Sunday, June 20, 2010

Self grooming

In the previous post I mentioned self grooming. Generally speaking most people would see self grooming as something like brushing hair, cleaning their teeth, tending to their skin or person is some kind affectionate like way. Indeed these are kinds of self grooming but not the only kind.

From a psychoanalytic or Freudian point of view such grooming could be seen as a type of masturbatory behaviour. It is a reflection of the person’s desire to masturbate but they are prohibited from doing so because of some teaching in the past. A common example of this is the woman who repeatedly and excessively combs her hair. This could be a metaphoric type of masturbation. She feels compelled to do this because she has been told that sex is dirty, only bad girls touch self that way or it is a sin and makes you go blind. Thus the masturbatory behaviour gets transformed into hair brushing. It does seem reasonable to conclude that this psychological situation does exist on occasion.

Is it just coincidence the artist portrayed

the woman combing her hair in a sexualised manner?

In the literature one reads that a characteristic of the teenage stage of development is an excessive focus on physical appearance and self grooming. One explanation for this could be the masturbatory basis of self grooming as that stage of development is where the hormones and interest in sex are prominent. At the same time teenagers can be unsure and at times frightened about their own sexual feelings hence the grooming is redirected from the genitals to other areas of the body.

Pursuant to this, self grooming does not have to be restricted to the individual’s physical self. People are quite capable of projection and introjection with self grooming. The man who puts his much loved motor car out on the front lawn and spends hours washing it, cleaning it and grooming it. His car has considerable emotional significance to him. He has in essence projected his own Child ego state onto the car and sets about grooming it. Such projection allows self grooming by proxy. Anything that has some kind of personal or emotional significance for the individual can be used for self grooming by proxy. A car, a painting one is doing, a piece of craft, a garden, a house and so on endlessly. By grooming the thing one can be grooming self by proxy and of course we all know what a powerful sports car can mean for the young man.

Another other type of self grooming by proxy can be done by the grooming of a loved one or indeed a pet. Grooming a loved pet can be a way of gaining positive strokes due to self grooming by proxy. This could be due as much to projection as introjection. The mother who grooms a young child has formed an attachment to that child, thus she has introjected part of the child’s personality into her own. Such grooming of the child means she is also partly grooming herself.

As mentioned before self grooming can have a sexual basis. However to sexualise all self grooming does seem a bit inordinate. It seems very likely that some self grooming may not have a masturbatory basis at all. So why am I banging on about this then.

Self grooming by proxy or other wise is about giving self positive strokes and using the Nurturing Parent ego state to look after self. All this is psychologically good and health promoting. The power of the positive stroke should not be underestimated especially if it is relentless day in and day out. If self grooming becomes a daily occurrence this is a very good thing. Positive strokes are not going to cure schizophrenia or solve your drug problem but they are a very good start to establishing a more solid basis of a healthy psychology. Once done then therapy has a much stronger foundation upon which to operate.

From a therapist’s point of view regardless of what the client presents in therapy one would be highlighting such self grooming and giving homework exercises on this. Sometimes the client’s resistance can be quite strong about such homework.

This can include homework contracts to do non sexual self grooming, self grooming by proxy and sexualised self grooming. Those who find this hard to do may find it easiest to start with self grooming by proxy. These are often those who feel they are of little worth but they feel to groom others is OK. When doing this one would suggest the client imagine their own child being groomed as they groom the other. Once mastered this can lead on to the more direct self grooming.

Supplemental to this we have other forms of self grooming like trichotillomania. This is the compulsive pulling out of one’s hair that is generally considered a form of self harm. One could argue that this is self grooming which provides a negative stroke but the situation is more complex. Those who engage in this behaviour report that it is soothing for them and thus affords a kind of positive stroke as well. More maybe said in a subsequent post.



  1. Well Tony,
    I read this one too late then. I just shaved my hair off - #4 length so there’s still plenty there – but this morning after I did it, I totally used way too much shampoo and conditioner! Yikes!

    I’m just a tad excited about it though cause in the next couple of years – after a few more going over with the #4 shaver, my hair will be back to a much healthier state.

    But I’m afraid... there’s not a lot of self grooming (with my hair that is) anymore. I don’t think that I have ever, in my life, had hair this short. Actually, I was probably born with longer hair! *Giggles*


  2. Your hair sounds most interesting Roses. I think you should post a photograph for us to see



  3. Hmmm - I will never look at my teenage daughter playing with hair in the same way.