Started "skin picking" since EMDR

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I've begun skin picking since starting EMDR a few months ago (for childhood abuse). I used to pick at my nails since I was very young (before the abuse), and could never fully stop doing this. It's an OCD or stress reaction thing I'm sure. But the skin picking is disgusting even to me, and I can't seem to help myself. I pick at the rough part on the bottom of my foot, and because it's hardened skin, etc. whole swaths of it peel off, leaving another layer underneath (so no blood). But it's raw and it hurts to walk after. I know how badly it hurts as it heals over the next couple days, and yet I keep doing it.

Again - I only started doing this since EMDR started. I'm sharing this because I have to admit it somewhere safe. It's embarrassing and quite gross, but I need to share this as a way to confront my problem. I'm also wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience.

I'm also paranoid that I'm going to cause some sort of skin irritation and infection, and that I'll get a horrible disease from this. (To be safe, I'm already planning to find a podiatrist and get my feet checked up). So if anyone can offer some words of comfort in the meantime, that would be greatly appreciated.
 

OliveJewel

MyPTSD Pro
I was diagnosed with OCD 25 years ago due to symptoms of compulsive skin picking. I have taken medicine, gone through CBT, and eventually discovered I had other symptoms such as compulsive thoughts (suicidal ideation) and dissociation and compulsive counting. Then five years ago I discovered my dad had sexually assaulted me as a baby and I had PTSD which was likely the cause of the skin picking too—a displacement activity for coping with the stress of living in an abusive dynamic. I escaped my abusers. The skin picking did not go away. However it did reduce. So did the counting, the intrusive thoughts, and the dissociation.

When I pick my skin I no longer believe there is something fundamentally wrong with me nor that it makes me into an untouchable. I am aware that skin picking is a widespread condition among humans, especially those coping with stress (who isn’t?). I also know that my picking happens when I feel stuck or it happens just in a casual self-grooming way that anyone might do it. I no longer need the dissociative picking sessions to process how my day went.

Not sure if any of that was encouraging. I think it’s great that you are aware of the connection between the stress of EMDR and the picking symptoms. Also that you are receiving support from a doctor. Whenever I went to the dermatologist they were very normalizing of the condition.

Please don’t punish yourself by calling yourself names or withdrawing care—that was the worst part of chronic compulsive skin picking for me, believing the shameful judgments my inner critic heaped on me about the picking.
 

arfie

MyPTSD Pro
i share your disgust with skin picking. i have lived with the compulsion for as long as i can remember and still can't seem to stop myself here in my senior years. i'm going through an episode now, as i type. the scars i wear from scratching huge holes in my skin are enough to shock a hard-core "self-harmer." self-mutilation at its most disorganized?

the good news is that i have found ways to manage the symptom far enough to prevent new holes in my epidermis. when the compulsion is raging, i wear oven mitts secured with duct tape to keep myself from scratching while i sleep. it has been a while since i've needed to do that. wearing gloves during the day serves as a reminder to be gentle with myself on the skin picking. in my own case, i believe it is connected to my self-loathing, so i ply lots and lots of self-esteem tools. anti-itch creams can be a gentle, non-invasive relief for the immediate, physical itch.
 

Kayciekat

Not Active
Hey there,
I pick my skin also. I have since I was a kid and it was a lot worse then. I used to pull pieces of skin off my arms and the side of my neck like crazy, and unfortunately have some scars on my arms and neck from that. When I got older, I switched to picking at my lips.
I still occasionally pick at the skin on my lips, but now when I start to do it I gently stop myself and ask myself “what do I actually need right now?”. Because for me, it’s a self soothing behavior. So I try to find another way in that moment to find the soothing or safety that I need- some breathing maybe, finding a quiet place if I’m getting overstimulated or triggered, calling a friend if I need to talk though something, ect. I understand why you feel disgusted, but you’re not disgusting. Be kind to yourself. I’ve never had emdr (I hope to at some point) but maybe you’re picking because of the stress of processing your trauma.
 

ladee

MyPTSD Pro
I have only recently started this, say in the past two years. After a life changing trauma at the beginning of 2020 seems it was a self soothing thing too. I have picked until there was blood. And I would stop. Then just find another place that was less sensitive. I think it's a human thing not necessarily a bad thing.

It's when the self soothing turns into self harm that we have to take a hard look at why we are choosing this form of self harm. I don't shame myself for it, but I do try to find out what's going on on a deeper level that I'm not paying attention to.

I find that rocking is of course less harmful, and more soothing to me, even if it irritates the people around me. Many ways to self soothe without self harm. We just have to find things that work for us as individuals.
 
P

Paula

I'm embarrassed to admit this, but I've begun skin picking since starting EMDR a few months ago (for childhood abuse). I used to pick at my nails since I was very young (before the abuse), and could never fully stop doing this. It's an OCD or stress reaction thing I'm sure. But the skin picking is disgusting even to me, and I can't seem to help myself. I pick at the rough part on the bottom of my foot, and because it's hardened skin, etc. whole swaths of it peel off, leaving another layer underneath (so no blood). But it's raw and it hurts to walk after. I know how badly it hurts as it heals over the next couple days, and yet I keep doing it.

