Chances are that you will know someone who has a habit of pulling their hair out when they are nervous or stressed out, but some people take it to the next extreme and actually pull out their eyelashes. Eyelashes don’t just serve a beauty function. They will also prevent dirt and dust from getting into your eyeballs and causing the irritation we are quite familiar with and try to avoid at all costs.
So what do people have against them that makes them want to pull them out? Nothing really. The pulling of eyelashes is an outward symptom of an underlying psychological issue control and even though it hurts and is shameful, it is generally hard to stop once you are hooked into it.
Eyelash pulling must seem like an outrageous or even irrational reaction to stress or anxiety but it is quite common, especially in teenage girls and young adults. There is even a medical term for this type of disorder: Trichotillomania or TMM. For the sufferers of Trichotillamania, the act of eyelash pulling actually has a soothing effect for their psychological or anxiety problems. For non sufferers, it might seem like an extreme and painful way of relieving mental disorders but unless you have actually suffered from the hollowness and sense of helplessness that many of these anxieties cause, you are unlikely to understand how eyelash pulling might make some people feel better, at least momentarily.
The mechanism is quite simple. By pulling your eyelashes and causing pain around the eyes, you are distracting yourself from the emotional traumas which are generally more paralyzing than small physical pain. People suffering from emotional traumas can be suicidal, feel emptiness or hollowness or simply a high level of anxiety that makes them practical dysfunctional.
The daily act of living can be a struggle to get through for a lot of people. For them, causing some small physical pain is a small price to pay if it will distract from the larger issue which is more threatening-anxieties or psychological trauma. Normally, TMM works for these people. After pulling the eyelashes, they block the emotional traumas and begin feeling better and even more relaxed. While to you it seems gross, for some people, there is something blissful to be experienced after the act. This kind of feeling is called negative reinforcement.
Why the eyelashes?
For “pain optimization”. They want to maximize the pain so as to cause maximum physical distraction from the emotional trauma. They will choose the most sensitive area that causes maximum pain and distraction.
People who pull their eyelashes go through the same cycle of feelings as those who bang their heads against a brick when they are anxious or severely depressed. Most sufferers are often unaware of the psychological reasons behind their behaviour but with time they will get addicted to a vicious cycle of pain and relief which can do a lot of damage to their bodies.
They feel nice when the pain stops and the fact that they can pull those eyelashes or bang their heads against a wall and feel better when faced with anxiety attacks gives them a sense of control.
Eyelash pulling can be addictive and destructive
There are people who might be aware of the underlying psychological conditions or emotional traumas that make them pull their eyelashes but over time, they have gotten used to this cycle of pain and relief that they feel no need to seek professional psychiatric help to alleviate their anxiety or depression. For them, eyelash pulling has replaced therapy because it makes them feel better. Why painfully sit for hours with a psychiatrist when I can just pull my hair off and feel better?
While eyelash pulling makes you feel better momentarily, it only treats the symptom and not the underlying condition. You will be ignoring a deep emotional trauma and embracing short term relief and this could be dangerous for you over the long term.
Eyelash pulling can become compulsive
If you have adopted this as your way of alleviating your emotional traumas, then it could easily degenerate into compulsive behaviour. When stressed or depressed, the sufferer can go on a compulsive hair pulling and then suffer shame and further depression afterwards from the loss of hair. In this way, it will not relieve but perpetuate your anxieties and depression.
How to stop pulling your eyelashes out
Pulling your eyelashes out is a habit that needs to stop. We have eyelashes for a good reason – to keep our eyes safe, and there is no denying that pulling out thick hair from such a sensitive part of the body hurts and can damage the precious eyelid. So if you find yourself routinely pulling, then it is time to start action and stop. Eyelash pulling is not a physical disease therefore there is no pill to cure it. Rather it is an anxiety disorder so before you can stop, you need to get to the root of the problem and work your way from there.
Find a pattern
Like all anxiety disorders, Trichotillamania is not random – rather it is a subconscious response that your brain tells you to do resulting from a certain trigger. Your brain is trained that when a trigger occurs, your automatic response is to ‘pull’. These triggers are often negative emotions and can include stress, unhappiness, loneliness, or fear. The first critical step is to find a pattern. Make a note as to when you feel the need to pull your eyelashes out, and think about how you were feeling at the time. Perhaps you only pull when your partner leaves for days at a time for work, or perhaps after a particularly long day at work. Maybe you are currently being bullied at school or the workplace, and find yourself pulling after being harassed.
After a while a pattern should form, and you should be all the wiser as to what triggers your pulling, and why it happens. Now that you have this understanding, you have the opportunity to swap the feelings and stop the urge.
Find a healthier distraction
Chances are that your brain is telling you to pull your eyelashes out either as a coping technique to a negative emotion or as a way to distract you from what is going on wither inside your own head or in the outside world. So in order to stop the pulling, we need to develop another coping technique for these hard times. There are many different healthy alternatives to eyelash pulling that can be just as effective – whether it be to go to the run to release negative energy, or talk to a trusted friend about your feelings, or even writing in a journal or reading a book. The best solution will depend on your interests and circumstances. You need to train your brain to not instinctively go to the pulling of the eyelashes when things get tough, so the more you resist the pulling and replace it with something more constructive, the more automatic it will become.
Find your triggers
One thing that may surprise you is that unlike other anxiety disorders, eyelash pulling (or any form of hair pulling) is not necessarily triggered by a negative emotion. Some people find themselves pulling out their hair or eyelashes out of pure boredom, or when they are extremely relaxed (often not even being aware that they are doing it). This is when your brain for some reason corresponds boredom or relaxation as a time to pull. If you find yourself pulling at your eyelashes whenever you sit down to watch a movie, then the best solution is not to never watch movies, but rather to teach yourself to relax without pulling. There is no easy way to do this, but you need to become consciously aware of what you are doing. Only by becoming aware of what is happening will you have the power to change it.
Stopping pulling when relaxed
Have a friend sit with you and bring it to your attention every time you start to pull. Then focus on doing something else, whether it be the movie (do not let your mind wander), or even the wallpaper or a spot on the floor. Then when the urge to pull leaves, you can allow yourself to relax again. You just need to convince your brain that it is ok to relax, and train it to focus on other things (such as your surroundings) rather than on pulling your hair out!
Seek Psychiatric Help
One of the best ways to stop Trichotillomania is by seeking psychiatric support. Pulling your eyelashes should never be a substitute for professional psychiatric help. Talk to the nearest psychologist or psychiatrist to help you address the root of the problem. Once the underlying issue has been addressed and you have started winning back your confidence and mental health, you should be able to beat the habit more effectively.