"How did you get that scar?"
June 11, 2011 1:27 PM   Subscribe

How gross is my skin picking to you? Would you date me?

I have a nasty holdover habit from physical and some sexual abuse as a kid: I’m a compulsive skin picker. Others have asked about it here, but I’m interested specifically in its effects on intimacy and dating.

I am so repulsed and ashamed of it that I’ve never admitted it to anyone in my life, ever, even therapists, and I would like some honest feedback from others about what it looks like from the outside, how you would view me as a person if you knew, and how it affects relationships. I'm 36 years old (female), and have done it since I was about 12. I’m outwardly high-functioning (well-liked, good job, educated, attractive, nice social group), but have some deep intimacy issues that keep me generally isolated; I tend to have shorter-term, ‘weekender’ relationships and never get close enough to anyone romantically (like living with a boyfriend) that it would come out. It’s likely the people in my life have noticed some of the more superficial things, like fidgeting with a zit or chewing on my lips, but I’m hyper-vigilant of signs of people being grossed out at me, and I think I successfully hide the worst of it. But secretly, I’m the stranger in front of you on the train that makes you go “eeeew” when you see the scabs on their scalp, or that person at the office whose potluck dish never gets eaten because... you know. I understand it pretty well and know it is related to some lingering anxiety and shame issues I have, but on its own I worry that if I get close to someone I really like, they might reject me when they find out. I mean, what healthy guy would want anything to do with a grown woman who does this? I just can’t logically get behind that.

An extra great thing is that in private, I eat the stuff. I eat the pimple goo. I eat the bloody scalp flakes. I eat the sleepy from my eyes. I pick my nose and eat that too. Of course, every day I “try” to stop, and every day I hate myself for not being able to. I’ve tried that bitter nail polish. I’ve tried cutting my fingernails bare. I’ve tried wearing gloves. I’ve tried medications, meditation. (I don’t have access to therapy at the moment.) I have successfully overcome my lifelong compulsive overeating and even cleaned up terrible credit card debt, but this shit stays with me. But this question isn’t really about strategies.

The thing that twists me up the most about it is when I think of dating, and maybe I’m beanplating here but hear me out. I would really like to be in a healthy, committed relationship, and I’m working on learning to love and accept myself fully, but how do I accept this part? Should I even accept it, or should put all my effort into kicking it if I really want to like myself more and find an awesome (also-not-too-gross) partner? I go back and forth between these two ideas a lot, and I think cognitively deciding on one or the other course would motivate me to make some progress. I’ve also tried to get some perspective on it it by comparing it to an addiction: in theory it shouldn’t be about quitting for anyone else, it starts with you loving yourself and believing you’re worth it, but while you’re conceivably lovable in spite of your addiction (and most of us have got something), you would find healthier relationships if you weren’t addicted (yes?). I had a few dates recently with a great guy who smokes and drinks quite a bit (I don’t) - and it was pretty easy to decide I didn’t want a relationship with that. As a potential romantic partner, how would you feel about my problem? Would you see it as a ‘red flag’ and move on? If you’ve got a similar issue, how has it affected your close relationships?

Be honest, be kind. Thanks.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (47 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
I don't really understand what you mean by skin picking. Nothing you were explicit about would send this straight early twenties male screaming in horror.
posted by elektrotechnicus at 1:37 PM on June 11, 2011

I don't think you should stop skin picking because it would gross out a partner, but because it's a self-destructive habit. I don't really understand why you've not taken this up in therapy; if you're dealing with the issues this behaviour stems from, why would you not be open to dealing with the issues it has lead to? What you are doing isn't rare and there are defined treatments for dealing with it.

As a potential partner, my issues would be less about the actual skin-picking and more about the fact that you're exhibiting a harmful behaviour you're not in control of, and that you're carting around a lot of shame, hidden behaviours, and potentially hesitation about sharing your body. That's... a big ask, to me. The fact that you have also not come clean with your therapist(s) and sought help for this would also be a huge red flag for me.

I hope that was both honest and kind. I don't think you're gross; I think you need help and are having trouble seeing how clearly that is true because you're behaviour is so ingrained.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:38 PM on June 11, 2011 [24 favorites]

I’m the stranger in front of you on the train that makes you go “eeeew” when you see the scabs on their scalp

More "Aw, heartbreak of psoriasis; must suck."

I would want you to keep it pretty private. If you were picking at stuff, eating [I don't even want to type it] in front of me, my brain would file you as "pig" and you would seem inconsiderate of me, and gross, and not somebody I wanted to ball.

It sounds like you have a lot going for you as far as overcoming stuff goes; I think maybe you should relax, eat your boogers and stop making yourself crazy about trying to stop it, and expect that it will naturally go away when you're in a better place and ready for it to go away. I don't think you should 'love and accept' this, but it doesn't sound like treating the symptom here will help. How much of a red flag it would be in a potential partner would depend, for me, on how big the underlying issues were. Also on how extensive the problem is. Most people pop pimples here and there... Ask yourself how you would feel about being intimate with somebody with your exact problems? Do you knee-jerk "eeeew"?
posted by kmennie at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm a gross skin picker in a lot of ways (not stemming from anything in particular) and I haven't found it problematic in a dating perspective at all. I have many worse qualities that would make someone not want to date me, and many better qualities that would, I think, overrule the fact that if you spend enough time with me you'll realize that I have this tic. And I've also done the work to reign it in in the places where I feel like it's important. I don't do it in public, I realize that it's a manifestation of anxiety and so I treat it like a symptom of something else, not something that is an integral part of me.

So, I'd try to gently talk to yourself about why you think having an odd nervous habit makes you somehow unloveable because that's never been a part of my personal mental calculus and it probably shouldn't be part of yours. The potluck anecdote you relate just seems ... not plausible like maybe you're reading in things that aren't there. I know this was definitely true for me when I weighed more, believing I was getting bad juju from people because of my weight but then weighing less and realizing that there are just bad juju people out there and that their attitude has very little to do with you.

