Cheek biting is a type of body-focused repetitive behavior that goes by the clinical name of morsicatio buccarum. Cheek biting and biting other mouth and lips areas affect 750 out of every 1 million people. This behavior can affect people of all ages and is more common in females than in men.
We who live with body-focused repetitive behaviors are often overthinkers and tend to be perfectionists. We easily discount our healing progress when we have setbacks.
What does it even mean to have a setback? Don’t get hung up on “I have to stop picking/biting/pulling completely, or it doesn’t count.”
Our BFRBs serve a purpose. We pull, bite, and pick to soothe ourselves and regulate our nervous system. We cannot “just stop” our behavior.
That’s why it is crucial to celebrate small successes and recognize the progress in our BFRB healing. So, be proud if you picked only three spots instead of eight, pulled only four hairs instead of ten, or generally didn’t do as much damage as usual.
As perfectionists, we must learn to accept perceived imperfect skin and crooked hair. We have this unrealistic airbrushed image of us in our heads. But at the end of the day, nobody’s skin or hair is perfect. We are human; we’re “flawed,” and this is good! Imagine how boring the world would be otherwise!
So, take the pressure off yourself, define BFRB recovery through mini-goals, and ditch the all-or-nothing thinking. Even if you sometimes think you’re not making any progress, take a closer look—inward … not in the mirror or something, because that can be dangerous, as we know 😉
You make progress with every new attempt, coping technique, and self-help book. Every time you “fail,” you learn something new about yourself. And the more you know about yourself and your triggers, the easier it will be to prevent certain situations and control your BFRB.
BFRB Coping Reminder for all BFRBs: Do not look. Do not touch.
We are often triggered by the look and touch of imperfect, rough, textured, uneven skin or hair.
This is a friendly reminder not to let your fingers and eyes (or tongue if you bite your cheeks) wander around mindlessly, as this will trigger and increase the urge to pull, pick and bite.
Whenever I lean in the mirror, check my nails while doing yoga, or feel my arms and general skin during a “thinking pause” at work, I try to use this coping statement to free myself from this behavior before the urge to take action arises.
To hide the damaged skin on my fingers I like to use the gel finger covers until the skin is healed.
For my face, I often use hydrocolloid bandages which I can leave on for several days. There will be no scabs and after three days or so the wounds are not as triggering anymore.
Whenever you find yourself engaging in a BFRB, ask yourself: What do I need right now? Sometimes the answer to this question can help curb the urge to pick or bite.
See your BFRBs as an internal body alarm telling you to take a break, not take things too seriously, set boundaries, or focus on your mental health to heal and feel better.
This positive reframing has helped me feel a little more comfortable with my BFRBs. Instead of hating and fighting them, I try to manage them better … and hate them a little less 😜 We are all trying, eh!
Sending you much love and coping strength,
PS: This question has been on my mind since I first saw it on @pickingme. Since then, it has kept popping up in conversations with fellow BFRB sufferers.
When I found out about BFRBs, I quickly stumbled upon fidget toys. BFRB Fidget toys are tactile toys that can be stretched, squeezed, moved, or stroked. They come in various textures and are usually small enough to be carried around in the hands or pocket.
BFRB fidget toys keep hands and jaw busy and distract them from picking, biting, or pulling. Using fidget toys also helps to reduce stress and anxiety.
Fidget toys used to manage BFRBs are somewhat controversial because some say it replaces the behavior but doesn’t solve the problem. That may be true, but I find it a healthier alternative to protect my skin and fingernails.
Speaking of problem-solving – at this point, it may be important to mention that recovery from BFRBs mainly involves mental work and healing. Find ways to better deal with your frustration, dissatisfaction, stress, or anxiety. Find out what the source of your triggers is. Try therapy, keep a journal, or find other ways to connect with your inner self.
In the meantime, if fidget toys are helping you on your healing journey, I encourage you to use them. I’m thankful for BFRB fidget toys, and who knows, maybe one day I won’t need them anymore.
Find out what sensations you are responding to
When I first researched fidget toys on the internet, I was overwhelmed by the vast amount of different toys out there.
I began looking more closely at my body-focused repetitive behaviors to determine what sensations I crave and the relief I get from skin, nail, and cheek biting.
For example, I react to:
Sight: I love popping pimples or any kind of clogged pores. Seeing the pus come out is so rewarding and soothing. Sorry for the graphic description, but you know what I am talking about.
