Discussion is an important part of awareness—the good, the bad, the theories, the speculation, the triggering, the non-triggering, and whatever may fall in between. For BFRB Awareness Week, we want to start those kinds of discussion to break the stigma and ignorance surrounding trichotillomania, dermatillomania, onychophagia (compulsive nail biting), dermatophagia (skin biting), trichophagia, cheek biting, and all BFRBs. While these conversations may be tough, even controversial, we need to recognize how important it is to start the dialogue and help it flourish in a constructive manner.
I’ll admit, it’s not always easy on a personal level or even among the community. There have been many arguments among those of us with BFRBs about what is “right,” what we can/can’t talk about and the methods to our behaviours. I think what we need to do is step back, take a breather and realize a few things though.
- There is no “right” answer yet. Studies for BFRBs are still in the early stages and there is still so much that isn’t known for sure, if at all. We ought to keep an open mind about information, or at the very least be polite when we disagree with it (which we should really practice anyway).
- We’re all different. Despite similar experiences between us, we’re still individuals and have individual experiences, too. Just because it’s right for you, doesn’t mean it will be right for everyone. Just because it’s right for me, doesn’t mean it will work or be a good fit for you. We need to take into consideration that while our advice might help someone, it won’t help everyone, and that’s okay.
- When someone disagrees with your opinion, it’s more than likely not an attack against you. Yes, sometimes you’ll come across rude people or people that otherwise push your buttons, but the vast majority of the time, someone just has a different opinion, and that’s perfectly fine! We can disagree respectfully.
- If we censor one thing, we have to censor everything. These disorders contain sensitive matters, and some people will be more uncomfortable than others. That doesn’t mean we can’t or shouldn’t discuss them. For many people, talking about the nitty gritty and uncomfortable is therapeutic and part of their healing process. Also, we need to discuss all aspects of these disorders to understand them and to break the stigma surrounding them. We can still be considerate of others while doing this—perhaps warn that there could be triggering matter.
- WE ARE HERE TO SUPPORT EACH OTHER! Whether you’re explaining to someone who doesn’t know about BFRBs or to someone who has live through them their entire lives, keep in mind that we should aim to be supporting other BFRBers in the end. We have been shamed and ostracized by everyone else (generally speaking) so let’s not do it to each other.
Here are some tips on how we can talk about BFRBs while still being respectful and informative, while keeping in mind that the facts aren’t super solid just yet.
- Talk about your personal experience while keeping in mind that there will be similarities, but also that not everyone is the same when it comes to BFRBs (as was already said). Share your story with people, but let them know BFRBs are vast and different.
- When talking about facts, say the source or that “studies show,” because there is definitely a lot of information out there that should be shared, but it’s not definitive. Not to say it’s not true, but there’s still so much that just hasn’t been confirmed, despite what we feel must be true based on our own experiences.
- Have constructive conversations, not arguments. That goes for no matter whom you’re talking to. If the conversation starts to turn nasty, leave it alone; turn off notifications, ignore it, and walk away. Not everyone is going to agree and not everyone is going to be nice about it. Best to just leave them be because chances are they won’t be convinced no matter what you say.
My point is, we need to have all these different conversations about BFRBs because they matter to the disorders and more importantly those with them, even if there are those who aren’t comfortable with them. If you’re not comfortable, turn away. If you see someone isn’t comfortable, respect that and be considerate.
We must do what we can, among ourselves and others, to share information and spread awareness in the best way possible. Breaking stigma isn’t easy, but together we can start chipping away at it together.