Most people I talk to about my own habits don't even usually notice it in any real way that I've been made aware of.

what healthy guy would want anything to do with a grown woman who does this?

Everyone's got their issues. Healthy guys have baggage too. This seems much more wrapped up in larger self-image stuff, to my read. I have many similar gross habits as you and people just don't care and date me anyhow.
posted by jessamyn at 1:44 PM on June 11, 2011 [11 favorites]

i will not repeat the "talk to your therapist" line you will get from lots of people here (of course you should discuss it with a therapist)...i'd rather address the practical issue at hand. i'm sorry...but the eating it thing is over the line.

as long as no one ever sees you do it, not an issue. but please wash your hands/brush your teeth after these activities for your partner's sake. i would not want to be kissing on someone who just ate pus or a scab.

sorry. but i think this is a way you can alleviate your guilt/gross factor about doing it.
posted by virginia_clemm at 1:45 PM on June 11, 2011

I have to wonder how outwardly obvious this problem is. I was in a LTR with a woman. She had some issues that I knew about and that she had dealt with. Then one day, after we had been together for years, out of the blue she tearfully told me that she had trichotillomania. I had no inkling up until then. I guess I can be pretty obtuse, and I realized her eyebrows were kind of sparse once she told me this. But she had blown it up into this Big Thing.
posted by adamrice at 1:50 PM on June 11, 2011

At some point in every relationship, there's a horrible truth that comes out: This person, this human being one is vaguely or perhaps strongly attracted to, on a regular basis sits on an elevated bowl in the restroom and defecates into it. And where did that come from? They ate food--which is good, normal food--by chewing it into an unrecognizable pulp and then storing it in a sac where stinking bile poured on top of it.

I won't belabor the point. Being alive is nasty. It's full of gross things--if you're willing to be grossed out by them.

By the same token, most of us overlook the horrific biology of our everyday life--and that means most people are going to overlook stuff like picking, unless you make a big showy point of it.

I've dated pickers--well, one--before, and I didn't even realize she had this astonishing scab-patch growing on top of her scalp until she pointed it out to me. Maybe I'm unobservant, but I don't think most people are actually on the lookout for that. (Or did you mean people were literally nudging each other and saying not to eat the potluck dish because there might be some biology floating in it?)

What's to accept? You already understand what's going on with it, you understand both the compulsion and the comfort. If you want a sustained relationship, well, it's going to come out eventually, which is a good thing, but it doesn't have to come out immediately (nobody shows the parts of themselves they find most troublesome first), and it's certainly possible to hide it a little while, while you try to understand how that part of you works when you're in a relationship. It is not a Permanent Obstacle, and surely shouldn't be the one thing that keeps you from having a happy relationship. Why not have the happy relationship, and just work on this thing in parallel (and in as much privacy as it takes)?
posted by mittens at 1:51 PM on June 11, 2011 [11 favorites]

anonymous: But secretly, I’m the stranger in front of you on the train that makes you go “eeeew” when you see the scabs on their scalp, or that person at the office whose potluck dish never gets eaten because... you know.

Just so my first reply doesn't come off as being overly-hysterical, I just want to point out that this was the line that made me think this is actually a serious issue rather than an idle one. I may have mis-read this but I am interpreting that statement as indicating this problem is severe enough to make it hard to hide, and severe enough to cause other people discomfort. I apologise if I'm not reading this correctly.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:52 PM on June 11, 2011

I have moderate plaque psoriasis. This means that about 25% of my forearms and 15% of the legs visible in shorts have white flaky skin as well as other less visible body parts. I scratch it when it itches and sometimes pick at it. I have a boyfriend who, while he wishes I didn't have psoriasis, accepts it. I have had other boyfriends in the past who have had a similar response.

I do get people staring at me on the subway. I get a lot of questions at work (is that sunburn, poison ivy, a burn, etc?). I have a couple of friends who have told me that when I itch it, it bothers them. I try not to do it in front of them.

I hope that people I am friends with have gotten used to it much as I have gotten used to a friend with a lazy eye or a twitch.

It sounds like you have some things in the past that you're going to need to work through. The skin picking is just a manifestation of this? Is focusing on this a way of avoiding working through the other things?
posted by sciencegeek at 1:57 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

You probably notice people's scalps, etc, on the subway because you're worried about your own. I never notice stuff like that. Okay, I'm a queer woman and not a straight guy, but I will just add to the general "don't particularly want to watch someone do that, would not consider it a dealbreaker or probably even notice it if the person in question was average discreet". I assume that all people do vaguely gross stuff sometimes when in private and just tend to dismiss this fact from my mind.

In fact, I'd say that, as a relationship issue, it's on a par with watching fetish porn - something I have no real interest in whether my partner does or not, as long as it's not making them unhappy and they don't need me to share the experience.

It's so easy to believe that others are "normal", especially if you're a bit isolated. You only ever see their public faces. I read a joke somewhere about calling random people up in the middle of the night and saying "I know your terrible secret!" because everyone has a terrible secret.
posted by Frowner at 1:59 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

As a potential partner, my issues would be less about the actual skin-picking and more about the fact that you're exhibiting a harmful behaviour you're not in control of, and that you're carting around a lot of shame, hidden behaviours, and potentially hesitation about sharing your body. That's... a big ask, to me. The fact that you have also not come clean with your therapist(s) and sought help for this would also be a huge red flag for me.

Completely agree. Sorry if that's blunt, but, really, it's not so much the habit itself as it is what's behind the habit.

The other night at the bar I ran into a guy who was very drunk, and confessed to torturing people in Iraq. He was sobbing, I asked what was wrong, and he was very standoff-ish. I essentially told him that whatever he did wasn't unforgivable or horrible, since he had obviously owned up to it with himself. He knew he was wrong, and for me, that was plenty. I bought him a beer, comforted him for an hour, or so, and said, "Go home, get some sleep, and here's my number if you ever need to talk about it. I'm no qualified therapist, but I, for one, refuse to condemn a fellow human being for something they've atoned with. With me, you're just Joe Schmo, and I'm happy to have a beer with you again."

