5 tips to help stop you tearing at your lashes and eyebrows
I could understand Marilyn pulling out her own eyelashes, but even she sounded shocked with what she went on to tell me: "I've taken to obsessively tearing out my three-year-old daughter's eyelashes and nibbling them! It's sick, I know; but it's become such a compulsion."
Pulling out your own eyelashes is one thing, but when the habit spreads and damages others – well, we had to help Marilyn stop pulling right away.
She hadn't worn her false eyelashes to the session, as she wanted me to see how bad things had got. I noticed her eyebrows were also sparse and she admitted to sometimes ripping out one hair at a time from above the eye, especially if she'd "run short" of available eyelashes to pull.
Ripping yarns: Eyelash pulling a painful compulsion
Eyelash pulling isn't quite as widespread as hair pulling (trichotillomania), but it still happens a lot. Eyelash and eyebrow hair pullers either consciously pull and/or absentmindedly rip away at their ocular cuticles. For Marilyn, eyelash pulling felt shameful:
"There's one more thing," she told me, looking sick at herself. "I don't just pull; I eat!"
It was true; even when she ripped away at her poor daughter's eyelashes, she would nibble nervously away at them.
The first thing to do was to discover eyelash pulling triggers.
1) Identify just when you are likely to rip
Think about times when you're more likely to pull. I know, I know, sometimes you "just find yourself doing it!" But there is always an 'activating agent' - something that prompts you to pull, even if it's just habitual in response to a certain time of day. Marilyn clarified that her trigger times were:
- When she was tired at the end of the day.
- When she was reading her daughter a bedtime story (this was the only time she had ever occasionally pulled out her daughter's eyelashes).
- When she felt stressed at work.
- Watching TV at night.
There were other triggers, but these were the main ones. I asked her when she was least likely to eyelash pull. She told me that when she was relaxed, socializing, or with her husband (who worked away a lot).
Being clear about when you are least likely to pull gives you important information, because if we can make the other times more like these times, then we may be able to get somewhere.
2) Disrupt the pattern
All behaviour becomes habitual or patterned. For example, someone may have the urge to drink alcohol at 7pm when they are at home merely because that's what they always do. But if they change the pattern by, say, going for a walk at 7pm, they may find the urge to drink disappears.
Pattern disruption helped Marilyn. I asked her to read her daughter a story with her husband in the room (or if he was away, with him on Skype). She found this change to the pattern to be enough to stop the compulsion in that situation. At work, she was to walk around the office when she felt unduly stressed, then do some deep breathing exercises. And for the first couple of weeks of non-pulling, she didn't watch TV at all but read instead. Because there was no habitual association between reading and eyelash pulling, she didn't do it.
We strengthened her resolve to disrupt the old pattern by hypnotically rehearsing these changes.
3) Relax, relax, and relax some more
Ever seen a locked-up animal in a zoo living in a space too small for it? Me neither, because I don't like to see it; but all animals (including us human folk) start to act differently, compulsively, when we become stressed. You might see that polar bear or tiger engaging in 'neurotic' repetitive behaviours you wouldn't normally see in the wild, such as constantly scratching itself against the cage or walking compulsively round and round in a tight circle.
So often we humans don't even realize we are stressed because we have become so used to feeling that way. But the more stressed we are, the more likely we are to behave compulsively, in whatever way. I recommended Marilyn listen to a relaxation CD, just for ten minutes before going to work, ten minutes on her lunch break, and once in the evening after her daughter was asleep. The effects of deep relaxation 'bridge across', meaning it takes more to make us stressed for hours after relaxing deeply. Just introducing regular relaxation into your life will make for much less compulsive behaviour.
4) Try the direct approach
I recall an ex-eyelash puller telling me how he'd stopped himself from eyelash pulling. He'd noticed that he only did it when he was alone in the evenings. He decided that if it became more difficult to physically pluck at his eyelashes and eyebrows, he'd be much less likely to bother trying to do it. Being the resourceful chap he was, he bought a jar of Vaseline and coated his eyelashes and eyebrows with it, making the hairs very slippery.
"I couldn't even get a handle on the hairs, as my fingers would just slide off. After a few weeks of doing that, I would sometimes forget to even put the Vaseline on; but by that time, the habit had changed and I no longer wanted to pull anyway!"
A word of obvious warning, though: if you try this, be very careful to avoid getting the Vaseline in your eyes (health and safety and all that).
5) Stop eyelash pulling through hypnosis
When working with anyone for anything, I don't generally use just one approach. With Marilyn, we did behavioural therapy (getting her to change what she did), we worked cognitively (focussing on her thinking patterns), and we worked hypnotically to strengthen and 'glue in place' the other approaches.
- Think about times when you're more likely to rip bits of your own (or other people's?!) body out (sorry, maybe 'pulling out eyelashes' sounds better).
- Now imagine being just about to do that.
- Quickly imagine a time when you really don't feel like doing it at all, perhaps because you're in company or feeling relaxed.
- Then imagine drifting quickly through time with your eyebrows and eyelashes growing back and having a better, respectful, and 'non-abusive relationship' with them.
Or let me give you a flavour of this exercise by clicking on the free audio session below.
I always feel compelled to help my clients as best I can, as fast as I can; but in Marilyn's case, it felt even more urgent because of the damage she was inflicting upon her daughter with her unstoppable plucking. Thankfully both she and her daughter now have healthy and naturally growing eyelashes and eyebrows.