Unraveling Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRBs)

BFRBs is definitely not your BFF.

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Unraveling Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRBs)

Everyone has nervous habits like leg shaking, finger tapping, rushed speech and hair twirling amongst others that often manifests in intense situations, for instance, during an interview or an important presentation.



Meanwhile there are others who are battling with a much more sinister disorder that is quite alike to these nervous habits. What sets them apart are, they not only encounter emotional distress mentally, and on top of this they unintentionally cause physical damage to their body. YIKES!
And that my friends, is called ‘Body Focused Repetitive Behaviors’ or BFRBs for short. What’s that you asked? Well they are a set of disorders categorized by self-grooming routines that essentially go awry. They include intense urges like biting, picking and pulling parts of your body.
In the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), certain BFRBs fall under the realm of other specified obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. Do you, your friends or family members experience any of these obsessive habits?

1. Dermatillomania


Also referred to as excoriation disorder, dermatillomania is this insane urge to pick at pimples, scabs, bumps or even healthy skin. The cause of this is unknown but people who have obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) are more likely to have it. Those who suffer from this disorder have resorted to wearing bandages on their fingers or keep themselves busy with a fidget spinner.




2. Onychophagia


This disorder is more commonly known as nail-biting. It is an oral compulsive habit that may lead to infections not only to the nail and fingers but to the teeth and gums as well. In rare cases, nail biting may cause the fingernails to become deformed due to the destruction of the nail bed.



This habit may also transfer pinworms or bacteria from the anus that were trapped under the surface of the nail into the mouth. Treatments include using bitter-tasting nail polish, behavioral therapy or Habit Reversal Therapy (HRT).

3. Morsicatio Buccarum

Morsicato Buccarum is known as cheek biting. Over time, this repetitive chewing or biting may cause sores and swellings in the inner lining of your mouth. Over time, these lesions will start to feel bumpy which in turn would want to make you chew even more to make the surface smoother.



This behaviour is more common with people who have higher levels of stress and anxiety. Anyone who suffers from cheek biting disorder can be unaware when they begin biting, experiencing a trance-like state whilst doing their day to day activity. Since people often do this to self-soothe, it can help to replicate the action by chewing gum which gives you the same feeling.

4. Trichotillomania

Trichotillomania may start between the age of 10 and 13, but it can be a life-long battle. The name is derived from greek words thrix meaning hair, along with tíllein meaning to pull ‘and mania’, you guessed it, madness. The long-term urge to pull hair can occur just about anywhere but is more common around the head and eye area. It is more common amongst those with obsessive compulsive disorder and is triggered by anxiety. Trichotillomania can go into remission-like states where the individual may not experience the urge to "pull" for days, weeks, months, and even years. If not treated with behavioral therapy or others, would shave their heads to avoid damage to the scalp like @themalaytrichgirl who shared her personal journey with the disorder.



A post shared by malaysian trichster (@themalaytrichgirl) on


5. Rhinotillexomania

Rhinotillexomania is classified as nose picking. Now while everybody picks their nose from time to time, people who suffer from this disorder tends to compulsively pick their nose up to a point that it cause scathing or scab in their nasal cavity.


This condition is often accompanied with stress and anxiety and other habits like nail biting. For those with weaker immune systems, nose picking may cause nasal cavity damage, nose bleeds, or worst, septum damage (Septum is a portion of bone and cartilage that divides the left and right nostrils.)



Individuals may overcome this by wrapping their dominant picking finger with a bandage or if a crusty nasal cavity is triggering the picking then a good saline spray and wash may help retain the moisture.
Any of these BFRBs seems like something you or anyone of your circle may suffer from?
It is indeed a challenge to go through mental disorders as they are nothing like physical injuries that you can simply slab some ointment on, as it’s part of your cognitive makeup. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not impossible to cure. Be sure to seek help whenever you feel like things are taking a turn for the worst. The sooner you seek treatment, the better.


Remember, habits and compulsive urges are two different things. If you want to know more about habits, watch this video of Hello I Have Issues: Habits with Kevin Zahri accompanied by none other than Keanu and Zher as they share their insight on breaking bad habits.


Sources: Psychology Today,,,

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