Sound: I like the clicking sound when I bite my nails or cheeks
Touch: My restless fingers love to explore rough skin or fingernails. As if they were on patrol and their mission is to smooth everything, even the oh-so-tiny hangnail.
Sensory input is different for everyone. Ask yourself: What are some of the comforting feelings you experience when you engage in a BFRB? Do you respond to touch, sight, sound, or smell?
With this information, it will be easier to find a BFRB replacement in the form of a fidget toy or something similar.
Get inspired by household items or nature.
In the beginning, I didn’t want to spend any money and recourses on plastic BFRB fidget toys that I wasn’t sure I would even like.
So, I started trying different items at home and in nature to see how my senses respond. I quickly found some helpful things. I still use some of these and have replaced others with actual fidget toys.
From a purchase, I had this metal chain for merchandising tags. I removed a few links from the small chain to wrap them around my finger. My fingers responded very well to the tiny metal balls. I later replaced this with a ring I made out of beads. And that, in turn, I replaced with a beautiful silver fidget ring by Levitayt.
Tip: Search for anxiety ring, wellness jewelry, or fidget ring.
Tip: Rubber bands or hair ties are great alternatives for the metal chain. I wrap the rubber band around my left index finger. That can keep my thumb busy for a while too.
I cut a piece off a chopstick (you can also try popsicle sticks). I held it between my teeth or in my cheek to create a barrier against biting my cheeks and lips. That coping method already helped a bit, but I wanted something to chew on to get the energy out of my jaw. I was very fortunate to later find a sensory chew toy that had the same small shape as the chopstick – for some reason, most chew toys are pretty big.
Tip: You can also search for “chewelery,” – sensory chew necklaces or bracelets!
Soap bag: for the ultimate soothing feeling
I bought a small soap bag made from coarse flax fabric with loops for scrubbing. I loved the feeling of stroking it so much I put it in my BFRB toolbox instead of the shower 😉
Tip: The texture of terry cloth is also great. I’ve been a big fan since I was a kid.
Nature: find your fidget toy in the park, by the river, or in the woods!
Nature has so many wonderful textures to offer. Watch out for rough twigs, small pinecones, or smooth stones on your next walk. You don’t have to spend money on worry stones (usually smooth) that you get in the store. Just find one yourself! You might even like a rough stone better than a smooth one.
These are just a few examples of things I found at home and found helpful for my BFRBs. You don’t have to spend money on “fancy” fidget toys.
Check out what you already have at home, go outside, or maybe go to a craft store. There is no limit to your creativity to find something to occupy your fingers or create a barrier. Please let me know if you find anything cool!
Where to buy BFRB fidget toys
If you want to buy a fidget toy but don’t know which one yet, I recommend watching videos about fidget toys on YouTube. You’ll get a better idea by seeing how people are using them.
Also, check out @pickingme on Instagram, who posts new fidget toys every week!
Book or toy stores sometimes also carry sensory products. Or maybe there’s even a mental health store in your town. I like going to the shops because you can often test the toys, which is helpful to find something suitable.
Of course, buying fidget toys online is always an option. Check out Therapy Shoppe or good old Amazon.
Try out new fidget toys or items and switch between them from time to time. Otherwise, they lose their “magic” and become boring. Similar to kids and dogs – after a while, they need new toys and input too 😉
I know how difficult it can be to cope with body-focused, repetitive behaviors—we feel angry and defeated when we experience setbacks. So this post is meant to serve as a little reminder that every day is a new opportunity to try again.
Sometimes we just don’t have the strength or mental bandwidth to control our BFRBs. We don’t even care if we pick our skin, pull our hair, or bite our cheeks and nails—at least at the moment.
Often we tell ourselves that we’ll start all over again tomorrow, next week, or on some special occasion, but we always slip back into the vicious cycle of habit.
We keep trying and restarting 100 times, and it’s frustrating. But remember, that’s okay and is part of recovery from BFRB.
You can do it! One day at a time, one trigger, and one BFRB at a time. Your future self will thank you for keeping trying.
I assure you that over time your BFRBs will become easier to manage and the damage you cause with picking, pulling, and biting will be less severe.
See your dermatillomania, trichotillomania, or onychophagia as your internal body alarm system. Some triggers will even be easy to spot and prevent.
For example, do you need a break, are you hungry or thirsty, are you tired, is the film you’re watching too scary for you, or is the phone call taking too long?
So remember, every day (and every hour) is a new opportunity to be stronger than your urges and to learn more about what you need to do to feel and cope better!