Again - I only started doing this since EMDR started. I'm sharing this because I have to admit it somewhere safe. It's embarrassing and quite gross, but I need to share this as a way to confront my problem. I'm also wondering if anyone else has had a similar experience.

I'm also paranoid that I'm going to cause some sort of skin irritation and infection, and that I'll get a horrible disease from this. (To be safe, I'm already planning to find a podiatrist and get my feet checked up). So if anyone can offer some words of comfort in the meantime, that would be greatly appreciated.
You're suffering from anxiety, which is common with EMDR. Tell your Therapist so they can help you with your anxiety. You need to ground yourself before and after sessions. Remind your therapist that you need this practice reinforced everytime,so it becomes automatic in your sessions. This technique helps tremoundously.
 

Freddyt

MyPTSD Pro
Pick at myself all the time. Had doctors do biopsy's because I pick at something, pick the scab off and keep picking...

The one place it's ok is my hands. Spent 30 years in the printing industry and I guess all the solvents and chemicals damaged my skin to the point it doesn't slough off like normal and I sort of shed like a snake. As the skin begins to peel I get to indulge and peel it off.

Don't worry though, it will begin to go away sooner or later. One day you suddenly go.....hey I havent paicked at myself in a while...
 
I used to pick my skin, bottom of my feet and near my finger nails when I was quite young. I stopped it, I don’t know how, possibly the pain I inflicted on myself, perhaps because I took up smoking. If it’s not one thing it’s another. I stopped smoking two years ago and now I binge on sugar, always something ☹️
 

Charbella

MyPTSD Pro
I skin pick, cuticles mainly, lips too. I noticed that for awhile I’d stopped but I’ve no idea how. Since an abuser died I’ve started again. I don’t know that I’d say I was disgusted by or with it. I hate when I go to far and it starts bleeding seemingly without end. However I often do it so I have no answers for you there.

Regarding EMDR I agree you need to tell your therapist. When my triggers flared when I started I told mine and we started doing safe place before the end of the session so I didn’t go home quite so activated.
 
I find that rocking is of course less harmful, and more soothing to me, even if it irritates the people around me. Many ways to self soothe without self harm. We just have to find things that work for us as individuals.
Thanks ladee. I'm curious to know: Have you ever had experiences where the self-soothing starts off harmless but becomes somewhat harmful over time? For example, playing TV in the background helps me, and I thought I could replace the picking with this. But now I'm getting addicted to tv. I actually semi-panicked when my streaming service stopped working while grocery shopping the other day. It seems like my brain takes things too far with 'self soothing': watch TV till you're addicted; pick at your skin till you're raw and struggling to walk. Curious if you have some perspective on this.

If it’s not one thing it’s another. I stopped smoking two years ago and now I binge on sugar, always something ☹️
Yes, exactly. I tried to have a more "harmless" self-soothing activity, (playing same episodes of soothing TV shows over and over), and now I feel addicted to tv. I can't seem to do anything (shower, fall asleep, take a walk), without having some show playing within earshot or in headphones. :(

Hi all, I just wanted to say thank you for all your responses here. It's reassuring to learn that I'm not alone, and to hear your advice and stories, and be reminded that I'm not disgusting for self-soothing. I haven't actively re-engaged on the forum for a while, as EMDR was just getting to be too much. But I've been revisiting this page repeatedly and re-reading your comments. Really helped me these last few weeks, so thank you 🙂
 
Thanks ladee. I'm curious to know: Have you ever had experiences where the self-soothing starts off harmless but becomes somewhat harmful over time? For example, playing TV in the background helps me, and I thought I could replace the picking with this. But now I'm getting addicted to tv. I actually semi-panicked when my streaming service stopped working while grocery shopping the other day. It seems like my brain takes things too far with 'self soothing': watch TV till you're addicted; pick at your skin till you're raw and struggling to walk. Curious if you have some perspective on this.
Hello, I wanted to touch on you using TV for self soothe. I think I may possibly be able to offer you an in between extremes like when you give the example where you think your "brain takes things too far". I used to self soothe in this way as a child with old Scooby Doo shows. It was my safe space and I wore out a few VHS's back in the day. Now I'm lucky to have all of my favorites on DVD. I also used to self soothe with my favorite Resident Evil PS1 games and found that the background music in both Scooby Doo and old Resident Evil games have an immediate relieving self soothing affect on me. I have all of my favorite songs that I can listen to on repeat for as long as it takes for me to feel better. I can even fall asleep while listening to the music from the save rooms in those Resident Evil games. And I can be more creative when I hear the intro to the old Scooby Doo shows. It's sort of my happy medium from using the visuals to stimulate a dissociative state to being a little bit more functionable and present while those play on my headphones. I'm to the point now where I have certain episodes of Scooby Doo down so well that I will put in a DVD and just listen to it without watching and know exactly what is going on. I thought maybe I'd put that out there in case it could be useful. Take care.
 
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