CSP: What It Is and My Personal Struggle With It
"The chaos in my head spun itself into a silk of silence. I had distilled myself to the immediacy of hand, ... blood, flesh."
~~Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game ~~
Compulsive Skin Picking (our site focuses on the oral manifestation) is a form of OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and is extremely similar to Trichotillomania (TTM) because sufferers often experience tension prior to engaging in the compulsive act, and then relief or pleasure afterwards. Cheek biting is included.
Skin picking doesn't have anything to do with attempting suicide. It consists of altering the tissues of the body in order to achieve an altered state of mind and a heightened feeling of control.
Many people, like me, engage in compulsive skin picking and not allowing the wounds to heal. They do not do it willfully or to gain attention. In fact, for most, it is their darkest secret as they hide their self-inflicted wounds.
It is a very dysfunctional method of relieving tension, altering consciousness, coping with stress and frustration, feeling a form of control over one's life when one's life feels out of control, and of raising the endorphins in one's brain chemistry.
The disorder is debilitating, addicting, and very much socially disabling. It is sometimes so unresponsive to therapy and psychiatric medicines that a person may suffer from it for much of her lifetime, and even risk death from it, although some grow out of it.
Very often young women who resort to this painful activity grew up in homes with a lot of chaos and confusion where things were not talked about. Many were outright abused. Many also have other accompanying emotional disorders, including eating disorders, Bipolar, OCD, anxiety disorders, Borderline Personality Disorder, etc. Personality Disorders are most commonly marked with having a social problem with other people, and anxiety. People who self-injure usually have a subconscious reason for cutting in the area of the body that they do, but in this case, the only thing I can think of might be an oral fixation.
I started doing it in third grade when I saw my Teacher's Aide biting her cheek and she seemed so intent on it that later that night I thought I would try it. I soon found that biting on my cheek created an imperfection, a lump that irritated me and caused me to want to level it flat with the rest of the inside of my mouth. so I began scraping, scratching and picking at the buccal mucosa (inside of cheeks) when I was alone. It makes me feel out of control if I am in public and cannot engage in it when I need to. It makes me feel totally out of control when engaging in it, and this engenders infinite self hate.
Probably it is much more common to be a cheek-biter, but I really think that it can all start that way and possibly escalate into compulsive oral skin picking. Whatever the self-injury practice, it is always very, very unattractive and unbecoming, which only leads to more isolation and self-hatred.
I have done this off and on for almost 40 years - most of my entire life. I do not feel any pain while I'm doing it, probably because of adrenaline, but for days afterward it itches while it tries to heal, which makes me just want to scratch it more to make the itching stop. It is a horrible vicious cycle. What is scaring me now is that I have begun to use instruments, such as tweezers, tiny scissors, and I have even thought of using a razor blade. When these thoughts began to scare me, that is when I decided I must tell someone.
I have tried many different things to stop it, including wearing acrylic nail tips (I just end up cutting one off, but sometimes I can get it to work for me and for that I am real thankful), and even wearing a mouth guard or duct tape around the house, but nothing works in times when I'm especially frustrated and have had an episode of stress; when I need an escape that not even binging on carbs can provide me with. Binging on carbs affects the serotonin receptors in the brain, as do all true addictive practices.
Anyway, not surprisingly, my childhood was very tense and stressful and chaotic and there was a lot of abuse in my family. I have kept this compulsive addiction my biggest, darkest secret for all of my life, and finally I decided to tell a therapist about it when I read about other people who self injure.
Almost everyone who has contacted me has started with cheek biting, and all are concerned about getting cancer, so I put up some links for you on our Links page about that concern, however, I would like to assure sufferers that what they really need to be concerned with probably are mouth infections. However, I am now looking into the possible problem of septicemia, and when I finish my research into that, I will post it on this website. What you can do to protect yourself now is to rinse constantly with an anti-bacterial mouthwash, keep your hands and nails scruptuously clean, try to keep busy, and make sure you confide in both your dentist and your doctor about this (they will not be shocked).
I know this site is very graphic, but we are here to educate others so that we can find ways of breaking the vicious cycle. Thank you for visiting my website.