Hardly comparable, I know. But that, at least, would be my attitude toward your peccadillo. I would have a problem with the fact that you haven't dealt with it, and aren't dealing with it.

But also think about this: admitting IS dealing with it. If you tell me this, and you've never told anyone else, well, hey, progress. I wouldn't be squicked out at all once I understood it as something you're having trouble with. As a caring partner, I would want to help you cope with whatever it is that's driving this behavior...and that being sexual abuse, well, it's a tough one, but there are precedents. My mom dated a big Ivy League professor and in the end it turned out he was gay. He felt coming out because my mom was a supporting, caring partner. Again, not sexual abuse, but sexual. I've been a friend to rape victims, debtors, addicts, and probably will again. Those are just a few examples off the top of my head I can think of where I, and people I know, have looked beyond something "unforgivable".

Trust people with this. Not strangers in the street, no, but find someone. Posting here is a good start. No one who truly cares about you will find this to be a dealbreaker. What will be a dealbreaker is not handling the issue. My ex-wife was a wonderful woman who absolutely would not deal with her depression. In the end, it cost us the relationship. My father wouldn't deal with his marijuana addiction, and in the end, it cost him his marriage.

I have plenty of my own problems I'm trying to cope with, and some of them would probably make you very wary of dating me. I won't make a list here, but trust me, they're there. And I think that's normal. At least in my experience, though, it's not sharing those problems that kills relationships.

Good luck.
posted by saysthis at 2:06 PM on June 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I also pick at my skin, mostly my face. I don't think anyone's cared. I try not to do it in front of people at least, and usually but not always succeed. I'm sure no one's in love with it and it would never get listed as a lovable quirk, but otherwise seems to be a non-issue to anyone but me. My boyfriend doesn't appear to care, and has never said anything, and we've lived together for years now. Coworkers and friends eat food I make, unless it sucks, which sometimes it does.

A close friend has tricotillomania, and at least it the past it was often quite noticeable. Not one person I know cared, certainly not any of the people she dated (including long term and living together). We'd help her try to stop by pointing out when she was doing it, or tell her when the eyebrows she'd drawn on rubbed off, but that was it.

I'd say try to quit since it sounds like you would prefer not to do it, but don't worry that it makes you somehow inferior or gross. I think cigarette smoking is gross, but don't think smokers are gross. Some of my favorite people are smokers. I'd love to stop leaving my keys at home all the time, but don't think it effects who I am as a person.
posted by sepviva at 2:10 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Yes, like others have said, the problem is that you are not getting treatment. Picking is an anxiety symptom - the problem is the anxiety, not the symptom. And it is very treatable.

Leaving aside treatment, in my experience, men's tolerance for bodily grossness varies widely; it's a personality thing, linked to the man's own gender and body issues (ie, guys who think women should be perfect barbies, or men who have problems with their own appearance will be less tolerant of you).

But don't worry, there are plenty of guys who won't be grossed out. And you should be looking for these kinds of guys anyway, because thy tend to be more accepting in general.
posted by yarly at 2:12 PM on June 11, 2011

I have an auto-immune skin condition called Lichen Planus over about 20% of my body (although, thank god, not in my mouth, at least not yet). In short, I'm covered with lesions, and in my case they have developed around skin folds: so, under my breasts and arms, and at my groin where my legs meet my torso. I've had it since I was in college, although it got much worse about six years go. Naked, I am, frankly, somewhat weird and repulsive looking.

And yet... it's never been an issue. It wasn't an issue with any of the men I dated in college, and I've been with my husband for over 15 years now.

So: you already know the answer. You wrote it as part of the question, in fact: "it starts with you loving yourself and believing you’re worth it, but while you’re conceivably lovable in spite of your addiction (and most of us have got something), you would find healthier relationships if you weren’t addicted (yes?)"

Work on the loving yourself part. Everything else - the relationship, the end of your picking - stems from that.
posted by anastasiav at 2:16 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm just like you, right down to eating some of the products of my body (only boogers, though. Oh, and scabs. The rest grosses me out). But I mean, I pop zits, pick my nose, excise tonsil stones, pick pick pick.

I've been in a happy relationship for nearly a decade. My husband only cares insofar as he gets annoyed when I (inevitably) try to pick at him. Or ask him to squeeze zits I can't reach. Because he doesn't understand or appreciate that they JUST NEED TO BE POPPED.

(In fact, I have actually helped certain relatives/close friends with pimple popping. They're less uptight about it than my husband is.)

This doesn't make you unlovable, promise.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:18 PM on June 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

Oh, and just to show you how gross other people are: I excise tonsil stones from my tonsils with an unbent paperclip on a nightly basis. Then I smash them and sniff them (because . . . I don't even know. But I do). My husband is fully aware of this, and he is still willing to have sex with me, even.

Sorry, metafilter.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:22 PM on June 11, 2011 [13 favorites]

In a relationship context, I would be 1000% more concerned with the emotional components of this situation (the guilt and shame you clearly feel about your skin-picking, plus the underlying anxiety that makes it seem to you like it's a good coping tool--which it is not, because as DarlingBri already said above, it's self-destructive) than the gross-out factor.

I wouldn't want to begin a relationship with a person who was not able to cope healthily and wasn't walking around with a massive shame-filled invisible knapsack all the time. If I were already in a relationship with someone who disclosed to me that they had this problem, I would leap to significant concern about their emotional health rather than to "ew disgusting". But it would be with the same amount of legitimate "oh my god, this is not ok," because it is a signal to me that you are not dealing with emotional stuff well.
posted by so_gracefully at 2:40 PM on June 11, 2011

What jessamyn says. I have many similar gross habits as you and people just don't care and date me anyhow. I've picked at things my entire life, and while it may moderately inhibit my social status by creating an appearance of anxiety (while doing) or lower health (a resulting scab), other aspects of my appearance and behavior seem to be more important, allowing me to nevertheless get jobs, get dates, etc. In fact, other people's perception of what's visible in public barely registered for me until my 30s; it was that much of a non-deal -- and I certainly never thought about their ability to divine what isn't visible in public. I am happily in a committed long-term relationship. It sounds to me like the real issue is your feeling of shame, but somehow this picking (which is really just a symptom) has somehow come to be the reason that those feelings, that your sense of shame, are justified.

