Life with Dermatophagia

An article on The Mighty focuses on the problems of living with dermatophagia, a BFRB where people bite their skin compulsively. Skin biting can include many different behaviors including biting of the cuticles, biting of the skin around the finger nails or even cheek biting. Biting of the fingernails is not usually including as part of dermatophagia, since it has its own name: onychophagia.

Biting of the skin can become very severe in that it can cause bleeding. This usually leads to secrecy, isolation and shame. The author, Ryan O, writes that he felt the effects of his dermatophagia every day and tried to cope somehow:

As I progressed through high school and into college, it became — and has become — a full blown addiction. Sometimes (and unfortunately still to this day) I would walk into class, hiding my hands and/or crossing my arms because of the gnawing during the lunch hour and during prior classes. Sometimes I would sit down in my desk, smearing blood all into my notebook or over my clothes because I hadn’t even noticed I was bleeding.

What I found interesting was that there is this huge amount of shame which leads to poor self-esteem. Ryan writes:

I’m a person with a monstrous problem, not a monster with a personal problem.

I can relate to this quote very much. For many years I felt like a monster. I felt terrible because I was causing this myself and because I was scarring and disfiguring my own body. What kind of person does this to himself? I think that understanding that there’s a compulsion and you cannot normally stop yourself has helped me accept my BFRB. Ryan paints a great picture of what it’s like to live with dermatophagia and how it has impacted his life.