But sometimes one of these little quirks can take an unpleasant twist.
First it becomes an insistent annoyance. After a while, it starts conditioning your life in a number of small, unpleasant ways — physical discomfort, unsightly telltale signs, feelings of inadequacy and shame, and eventually embarrassment.
Pretty soon, you start becoming self-conscious, paranoid even. “Are people noticing this habit I have? Do they think I’m weird?”
And then suddenly, it’s out of control. It starts affecting your social life, your job, and your relationships. You start shying away from social events, friends, colleagues, and family.
Finally, it takes over every aspect of your life, stealing joy out of every moment.
When suffering from these compulsive behaviors, it’s easy to feel confused and broken. To outsiders it might seem ridiculous, but to the victims, it’s hell.
Friends and family — all in good faith — will dish out all sorts of useless remedies they’ve found on the internet, or through word of mouth and old wives’ tales.
Some will even make fun and jokes.
Nothing works. Rather, it makes things much, much worse.
Through all this, the compulsive behavior grow its roots deeper and deeper.
It might seem like there’s no way out, especially when nobody seems to fully understand… but there is.
Research (Bar, Kuypers, 1973) from the Department of Dermatology at the University of Nijmegen in The Netherlands, has found that behaviors such as trichotillomania (hair pulling) and compulsive scratching, can be treated with aversion conditioning.
The study follows the treatment of a number of patients suffering from compulsive behaviors. The researchers found the behavior was often reinforced by an “enjoyable experience, which again reinforces the urge to [act out the behavior]” (Bar, Kuypers, 1973).
So they decided to counter the ‘pleasurable feeling’ with aversive conditioning. They started giving the participants unpleasant — but not painful — electric jolts every time they felt the urge to indulge in the compulsive behavior.
While some had minor relapses, these were easily treated with ‘booster’ sessions. Following these sessions, the habit did not return.
The participants had regained full control of their behavior, their happiness, and their life.
Bar, L. H., & Kuypers, B. R. (1973, 12). Behaviour therapy in dermatological practice. British Journal of Dermatology, 88(6), 591-598. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2133.1973.tb08024.x
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Habits, Technology & Behavioral Change