On preview, I like what saysthis says, that daylight is the cure for shame. So good for you asking the question. When I think of the things I've let fill me with fear and shame, usually the first step was talking to people about it. The bigger thing is that you do feel this shame around it, but it's not a "bigger thing" in that it makes you a bad person, it's a bigger thing in that it hurts you, and in that it could interfere with you doing the things you want to do (like confidently seeking a partner), so a sympathetic listener would say, "oh wow, I'm sorry you feel that way," and "hey, maybe it would help you to let go of that."

People in this thread may say, picking is gross. Don't let that reinforce your deep fears here. Just say, yeah fine, it's gross. So are so many gross things that people do. It doesn't have to define who YOU are or mean that YOU are gross. Farts stink and are gross, and then the wind blows, and things are fine again. Then someone farts again. Then the wind blows again. So you eat your boogers and fart. Whatever. It's just life. I drank salsa straight from the plastic salsa tub when I was home alone. That's gross too. Who cares.
posted by salvia at 2:42 PM on June 11, 2011 [7 favorites]

Everybody's got something gross about them and most people in relationships both have some gross habit of their own and have to put up with some gross habit from their partner.

I think you'd be better off focusing on the anxiety and self-image issues than focusing on this in a major way, and that you really need to stop beating yourself up about it. Nobody really wants to do anything because someone yells at them, and that's essentially what you're doing with yourself.

Also, you're both saying you're hyper-vigilant about doing it in front of people, that you have a pretty good life overall, but that strangers would see you and be grossed out and not be willing to eat your potluck offerings.

I have successfully overcome my lifelong compulsive overeating and even cleaned up terrible credit card debt, but this shit stays with me.

I kind of think you should continue the habit and put the idea of stopping on a back shelf. I think you're playing whack-a-mole with the same issues and you really need to find some way to be nicer to yourself and stop telling yourself how gross and awful you are, and spending all this mental energy on this really takes away from working on being kinder to yourself.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:58 PM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Having a secret is a powerful thing. You know something nobody else knows about you. You live in your own world, with a special story that's going on, filling your life with secret meanings.

I am a gross person, I eat my skin pickings, No one will ever date me, no one can ever know, This must remain secret forever, I am disgusting and no one else knows it, I cannot ever be with that cute guy over there because if he knew what was most true about me he'd be disgusted,..

Does this kind of internal dialogue go on all the time? You don't say much about the abuse you suffered as a kid, but this inner dialogue sounds a lot like abuse, doesn't it? What would it mean to you to consider that you might be perpetuating the abuse you received at the hands of another? This is a *very* common event for abuse survivors. You are not alone here.

Having a secret is powerful, but, as you're finding out, it can be very lonely. When it's as consuming, and as central to your story about yourself as it seems, it may be very hard for you to ever let anyone in.

Can you find the strength to consider confiding in a therapist who is knowledgeable about abuse? I understand that it's very hard to take that risk and tell someone your deep and shameful secret. But the payoff is that you just might be able to move on with your life and start to get the intimacy and companionship that you long for so much.
posted by jasper411 at 3:04 PM on June 11, 2011 [6 favorites]

>>As a potential romantic partner, how would you feel about my problem? Would you see it as a ‘red flag’ and move on?

Sorry, but yes, it would gross me out and I would not date you. This is about eating it, not necessarily about the picking itself.

Maybe it is an addiction, but it's not helpful for me to compare it to an alcohol or cigarette addiction. Chewing tobacco grosses me out. Smoking doesn't bother me. Drinking only bothers me if it negatively impacts our interactions.

Lord knows I have my flaws, and my romantic partners have all had theirs... I really think it's an individual thing. Some things bother me, some don't. Other things bother other people, other things don't.
posted by J. Wilson at 3:09 PM on June 11, 2011

Well, sorry, but the eating part just makes me want to gag. The picking, not a problem, except as a self-destructive act. But those are just behaviors. You yourself as a human being--hey, you're OK, kiddo.

I'm sorry you're not in a position to get therapy, because this obviously bothers you. You said you've tried lots of things to stop on your own, they don't work, and you hate yourself. STOP on the hate yourself! That's the worst thing you can do, gal. My armchair psychology diploma says the self-destructive behavior stems from not loving yourself enough as you are. Own it, it's you. Be OK that way. I'll bet that easing off on the negative self messages will slow down your desire to pick at yourself. Try to avoid stress. Again my bet is that your picking becomes worse when you're under stress--especially emotional stress. First love yourself. Then you'll find that there is someone out there who will also love you, because you're worth loving. You don't have to settle for second best, so hold out for someone that you deserve, because they're getting someone special.

Expecting yourself to stop a habit of the duration and magnitude of yours overnight is too much. I understand you'd love to be completely free, but you have to accept it may never happen. That said, you can learn to slow down and maybe drop what you feel is the grossest thing, or the most damaging to you. Your meditation is good. Please keep it up. If you meditate with a mantra, pick something affirmative, such as I am strong or My body is good to me; I will be good to my body. If you don't meditate to a mantra, then pick a saying like that, and then pick ONE thing that you do. When you feel compelled to do that thing, don't tell yourself that you won't do it, instead repeat your mantra/saying ten times, and count each time slowly and deliberately on your fingers. See if you can make that your substitute, if only for ten minutes.

If your compulsion persists after you've done your counting, try to find a replacement behavior. It's often easier to replace a habit than to eradicate it. Other things to try: braid a section of hair instead, or curl it around your fingers as a soother. Get worry beads. Learn to crochet or do finger weaving. I hesitate to say get a rubber wrist band to snap, as you don't need to treat the desire to pick or eat with punishment, but with kindness and understanding. Get up and walk away from the area you're in. Give it an honest shot, and if you find yourself unconsciously picking later, just stop and repeat, without punishing yourself or negative thoughts.

