Self-Harming Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior: We All Do It

May 31, 2013 Jennifer Aline Graham

Self-harming and body-focused repetitive behavior s something we all do. But we don't all have OCD connected to it. We all relate to self-harm and BFRB issues.

Biting nails. Popping zits. Picking blisters. Scratching scabs.

Who can honestly say they have not done any of the above? If you said you haven’t, I do not believe you. We are all human and we all have little habits we do, sometimes without even realizing it. Some people will spend fifteen minutes in the mirror just picking at the pimples or zits or blackheads on their face. Before a big test, people tend to bite their nails and hangnails, sometimes until they bleed.

Surprise, surprise – these are self-harming behaviors.

Of course, these are not exactly the same ways of self-injury as cutting or burning. However, these behaviors are seen to also be self-injurious because they are, in fact, injuring your skin. Maybe you are doing it without realizing it, but you may be doing it because you’re stressed or tired and never realized it before.

Self-Harming Is a Type of Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors

How difficult it is to stop self-injury? When you start engaging in repetitive self-harm behaviors, it’s habit-forming, like nail biting, scab picking.Just recently, I learned there was a technical name for these behaviors. According to the NeuroBehavioral Institute in Weston, Florida, these behaviors include, “skin picking, hair pulling, skin biting and nail biting, which result in physical and psychological difficulties.” Many of these behaviors feed from our inner anxiety, which, to me, makes perfect sense (Types of OCD Related Disorders)

Over the course of the past few years, I’ve become more than aware of tiny bumps on my upper arms from a skin issue I’ve always had. Even now, five years after my last self-harming incident, I pick at these bumps. I pick them and sometimes they bleed or irritate my skin. I really do not understand why I do this and it can easily be connected to my mental illness. However, I now see it as a body-focused repetitive behavior. I’ve been trying to log when I pick and if there is an emotion attached and I have yet to find any connections.

This will be brought up in future blogs, I am sure.

If Everyone Does Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors, Does Everyone Self-Harm?

If you admitted that you have bitten your nails or picked a few scabs here and there, you now have admitted to being human. We all do these things without realizing it and it does not make us bad people. When it comes to self-harmers, this is how it feels when they cut their wrists or burn their thighs. It does not seem like a big deal to them. The difference between these self-harming behaviors is the emotions linked to them.

When I would cut myself, I did it because an emotion was so strong it was forcing my body into a shock, of sorts. I couldn’t stop the anger from screaming inside my head, telling me to cut because it would make me feel better. When you’re a self-harmer, you have a hard time deciphering positive versus negative coping, and usually that little negative little devil sitting on your shoulder wins.

So, next time you are picking your hangnails in class or popping a zit so it will go away before your next big date, remember that that, too, is self-harm. Try to stop yourself - really stop yourself. It will be hard, because it is what you’ve grown used to doing. That may give you a little insight into how hard it is for a self-harmer to stop cutting.

APA Reference
Aline, J. (2013, May 31). Self-Harming Body-Focused Repetitive Behavior: We All Do It, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Jennifer Aline Graham

May, 31 2013 at 6:23 am

These behaviors may be subtle or they may bring on larger and more devasting effects such as cutting, drug and alcohol abuse, etc. it's important to learn to recognize the behaviors and the driving force behind them ( anxiety, low self esteem, feeling out of control, underlying mental health issues, etc). By gaining the insight and awareness you can learn to be equipped with the insight and skills to stop the behaviors and restore your live back to balance. If you feel these behaviors are controlling your day to day life seeking counseling can help you to learn to set yourself free from the affliction that is holding you back from being your true self.

June, 3 2013 at 4:45 pm

This was a very interesting post because it seems to me that most doctors discount this kind of behavior as a bad habit. I have the "bad habit" of cutting and picking at my cuticles and I am obsessive about plucking my eyebrows. Sometimes I can do it gently (closer to a bad habit) and other times I take it to the extreme where I would consider it bordering on self-harm. At that extreme, I use a tool (snips, clippers, needle nose tweezers) and will leave myself a bloody mess and in need of first aid. Sometimes I do it mindlessly out of boredom, for ex... other times I do it for the release that comes with self-harm. I think the hard part comes from knowing where the line is. Although I have brought it to the attention of several doctors, none of them have taken it seriously. Anyway... thanks for the post!

October, 5 2017 at 5:02 am

I would just like to bring an update to this blog. Body-focused repetitive behaviours are not considered self-harm behaviours. Yes, the behaviours literally cause damage to a person's skin, hair, nails, etc., but the intent to harm is not there, which excludes them from self-harm categorization. I'm happy to answer any questions about this.

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