Rooted in Support: Cultivating Strength as a Trichotillomania Parent

Dr. Dawn Ferrara
Apr 1st, 2024

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When your child is struggling, your instinct as a parent is to jump in and do anything and everything to support them in whatever way you can. You just want them to be OK, and you will not stop until they are. For parents with a child dealing with a chronic disorder that level of attention, while noble, can be draining too. It can leave you exhausted but you keep going. After all, it’s helping, right?

One of the things that we know about caregiving is that while it is invaluable for the person in need, it can have devastating effects on the loved ones caring for them. It has nothing to do with their desire or their ability. It has to do with the emotional energy that it takes from them.

Trichotillomania, often referred to as hair-pulling disorder or “trich”, is a mental health disorder characterized by repetitive hair pulling that results in significant hair loss, emotional distress, and impaired functioning. It’s a disorder that most often begins in late childhood or early adolescence, a pivotal time in a child’s emotional and social development. For parents, the experience can evoke feelings of concern and frustration, helplessness and even guilt. Parents often worry that they have somehow caused their child’s trich. The need to protect them and fix it for them can be exhausting.

Caring for a loved one can stress even the most resilient person. It might feel like you’re giving 100% but over time, that stress can lead to physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It’s a phenomenon known as caregiver burnout. It’s more than just feeling stressed out. It can make doing the most basic care task feel impossible and leave you questioning whether you’re doing enough (you are). 

As a parent, your most important job is to help your child navigate this journey in a healthy, supportive way. To do that, you need to be at your best. That means taking care of you so that you can care for them.

The Importance of Self-Care

For many, the idea of self-care feels like selfishness and self-indulgence. After all, how can taking time for yourself possibly benefit your loved one?

You’ve probably heard the old saying that you can’t pour from an empty cup. As a parent, you want to give your child your best. You give your all, physically and emotionally. Caring for a child with a condition like trich takes a lot of time, attention, and emotional energy. Over time, that energy can get depleted. When that happens, you’re running on empty. At that point, you’re trying to pour from an empty cup.

Self-care is, in fact, an important part of maintaining your physical and mental health. It might conjure images of bubble baths and massages, but self-care can be anything that you do to keep yourself physically, emotionally, socially, and spiritually healthy. If might sound self-indulgent, but regular self-care has been shown to:

  • Reduce or eliminate anxiety and depression
  • Reduce stress
  • Improve concentration
  • Minimize frustration and anger
  • Increase feelings of happiness and well-being
  • Improve energy

It may also play a role in reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

In the short term, self-care allows you to relax and replenish, and refill your cup. But its benefits go far beyond that.

Self-care can also be transformative and empowering. As you begin to prioritize your needs, you may discover (or rediscover) a resilience and inner strength you never knew you possessed. You may learn ways to navigate the situation with grace and compassion, finding moments of joy and connection even amidst the challenges. You may find a heightened sense of empowerment in your ability to set boundaries and advocate for both you and for your child.

Practicing self-care can also lend itself to those teachable moments so important in a child’s life. As a role model for your child, they may learn from you how to face their condition with positivity, hope and grace.

Practicing Self-Care

The first step in self-care is giving yourself permission. It’s ok to take time for yourself and it is in no way taking from your child. Remember, you’re refilling your cup.

For most people, self-care is a combination of things that nurtures their physical, emotional, social, and spiritual needs.

  • Self-care can take the form of restorative activities like yoga, massage, or taking a walk.
  • Find a few moments each day to elicit the Relaxation Response. Chronic stress keeps your body in its “fight or flight” state. The Relaxation Response is the body’s way of shutting down stress reactions. Some common ways to encourage relaxation are visualization, gentle massage, breathing, meditation, or prayer.
  • Self-care can also take the form of attending to the basics like maintaining a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and getting adequate sleep.

Seeking Support from Therapy and Community

Self-care also means accepting help and finding strength in community. Having a support network is an important element in building that sense of empowerment and resilience. You’re not alone and you don’t have to do it alone.

Finding community can be immensely beneficial. Connecting with other parents who are going through similar experiences can provide validation, solidarity, and practical advice. Whether through support groups, online forums, or local meetups, knowing that you're not alone can be incredibly comforting and empowering.

Self-care can include therapy. Sometimes feelings can be overwhelming. Therapy can be a valuable resource for both you and your child, providing a safe space to explore emotions, learn coping skills, and develop strategies for managing trichotillomania effectively. A skilled therapist can also offer guidance and support tailored to your family's unique needs, empowering you to navigate this journey with confidence and resilience.

The TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors offers these additional tips for parents:

  • Remember that your child’s disorder is a medical condition. You did not cause it and it is not your fault.
  • Educate yourself and others about your child’s disorder.
  • Keep the lines of communication open with your child. It’s ok to talk about feelings and about their hair pulling. 
  • Be open to accepting support. There is a community of others dealing with the same issues you and your child are. You are not alone in this.

The Takeaway

When you love someone you want the best for them. And when you are caring for yourself, you are giving your child the best of you.

Needs may look different at different times. Knowing that there are strategies and resources can help you navigate this journey with strength, resilience, and an open heart and make all the difference for both you and your child.


1. TLC Foundation for BFRBs. (n.d.). For parents – TLC Foundation for BFRBs. TLC Foundation for Body-Focused Repetitive Behaviors | BFRB.

2. Practical solutions for caregiver stress. (2023, August 9). Mayo Clinic.

3. Kapil, R. (2022, March 14). How and why to practice self-care. Mental Health First Aid.

4. Riegel, B., Moser, D. K., Buck, H. G., Dickson, V. V., Dunbar, S. B., Lee, C. S., Lennie, T. A., Lindenfeld, J., Mitchell, J. E., Treat-Jacobson, D. J., Webber, D. E., & American Heart Association Council on Cardiovascular and Stroke Nursing; Council on Peripheral Vascular Disease; and Council on Quality of Care and Outcomes Research (2017). Self-Care for the Prevention and Management of Cardiovascular Disease and Stroke: A Scientific Statement for Healthcare Professionals from the American Heart Association. Journal of the American Heart Association, 6(9), e006997.

5. Herbert Benson Relaxation Response 2016 [Video]. (2016, July 15). YouTube.

Dr. Dawn Ferrara


With over 25 years of clinical practice, Dawn brings experience, education and a passion for educating others about mental health issues to her writing. She holds a Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Counseling, a Doctorate in Psychology and is a Board-Certified Telemental Health Provider. Practicing as a Licensed Professional Counselor and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Dawn worked with teens and adults, specializing in anxiety disorders, work-life issues, and family therapy. Living in Hurricane Alley, she also has a special interest and training in disaster and critical incident response. She now writes full-time, exclusively in the mental health area, and provides consulting services for other mental health professionals. When she’s not working, you’ll find her in the gym or walking her Black Lab, Riley.

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