Don't try to get rid of every behavior: JUST ONE. If that seems to be working, you have to wait six months before you try another. Don't fret if you backslide--this is a response to bad things that happened, and it's understandable and forgivable.

Unless your scabs are completely hairless and one inch in diameter, I doubt anyone notices your scalp. As far as potlucks go, unless people know your worst secrets, I doubt anyone would refuse to eat your dishes. That said, since you know and are self-conscious about it, why not eradicate that minor stress by being the person who brings the chips and best quality store-bought dip, or deli-potato salad? Go to a bakery and get something yummy. You won't have to worry about people going 'ick' and can just enjoy the potluck knowing that your offering won't be rejected.

You said: well-liked, good job, educated, attractive, nice social group.

If you're employed, educated, attractive, dress nicely, are clean about your person, have a good sense of humor, are friendly and willing to listen to and be considerate with people, that's ninety percent of the battle. It sounds like you're there. You say you're well-liked and with a nice social group. Many people wish they had that. You'll find someone and be special to them. It takes time and patience to find the right someone though.
posted by BlueHorse at 3:27 PM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

Also, I do not believe that the shame itself is necessarily a relationship dealbreaker, as some comments might seem to say (not to oversimplify anyone's comment, as the comments themselves were more nuanced). Feeling shame does not make you unlovable or incapable of having a relationship; it makes you human. I could tell you what I feel shame around, and I could tell you the same for a few of my closest friends. Those things are there. Sure, that shame does sometimes create distance when it doesn't need to, but as we've gained trust and shared that part of ourselves, the distance and shame have grown smaller, allowing ourselves to feel acceptance and receive help in the ways that we need it most.

But even in the meantime, it has been only one part of us. There are 90 other ways that we have fun, support one another, and enjoy sharing our lives. Occasionally, I would be overcome by a feeling that because I hadn't filed taxes the previous year I didn't deserve to walk the earth alongside other respectable people -- but during the other 75 minutes of that conversation when I was emotionally present, we built a meaningful relationship. And eventually I shared my secret shame, and someone helped me call an accountant (wow! for $200 they file them for you!!). If you spend 99 out of 100 minutes overcome with such shame that you cannot really talk or listen, that's a problem, but it doesn't sound that intense from your question. So, I'd say you don't have to wait to overcome this habit, or even the shame around it, before feeling like you really deserve and are worthy of a meaningful strong relationship.

I think you display a nice level of awareness and confidence in this question, and overall, you have a nice narrative: "I feel shame around this issue, but I'm also a person who has worked hard and basically overcome a very tough history, who is working to love and accept myself more, who has successfully moved past several past challenges leaving only this one remaining." In that context, hearing that this one thing still really made you feel unlovable, if you were someone I would otherwise want to date, I would have no problem loving you and reassuring you that, no, you are goddamn sexy.
posted by salvia at 3:32 PM on June 11, 2011

One resource that might be helpful in terms of normalizing how many of us (hi there!) do this kind of thing is the website Stop Picking On Me. I haven't read the whole thing, but what I've read so far seems informative, compassionate, and non-judgmental. And it's written by somebody who does/did pick too, so they've got insight a non-picker might not have.

On a slightly different note, I'd recommend the book (Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe) There is Nothing Wrong with You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by American Zen teacher Cheri Huber. I recommend her books frequently because they've been life-changing for me; you might find what she has to say helpful.

Please do speak to your therapist about it. As others have suggested, the picking is less of a problem than the self-hate and self-loathing that come through in how you describe your situation. I think it's very likely that if you can learn to pay less attention to the critical voices and more attention to the compassion and love that is your true nature, you'll find the compulsion to pick will become much less.

(It sounds like depression may be an issue for you, in which case I'd also recommend one of Cheri's other books, The Depression Book: Depression as an Opportunity for Spiritual Growth. I truly believe that if I hadn't found this book, I would have attempted suicide by now.)
posted by Lexica at 3:42 PM on June 11, 2011 [3 favorites]

I worked with a woman whose cubicle was straight across from mine. She routinely picked stuff and ate it, in plain sight. She was also in a long term relationship. When that relationship ended, she dated a bunch and then had another long term relationship.

We all have our quirks and secrets. I was born with bilateral club feet. Not a big deal I guess. But it was for me. I was born with a deformity. I have the hideous scars to prove it too. For a long long time I never told anyone because I was afraid they'd reject me. Finally I started letting people know. They basically just shrugged their shoulders and life went on. I had built it up in my mind to be a much bigger thing than it really was.

Here's the thing, though. For some people picking may be a big deal. And for some people it's not a big deal. For some people, having crooked scarred feet might be a big deal. And for some people it's not a big deal. But as far as I was concerned I was no longer going to act like it was a big deal. I was not going to let it control me anymore.
posted by Sassyfras at 5:20 PM on June 11, 2011 [4 favorites]

I would try to work on one thing: scalp flakes don't need to be bloody. That's doable.
posted by Namlit at 6:16 PM on June 11, 2011

just throwing it out there - if you do this as a stress response and you are unhappy about the scarring, the net is that it will impact your relationship rather severely.
posted by rr at 6:26 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Such great, great advice - and some from fellow sufferers! They're all both hugs and wake-up calls. Please listen to them?

I only have one thing to add. I wonder if you might be using your (very real) automutilation as a means of keeping people - especially potential lovers - at a distance. In a way, hiding behind what you're hiding. As a survivor of physical and sexual abuse, emotional and sexual intimacy is about the biggest damned deal in the universe. Learning to want it, learning to accept that you want it, learning how to ask for it, learning how to receive it, learning how to give it, learning how to share it... It's not just climbing one single mountain, it's going for the Himalyas. All of them. It's huge and it's frightening and of course you will fuck some of it up. The learning curve is steep, and you don't have much experience.

