Pick a Little, Talk a Little / Working His Last (Gay) Nerve
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I’ve always enjoyed pulling my hair out. Fortunately I’ve had thick hair so it wasn’t noticeable—until now when I have large patches of exposed scalp. I will say, “OK, that’s it! No more hair pulling.” That lasts until I find myself having to pull just a hair or two; I just can’t help it. I’ve gone online for suggestions: bracelets with alarms, weird pills, a ball with hairlike strings I can yank…they all sound like gimmicks. I am rereading my note to you and I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. I need help with this.
Dr. Hurd replies,
Compulsive hair pulling (trichotillomania) is almost certainly a symptom of underlying anxiety and stress. It becomes a habit that the brain and mind come to depend upon, i.e., a psychological addiction. Compulsions like these are a lot like addiction. They soothe, calm, and provide a false sense of control. It sounds irrational, and it is, but the motives are somewhat rational and understandable. Addiction is a puzzling and complex phenomenon.
Whether it is hair pulling or some other compulsion brought on by anxiety, the root issue is very often the same: Life is stressful and there’s much we cannot control. Therapists try to help people develop some emotional serenity over this fact. It’s a process and there’s no one technique to fix it all at once. Some do find anti-anxiety medication a partial help, at least when combined with therapy to address the core issues of that anxiety.
It’s important that you find a skilled and trusted professional to help you through this. I suggest starting with a psychotherapist rather than a psychiatrist. Psychiatrists deal primarily in medication, but you should not rush immediately to medication on the false hope that it will cure everything, because it probably will not. You’ll be medicated, but the root problem will still be there, and it will never go away fully unless you address it head-on. A good therapist can help you discover and focus on the underlying causes that are giving rise to the anxiety and your need to self-soothe. As you progress, the therapist can help you evaluate medication options as they apply to you personally. He or she can refer you to the right person to help with that if necessary. Don’t give up hope. Move forward and tackle this with a positive attitude.
Dear Dr. Hurd,
I have a very good friend who is straight. He is extremely considerate of me and has proven his friendship over and over. But when we are with him and his straight friends, he makes little jokes and references to my being gay. They are never insulting or hurtful, but it’s like he can’t help himself. In fact some of his comments are rather funny. But it’s starting to get on my nerves. I think I would hurt his feelings if I said anything to him, but to tell you the truth, I think he thinks about my being gay more than I do! I value his friendship, and I know he means no harm. What can I do?
Dr. Hurd replies,
If the references are neither insulting nor hurtful, my first inclination is to leave them alone and say nothing. Most likely, as you sense, he has some kind of issue about the idea of being gay. I won’t speculate beyond that, because there’s not enough information. It’s his issue, not yours, and so long as he’s not offending you, and he is as good a friend as you say, saying nothing is a viable option.
If you still want to address this with him, then pull him aside and say something like, “I notice you mention my being gay a lot. I’m wondering what’s up with that? Don’t misunderstand. I am not offended or upset. I think it’s kind of funny. But I’m just wondering if there’s something I’m missing?” We can’t predict how he’ll respond. He might feel attacked or you might step on a personal land mine. If that’s worth the risk to you, then it’s a perfectly benign and reasonable way to bring the subject up. But let the buyer beware!
Some people are just not used to being around gay people. Let’s be honest. Political correctness has done a number on a lot of people in society. It has them on pins and needles, worrying over not offending or saying or doing the wrong thing. In one way you can appreciate the motives and intentions, but ultimately it all comes down to needless and overblown anxiety. But people’s thoughts and personal biases will always manifest one way or another. Maybe that’s the case with your friend. Presumably he has no serious issues about people being gay; if he did, he wouldn’t hang around you. Another possibility is that he could be self-conscious about it—on your behalf. If that’s the case, it sort of a nice thing if you stand back and think about it. If you feel that could be the case, then I suggest we go back to Plan A: Say nothing at all.
Michael J. Hurd, Ph.D., LCSW is a psychotherapist and author. His office can be reached at 302-227-2829. Email questions or comments to Dr. Hurd.