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How to Overcome Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviours


What are body-focused repetitive behaviours (BFRBs)?

Often dismissed as “bad habits,” these self-grooming behaviours include nail biting, skin picking, and hair pulling, among others. According to, at least 5% of the population engage in BFRBs; so, they are quite common! The behaviours often begin in childhood, and several research studies point towards a genetic component. Some people assume that BFRBs are a sign of unresolved trauma, but current evidence suggests this is not the case. Usually, those who engage in BFRBs do so to relieve stress or to experience gratification.


How do I stop biting my nails / picking my skin / pulling out my hair?

If you or a loved one engage in some form of these behaviours, you are not alone and not to blame. These are genetic and neurobiologically based acts. Getting them under control is both challenging and possible. Shame will keep you stuck, so take a deep breath and dial up your sense of self-compassion. Here’s how to get started:

  1. Cultivate an attitude of hope and curiosity. Confide in a trusted loved one or a therapist and share your thoughts and feelings about what you have been experiencing. Learn about the real origins of BFRBs and set aside beliefs about it being a bad habit or character flaw.
  2. Become aware and self-monitor. Honestly take notice when you engage in BFRBs. Track these instances in your phone or in a notebook. What time of day was it? What was happening at the time? What were you thinking about? How were you doing emotionally?
  3. Manage stress and practice self-care. Breathe deeply, exercise regularly, and set boundaries with overwhelming life demands. Replace BFRBs with other sensory input (fidget toys, chewing gum, hand lotion, etc.). Practice mindfulness. Get outside. Connect. Be creative.
  4. Have realistic expectations. You may not overcome BFRBs overnight but becoming informed and aware are big leaps in the journey towards progress!

If you are experiencing BFRBs, you are not alone, and it is not your fault. With some focused effort and lots of self-compassion, you can start the journey towards overcoming BFRBs. Accessing counselling can also provide a safe space to process and reflect as you grow!



Jodie Purnell, MC, is a Registered Provisional Psychologist with the College of Alberta Psychologists and specializes in the areas of stress management and personal growth, as well as many others. For more information on Jodie and her work click here to link to her full bio page.