By focusing on your shame, you have a built-in excuse not to tackle even getting to base camp. Yeah, subconscious is devious that way. But be kind to it, it thinks it's protecting you. And based on your achievements - WAY TO GO, by the way!! - it's somehow been doing a good job helping you out. The thing is, coping strategies can outlive their usefulness and can actually begin to become problems in their own right. I suggest that it is now only partly your picking habit, partly your shame, but maybe mostly your fear that's holdimg you back. I know you said you don't have access to therapy right now, but do you have a good friend you dare to trust with this? You need to talk this over and through with another person, who can help you sorts things through, and call you on shit which you can't see.

I wish you all the best. I admire you.
posted by likeso at 6:30 PM on June 11, 2011 [5 favorites]

Sorry about the typos- an iPad keyboard can be a challenge. :)
posted by likeso at 6:32 PM on June 11, 2011

I want to talk about farting.

It is generally considered kind of gross to not try to hide your farts. Farts are stinky and loud and horrible. If you were on a first date with a guy, and he farted loudly and stinkily and then laughed and asked if you were impressed, you would probably run away. Most of us would.

But now that I've been in a long term relationship for many years, that is EXACTLY what my husband and I do. We have farting competitions sometimes. (Oh god, I can't believe I am admitting this in public.) When one of us farts accidentally, the other one cheers.

When you love someone enough, you not only can overlook a lot, but the gross things don't actually even matter at all. I kind of see my husband in some ways as an extension of my own personal body. I'M not grossed out by my OWN farts, and somehow also not by his. I don't like cleaning up vomit or other bodily fluids, but when it's mine or his, it's not quite as bad. Hell, sometimes I ingest his bodily fluids (saliva, semen), and it's in no way gross. Yet imagine if a stranger spat in your mouth or worse?

So yeah, be discreet and private about your picking as much as possible, but don't for one moment be afraid that you would get years into a great long-term relationship and then suddenly BE FOUND OUT AND IT WOULD ALL BE OVER. That's not going to happen.
posted by lollusc at 7:10 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Oh, and I should add: if I suddenly found out today that my husband eats his own boogers, or pus or scabs or whatever, I'd probably SAY, "Dude, gross!", but I don't think I'd FEEL grossed out on a visceral level like I would if I saw a stranger do it. And it certainly wouldn't change my feelings for him. The thought of something that trivial changing a relationship this important is kind of laughable.
posted by lollusc at 7:12 PM on June 11, 2011

I was born with these extra little holes near my ears (they're called preauricular sinuses). You wouldn't notice them unless I pointed them out to you, and I barely notice them, unless they becomes infected. But, in college, one got infected. It swelled up, and I had to have surgery to have it removed. But they left a little bit of it behind, and it grew back. When they come back, they don't come back as tiny little holes. They come back as big holes that leak stuff out of them. For a few months, I woke up every morning with a bunch of blood and gross fluid on my pillow.

No, not my pillow, my girlfriend's pillow. Because I was in a relationship at the time, and I was sleeping at her place every night. Other than making sure the dark-colored pillowcase was on my side of the bed, she barely reacted, and it just wasn't a problem.

As I type this, the other one is infected. I have a totally different girlfriend right now, and she's similarly unfazed by the gross stuff that comes along with this. So, yeah, people who care about you will overlook a lot. At least, good people will.
posted by Ragged Richard at 7:33 PM on June 11, 2011 [2 favorites]

Hey, people are animals after all. Ever watch a show about chimps? The scratch and pick on themselves and other and sniff at it and eat it too. This is hardwired behavior. My cats scratch and lick on spots all the time. What is different wit humans, is that we are socially conditioned to think this is icky. Some of us are more conditioned than others. I would be surprised to learn of anyone who doesn't pick at some part of themselves ever. The part that is socially unacceptable to humans, is eating that stuff.

I think it may have been LaoTse who said he cultivated a spot of eczema just for the fun of picking at it.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 7:37 PM on June 11, 2011

I don't think you're going to be able to stop the behavior until you address the underlying anxiety/compulsion that drives it. My sister had trichotillomania; we could tell her to stop pulling her hair out all day long, and she wished she could--she had pulled out so much hair she needed a wig--but it wasn't until she went on meds and therapy that she was able to stop.

I don't think there's any way to will yourself out of this. Accepting yourself is going to mean accepting that you will need to get help dealing with this.

That said, this doesn't make you unlovable or undatable or unfuckable. I had a mixed-race friend who grew up as the only biracial person he knew in a town that was very segregated and had tense race relations. He said it was a pain to be different, but there was one good thing that came from it: It instantly sorted the good folks from the assholes. Some guys will be freaked out by what you do, and flee. Good riddance. Others may be kind of mesmerized and even use it as a way to manipulate you. Be on guard. Finally, there are guys who will see it, ask you to explain it, say, "Oh, that sucks. We'll be sure to pack some bandaids when we go see the movie in the park next week in case you need one." (These guys LOVE to nurture, so in a way, it's not gross, it's a back door to intimacy.)

Also, once the richness and fullness of your relationship develops, this habit is going to occupy less and less of a place in your life, just because there's going to be som much other stuff going on. Which is why I can sit here at my laptop, picking my nose, with my husband sitting across the table watching a baseball game.

Good luck! I don't think you're doomed at all. There's plenty of opportunity to have a happy life despite the scars. Be gentle to yourself.
posted by thinkingwoman at 10:22 PM on June 11, 2011

I'm sorry, but this behavior would be a deal breaker for me. I don't see this as being comparable to being bi-racial or having clubbed feet or psoriasis, which are all physical traits. This is a set of behaviors that stem from emotional issues and which are also unsanitary. Yes, of course, there are many people that would not see this as a deal breaker and yes, if you hid it until you formed an emotional bond with someone then they may accept it once they found out. But since there is nothing positive that results from what you are doing I definitely don't think you should accept this compulsion as just a part of who you are and move on. I think you should talk to someone about it whenever or however possible.
posted by mudlark at 11:12 PM on June 11, 2011

Wait, what? Picking at my skin is a problem? I should get treated for it? Why?

