May 20, 2024
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May 20, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Shortly before we left Montreal, I saw a young man at the urg­ing of his mother. He agreed to come, but didn’t understand what the point would be. He was in his mid-20s, was reasona­bly bright, and had studied engineering in school. But, while he had been working in a starter level job for a number of years, he not only wasn’t progressing, but was at sig­nificant risk of being laid off. He also had a girlfriend for a few years, but that also was on a downward spiral. You see, he couldn’t devote himself to anything but his hair. He had been convinced for many years that he was losing his hair, and was terrified!

He spent many hours in front of the mir­ror, carefully inspecting his hair and was hor­rified that his hair was thinning. His hair was perfectly normal, but I didn’t tell him that. He had been told that many times over the years by his mother who hasn’t said anything to him for quite awhile, because whenever she did he would go crazy. He had been trying desperately to do something and had gone to doctors many times. One doctor told him that his hair was fine and he wasn’t going bald; he quickly abandoned that person, but the other doctors gladly took his money for hair transplants, hair weaving, and countless other useless procedures. He always wore hats and had abandoned his friends, posi­tive that they were staring at his receding hair line. He rarely went anyplace, spending much of his time in front of the mirror and examining his brush for hair that was always coming out! Obviously, he had scant time and energy to devote to his career, romance, relationships, and life—he was struggling to hold onto his life (hair).

This young man was suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (dysmorphophobia) or the fear of having a deformity. This could be a focus on any imagined disorder: acne, muscle size, breast size, genitalia (I once saw a chosid who was suffering from Koro—gen­ital retraction syndrome), etc., and though people will laugh at it, to the sufferer it is very real! It leads to social avoidance, dra­matic attempts to diminish the perceived disorder, and failure in many areas of life. If left untreated it may get worse and possibly lead to suicide attempts. Unfortunately, the cause is unknown, though it may be related to brain abnormalities or dysfunction, child­hood teasing, personality traits, social pres­sure, etc.

We didn’t talk at all about his hair, other than at the initial point of understanding the problem. We instead spoke at length about how his concern was crippling his life and that we needed to find a way to get his life back on track. I spoke at length about what needed to be done to move his career for­ward, to try to salvage his romantic relation­ship and to rebuild his friendships. Of course, it kept coming back to his terror of losing his hair. I emphasized that his focus on that wasn’t helping his problem; it was just de­stroying his life. We stressed that he need­ed to just leave his concern about his hair and pay attention to the other areas of his life. And that is, in fact, what all of us need to do in dealing with whatever is eating us up inside. We need to leave that concern, even though it may be of desperate impor­tance to us, and put all our attention on what we need to do to move on with our life and move closer to becoming the person we so desperately desire to be!

Dr. Glick was a clinical psychologist in private practice for 35 years as well as the rabbi of Congregation Ahavat Yisrael. If you would like to submit a question, or con­tact him for an appointment, he can be reached at [email protected] or by calling him at 201- 983-1532.

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