How to love someone who picks themselves apart

How to love someone who picks themselves apart

Everyone picks at themselves in some way or another. Sometimes people do things that make others shrink back in shock.

Could you be the one to do something different? Reach in and hold someone who is hurting, open your heart and say it is ok to be troubled. You don’t have to have all the answers.

Compassion means making time for those you care about and connecting when the other person is fragmented or pushes you away. Being in the same room at difficult times, either reaching out a hand or nodding can help.

They need to know that someone gets THEM, even if they don’t get IT

That someone is present and allows them their pain. That they aren’t entirely alone with the sadness, the anger, the frustration.

When someone is crying out for help, in essence, they need someone to say it is ok to feel what they feel, to struggle with wanting to stop something and not to know how to begin, that there are people who can help, and friends and family are only there to listen and acknowlege.

When we are upset, we re-feel all the negative, difficult and painful emotions we have encountered before. Our feelings aren’t rational and they don’t need to be; all we need is someone to make space for them and show us they won’t reject us, no matter what we feel. The moment you tell someone it is ok for them to suffer and that you believe they will find their own solution, they begin to notice your comfort and to welcome you, once more, into their world.

My husband, Jason, has a body focused repetitive disorder called trichotillomania. I can’t imagine not loving this soft, warm, encouraging and positive man, but there is another side to him, one who can worry about everything in the tiniest detail.

If you love someone who picks themselves apart, you’re lucky, this is someone with tremendous capacity to care. If that person loves you back, enough to let you in, you’re a rare individual and truly blessed.

When I met Jason, I was drawn to how calm he seemed. He is very easy going but it is only when you live with him that you see the toll it takes on him to maintain his exterior calm. Then you see the concerns bubbling under his skin so much that he wants to pick them out.

Jason regularly goes vacant and disconnected. He can be very self-critical.   His condition began because he thought he had failed at his job as a firefighter. I am constantly reassuring him that fire sometimes takes hold but he is, and will always be, a hero.

I have been to a few meetings and support groups for people with BFRBs and the people are inspirational, chirpy and often very tense. They are more sensitive than most people and I watch what I say to Jason more than other people. I don’t tip-toe around him, but I choose my words more sensitively because a throwaway comment can be very hurtful to him. He is very skilled at taking discussions apart afterwards and analysing them to death. When he isn’t doing that, he might be thinking about something we’ll be doing in ten weeks time, and worrying about all the things that could go wrong.

8 am Sunday morning, time for a nice lie-in. Jason is grumbling that he should get up and get the newspaper before the dog grabs it and chews it. I tell him to go back to sleep, it’s only a newspaper.

8.15 am Sunday morning. Jason tells me the dog will start barking at the paperman and wake the neighbours. I ask him if the neighbours have ever complained about the dog before? He tuts at me. This isn’t the lie-in I had in mind. I tell Jason to shut up and stop sweating the small stuff. He tells me I will leave him for another man who doesn’t. I’m tempted now. Very tempted.

I am dynamite at distraction. I get up – so much for the lie-in – put some music on and the day starts much earlier than I had planned. I make Jason some tea and bring him a biscuit; sometimes a morsel of food can release some tension. If I don’t get some structure into the day, his worries will only get more hold, so I am pleased when the children wake up and we can start breakfast.

This seems to happen more at the weekends. I don’t always have a plan of action but I do have some tips for handling his anxiety. His intense analysis is difficult to love sometimes, but his compassion, warmth and understanding make him adorable.

My tips:

Never tell them they are obsessing or being ridiculous.

Nod and say “That’s one way of looking at it, yeah” in a non-committal way.

Ask, “and is that something you can predict?”

The BFRB specialists say that picking is self-examination taken to extremes. They suggest just listening when he compares himself to others, no matter how irrational it seems. If I listen for five minutes he will often talk himself on to something else, but if he doesn’t, I have the tools taught by TSUK, to use movement, objects and even fragrances to divert his attention: I’ll throw him a soft ball or ask for some practical help, and plaster on a smile when I would rather throttle him!

The most beautiful thing about BFRB people is that they put others first in so many ways. By remembering that, I can’t help but forgive him his most annoying habits. They are very focused on other people and will do things they think YOU want them to do – get them used to asking you first.

Don’t be afraid to walk away sometimes.

Tell him or her what you want, and even if it is a worry free five minutes, say so.

Suggested statements:

“Hey, I know you’re giving that some deep thought, but I’d like to spend some time with you maybe kicking a ball about or working out what to buy in the way of food for the next week or so.” or “I know you want to relax, but let’s go out for a few minutes first.,”

Your loved-one’s thoughts are their thoughts.

Essentially you want to be saying, “your thoughts and feelings are fine but it is also good to focus your attention on the world outside your head and home.”   The second you talk as if their thoughts and feelings are irrational, even if they are, you’ve lost them and they will sink deeper into a trance-like state where their subconscious thoughts take over and they pick themselves apart.

These are the warmest, most compassionate and fun people when they’re happy, but sometimes it feels impossible to bring them back from that place they go. Good luck and keep your sense of humor with you at all times. It really is worth it.

By Leeza Penn