Man, the things I learn on metafilter.

It may say something about me (well, it probably says a lot) that I never even considered that picking at the itchy or uncomfortable things was something I shouldn't do. I rub at not-quite-smooth skin bits, scratch my scalp, scratch any scabs, poke at wounds, scratch zits, etc all the time. Most of the time, I don't notice I'm doing it. I carry tissues in case I draw blood is about all.

I've never had anyone comment.

I'm nearly 10 years happily married, and had an active dating life prior to that.
posted by ysabet at 11:22 PM on June 11, 2011 [1 favorite]

Toxic shame is the hardest thing to experience as an emotion. But I tell you this--it does get better. There is help for you from you. But a guide makes the process smoother and easier, and the first thing you have to do is tell this guide about the skin-picking. Watching that person still be accepting of you is the hardest step to take and the one with the most reward. Right now, it might seem inconceivable that you can be accepted as who you are by yourself. But taking the risk to see if it is possible is the risk you must run. But be assured that your perception of that risk is way higher than the actual risk you will be running.

So my advice is simple. Find a therapist. No matter how much money you have, there will be options. Find those options. And take the chance that the possibilities of love and acceptance that your heart suggested you put down here do indeed exist and are within your reach.

Yes I would date you.
posted by Ironmouth at 11:31 PM on June 11, 2011

Skin picking is a not uncommon disorder similar to Trichotillomania. Both are theorized to be related to OCD. Treatment with an anti-anxiety medication and exposure with response prevention can be tremendously helpful in reducing or eliminating the NEED to pick. I had problems with skin picking for a long time and treatment was such a relief. You can memail me if you'd like. That's not to say that you have to be treated to have romantic success. I dated and nobody even pointed it out. But the associated self-consciousness and embarrassment was so good to let go! Its totally okay to accept yourself as you are yet want to change some things about yourself at the same time. Checkout "mindfulness" and "lovingkindness" on teh google and you can probably find some great things to help you on your path to self-acceptance, no matter what your skin looks like :)
posted by gilsonal at 2:13 AM on June 12, 2011

1) People are so unobservant about other people it's not funny. I think for a lot of people there was this window of time at school where everyone was bored shitless that people made fun of other people's quirks and weirdness because there was nothing else to do but, you know, study, and who the hells wants to do that. But we extrapolate that time out and think that every moment in life is like that - someone's waiting to point out all our faults, publicly, and we'll be shamed in front of the class. In actuality, most people are off in their own little worlds. And this includes the people you date.

2) People are often gross. We are animals.

3) You are a human being. This is important. Talk to your therapist about feeling disgusting. Because you are not. You are a human being. And this issue is actually not about your skin picking at all. Talk to your therapist more about how you feel as a person.
posted by mleigh at 3:45 AM on June 12, 2011 [2 favorites]

Note: My point, in case it seems a little jumbled (tired), is that humans do gross things because we're animals (so you're not alone there) but you are worthy enough as a person to not spend your life thinking you are repulsive/disgusting.
posted by mleigh at 3:51 AM on June 12, 2011

I am a grown woman with trichotillomania. I am very happily married to a man who has been my partner and best friend for over a decade. These parts of myself are not in conflict. My husband doesn't love me "in spite" of my trich, because it's part of who I am.

It's not the picking that worries him, it's that when I pull my hair or spent hours in the bathroom going after pimples I'm showing that I'm unhappy and dealing with it in unhealthy ways. But he never nags me, or is grossed out by me, though he knows it's something I struggle with everyday and need support to change. He will casually say "You're chewing you your lips, here's my chapstick" or "You're pulling your eyelashes, we should go to sleep," or will gently put a hand on my hand when I reach to pick at my upper arms.

Making me actively aware of what I'm doing has helped me tremendously, because before I would zone out in a picking session then come to - completely horrified to have pulled out all my eyelashes again.

When he and I lived apart for part of a school year, I put a tick mark in my day planner whenever I picked, and it's been so helpful to be "Oh, hey - there's my trich again. I'm going to go run around the block (pet my cat/ call my sister/ meditate/ something else that calms me down) instead of hurting myself." I never feel better after I pick, I feel worse. It feels great when I'm doing it, but not as great as having sex, or finishing a run, or having friends over - things that are all harder when I'm feeling ugly and bald.

It is helpful to think about it like an addiction, because you and I are both addicted to self-soothing mechanisms that hurt us. Also like other addicts, we will always have this. It will always be part of who we are. Getting healthy is about accepting it, and learning to manage it, and not defining ourselves by it. You are so much more than your addiction, and any person worth your time, and energy, and heart, will know that. But you have to know it, not just tell yourself it, know it.

Things that help me not to pick:
- acknowledging when I do it and stopping when I realize I'm doing it
- re-directing my destructive moods
- going to bed at a regular time every night
- keeping track of days I don't pick and rewarding myself with a trip to the bookstore or a night out
- forgiving myself when I break down, fixing what's stressing me out
- openly acknowledging my problem with my loved ones

You can and will be loved. You can and will love yourself. Please meMail me anytime.
posted by malacologist at 9:10 AM on June 12, 2011 [9 favorites]

+1ing the guys who have gone who out with a girl who had, in retrospect, I guess, a part of her body that was, most people would probably say, borderline "extremely" unusual, and didn't even notice it until it was pointed out to me, by her, in a moment where she felt she could no longer take the stress of my not having mentioned it (!). Which I hadn't done, because I hadn't noticed it. It was even a part of her body relevant to sex, and I'm sure she'd been very self-conscious of it her whole life. After I'd been made aware it, I won't say I never thought about it, but it was way, way down on the list of, I don't know, her "salient" traits. It didn't affect how I thought about her, and it didn't affect how attracted I was to her.

