Struggling with a disorder doesn't have to mean struggling alone.
When living with trichotillomania or other mental health issues, it's normal for many of us to think about how it will affect our love lives. For some, trich has been the very thing that has prevented them from having a healthy relationship — or at least this is how it has seemed. Others have managed to hide it for some time, and are just beginning to date. And some of you lucky ones have already met someone you like. No matter which category you fall into, eventually you will have to figure out how to tell someone you have trich or struggle with another behavior.
I understand if you're nervous about having the talk. It can be scary to tell someone new. However, it's not impossible, and it doesn't have to be the catastrophe you may be envisioning. After to speaking to many trichsters, I've come up with five tips to make your conversation go well:
1. Be Gentle With Yourself
Being comfortable and compassionate with yourself about having the disorder will make the conversation much easier. When you are relaxed and confident, it comes across. If you're not kind to yourself, that comes across also. In fact, your discomfort or insecurity could make the other person uncomfortable.
I'm not saying you should be inauthentic. If you're feeling embarrassed, say so! We're human. It's natural for us as human beings to be embarrassed from time to time. Like I've said many times before: we all have secrets. This just happens to be ours. Authenticity combined with kindness will give the other person an opportunity to feel empathy towards you. In other words, when you go easy on yourself, most likely they will as well.
2. Be Honest
Some people shy away from thinking very deeply about partner-sharing protocol. People are ashamed of their secrets — women in particular. Many don't want to admit they have trich; some won't talk about it, and when others do, it's often in whispers. That creates a lot of misinformation.
But what if you knew that 5% of Americans have trich? That's 1 in every 50 of us. Would you feel less ashamed if you knew that perhaps 5-10 of your friends and family members had it? If all of us who had it admitted to having it, wouldn't it take a lot of the shame out of it? There's a lot of stigma and shame around trich. We have the power to be honest about it, and proactively help take the stigma and shame away from the disorder.
3. Have Information On Hand
For a few on the receiving end, this will be a hard conversation to have. Even hearing the word "trichotillomania" may make a person nervous. First, it's kind of an intimidating word (how many words that you know have 7 syllables?!). Second, the fact that the word "mania" is in it doesn't really help things.
If you find that you're stumbling over your words, or the conversation gets overwhelming for either one of you, having information nearby to educate the person on your behalf can be extremely helpful. The Trichotillomania Learning Center has excellent informational pamphlets you can share. Another option is having some simple info printed out with an explanation and statistics.
4. Take A Stand For Yourself
What I mean by this is the following: After sharing this part of yourself, do not let the other person shame you. Many times when a person does this, it is unintentional. But that doesn't make it hurt any less. For example, in the past I've been told, "You're pretty, but you'd be much prettier if you had your eyelashes." Rather than taking a stand for myself and perhaps replying with, "Thanks for your opinion, but I know I'm pretty regardless of whether I have them," or, "If you don't find me pretty without them, I know there is someone out there that will," I let the shameful words impact me. I felt sad and alone and yes, ashamed.
When feelings of shame are not dealt with, they become counterproductive. They tend to lock us into an internal prison of "Something is wrong with me," from which it can be hard to escape. If you're constantly worrying about what your partner thinks of you and the fact that you have trich, how can you possibly be present in the relationship? And if this person continues to shame you, I suggest that perhaps this is not the person for you.
5. Remember That You Deserve To Be Loved And To Love
It is better to be with no one than the wrong one. You are a beautiful human being who deserves love, kindness and compassion just as much as the next person. Do not waste your time with the wrong person.
And let go of building walls to protect yourself from being hurt. I hate to say this, but despite our building walls, we will all experience hurt and pain at some point during our lifetime. When we build walls to protect ourselves, those same walls also keep people out. Tear that wall down. Be vulnerable. Trust that when that wall comes down, the right person will show up. And in the meantime, be the right person for yourself — it might be easier than you think.
"You can search throughout the entire universe for someone who is more deserving of your love and affection than you are yourself, and that person is not to be found anywhere. You yourself, as much as anybody in the entire universe, deserve your love and affection". — Buddha
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