compulsion, because he could hold my hands down and I will fight to try to get them free to do it. So like you, the anxiety goes up if it can’t go ahead.

    It’s funny though isn’t it, why this habit? What is it about the need to scratch and pick at things? What does it fulfil?

  11. Hi Pan, my hubby calls me pick & flick. That says it all really:)
    Have a wonderful time in London.
    PS its me, Ive just changed my email

  12. I pick, squeeze, bite all the time. It’s a nightmare at the moment because my skin’s a mess so there’s even more to pick and squeeze. And scrub. I hate not having smooth skin on my face and become panicky, so i have to scrub it hard. I run out of my office at work to vaseline something to try and make it smooth in a vain attempt not to pick at it and make it bleed in public. Le Sigh.

    But I’m with Aliquant. It’s a thing. Yours may be to do with teh mentalz, mine certainly isn’t. It’s just an obsessive, somewhat disgusting, irritating, argh type feature of my personality. A feature that drives me and those around me up the wall. I used to pathologise everything that I did. Now, not so much. And this whole picking thing comes under the “not so much” category.

  13. I pick all my scabs, self-inflicted or not. Usually just because they’re itchy, or look yucky, or because I’m bored, or it’s a distraction to pass the time like biting nails or fiddling with shirt cuffs. And as you know, I’m entirely normal 😉

    Will be thinking of you on Monday evening, so excited for you! You totally deserve to be there and have people recognize what a talented woman you are.

    outwardly x

  14. i always do it! It annoys my bf so much, i have so many lil scars from picking at nothing.

    Good luck at the awards do, have fun in blighty!

    Hugs, Alice x

  15. Seeing how I made a fuss about not being able to read your blog, I decided I’d better get my act in order and actually comment! I pick holes in my scalp compulsively, never thought to wonder if it was normal or not. Just something I do without thinking about it, is definitely a comfort thing even when I’ve made a mess of my head and am in pain. I would not be able to stop unless you pinned my hands down. I think because its in my hair and not too obvious I don’t worry about it. Strangely I do worry more about my trich, even though I only pull out body hair. If I lose my tweezers the anxiety is unbearable and will end in a total melt down til I get some new ones. Sorry, am wandering off the subject, was just musing to myself whether the scalp picking but not pulling out the hair on my head are related. Anyway, you’ve got me thinking. Hope it all goes well for you.

  16. Pingback: Compulsive Skin Picking… «

  17. boy am i glad i found this, my gp calls it nuro-dermititus i am covered in scars, if i itch in one spot i will scratch for ages untill i have a huge bleeding hole then as soon as it scabs that has to come off as i cant stand the sight of scabs but yet i carry on doing it, if i am particularly stressed or having a really bad day depression/anxiety/bulimia wise i just can not stop even digging holes where there was nothing there not even an itch i thought it was just me sorry there are others who do this but i am glad i found there are others out there thankyou for putting this out there

  18. Yeah, I pick ’em too. Just realised as I was reading through all this I was scrolling down the page with one hand, picking with t’other, totally unaware of what I was doing until my fingernail got stuck & I realised…

    So, what’s normal anyway? At 90 degrees to everything else. That’s seriously tilted…

  19. I’ve been picking my scalp since my teens, I’m trying to stop though as I’ve had one scab for ages. I sometimes do it without realising it, other times I’ll do it ‘just to check the scab’. *ahem*. When I’m stressed I’ll pick until it bleeds, then it stings when I wash my hair. I sometimes pick at spots on my face too, but usually they’re not too noticeable.

    I tend to pick when I’m alone or with my partner (who also picks!) and our parents, less often in front of others. I do beadwork as a hobby, so that keeps my hands occupied when I’m not working. I’ve also got a couple of fidget toys called Tangle Jnr.

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