Also, your thing doesn't sound bad at all to me. Maybe I've been changed by the experience related above, but I don't think I'd care at all if you ate your scabs, pus, etc, if I liked you. I'd say just try to keep any visible manifestations of it to a minimum for that initial stage of screening. But even then I don't think it's THAT important. It's like when you have a big zit on your nose (possibly made worse from overzealous zit eradication attempts) and you're like "SHIT I CAN'T GO OUT EVERYONE WILL SEE MY EXTREMELY UGLY FACE" but then if you're ever out with people, and it occurs to you to try to check how that experience works from the other end, and you try to notice the zits and blemishes on people's faces, in my experience it's actually impossible to make some tiny red mark affect your perception of their faces. It simply doesn't matter. You already have their face in your brain. Though YMMV. Again, the exception maybe being first impressions.
posted by skwt at 2:34 PM on June 12, 2011 [1 favorite]

For me personally, I would find the skin picking in and of itself not gross at all, and the eating-it bit somewhat gross but definitely not to the level of "I can't imagine myself dating someone who does this." But you know, that's not the point. Even if the majority of people would find it gross, it still doesn't make you a gross, repulsive, shameful person for doing it. And it doesn't make you unloveable. Polling AskMe may help you guess whether this will narrow your dating pool a lot, a little, or not at all, but regardless of whether some fraction of people would be turned off by it, that doesn't change the fact that there are most certainly people out there who'll love you anyway.

I would really like to be in a healthy, committed relationship, and I’m working on learning to love and accept myself fully, but how do I accept this part? Should I even accept it, or should put all my effort into kicking it if I really want to like myself more and find an awesome (also-not-too-gross) partner? I go back and forth between these two ideas a lot, and I think cognitively deciding on one or the other course would motivate me to make some progress.

You know, you can love and accept yourself fully, including fully accepting your compulsions to do this and the fact that you're not always successful at stopping yourself from doing it, without necessarily accepting that you'll always do it and hence should never try to change. It doesn't have to be either/or. You can treat yourself lovingly and accept that you're doing the best you can, dealing with compulsions that are very difficult to shake, while also saying that you would in fact like to shake these compulsions and so you're going to keep trying to. You can say "I love myself and am not ashamed of myself-- having these compulsions does not mean that I'm a bad person, that I'm a gross repulsive disgusting person, that I'm an unloveable person-- I'm just a person who's had a difficult life and ended up with these compulsions as a result, and they're so strong that they're really hard to get past"... while simultaneously saying "even though I don't think any less of myself as a person because of these compulsions, I don't like some of the consequences of them and so I want to try to beat them." (I'm not trying to say you need to overcome the compulsions-- just to remind you that you can and should try to love and accept yourself either way.)

Good luck. I hope you can get past the shame and move towards a life where you feel happier-- regardless of whether or not that includes doing less of the skin picking. (And it seems to me like therapy would probably be really, really helpful for this when you can manage it.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 9:34 PM on June 12, 2011

Honestly, I would bet my entire future earnings that not only could you find a guy who wouldn't be bothered by this, but you could find one who was excited by it. I'm dead serious. Now, that's not going to be most guys. I think probably it would be a turn-off for most guys. But you don't need to date most guys, though, so it doesn't matter what they're into. Different people like different things. Some guys get disgusted by a woman who's 10 lbs overweight and brunette, and prefer thin bald women -- and vice versa. Just find the guy who's into what you are, and don't worry about the other ones.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:30 PM on June 12, 2011

And by the way, if you are too embarrassed to tell a therapist about this, I would suggest opening an anonymous email account, and emailing a bunch of therapists describing the issue and asking them if that's something they could work on with you.

And -- just remember you don't know what anyone else does behind closed doors. Everyone picks their nose at the least, and anyone who says they don't -- well, a lot of them smooch their cats on the mouth, and I think that's a million times more germy.
posted by Ashley801 at 10:46 PM on June 12, 2011

I just signed up for Metafilter (finally!) just to respond to this question.

I have similar issues that I've never discussed with a therapist. For me, I don't think they're borne out of any great trauma, but I do have OCD tendencies. That manifests itself as trichotillomania (pulling out hairs on my head, especially, but also on my legs) and some of the eating nose pickings/eye pickings thing.

I've only been in one serious relationship, but I've done a LOT of dating over the past few years, and not once has a guy noticed. Of course, I see my hairline in a store window and I'm overwhelmed by anxiety at times - it's gotten sparser and sparser in the front over the years, and my part gets wider and wider. But I've never had a dude notice or ask about it. As far as the picking and eating thing, I do it behind closed doors, and I've managed to do less of it over time.

I will echo other commenters' sentiments, though, that you should not be looking to eradicate this behavior just for dating. If it makes you this uncomfortable, you should be finding ways (with a therapist!) to address it so that you can live a life that is a lot less anxious and overwhelming.

And I'll also echo that you are NOT gross and disgusting. We're humans. We do weird stuff. And believe it or not, your future husband may do what you do or even "worse."
posted by anotheraccount at 10:42 AM on June 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

I did a search for potluck, and found this thread. hmmm.

Picking is a mild obsessive-compulsive behavior. Your doctor can talk to you about anti-depressant, anti-anxiety, or other meds that might help. You don't have to tell the doctor the gory deatils, and, besides, she already knows what people do. As you've read, it's not at all uncommon(me, too), and you can absolutely find someone who wants to be with you. Maybe by now you already have.

Instead of trying to stop completely, work on the parts that most upset you. Learn to wash your hands, using a nailbrush, often, and especially before squeezing zits, to reduce infections. Try to develop some new habit, like crochet, or playing with worry beads, that can displace some of the fidgets. I find that I pick most when I'm tired and/or stressed. Well, that's a lot of the time, but sometimes, I find myself obsessively scratching my scalp, and realize it's time to go to bed.

I understand the feelings of shame you have, and I hope you can lose that shame, as it is not deserved.
posted by theora55 at 7:57 AM on December 18, 2011

« Older Sugar hangover? Really?   |   Is there any VERY simple audio editing software... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.