Dec. 20, 2010 at 10:31 AM ET
Joan Raymond writes: Most of us use our hair dryers to, well, dry our hair. But Lori Broady, 31, turns the dryer on, sticks it in her bed, and falls asleep to the soothing sound of hot air. She’s been doing this every night since she was 8 years old, despite knowing she may burn herself or start a fire. This, of course, raises the question: Why doesn’t she just buy a fan if she needs a little noise to fall asleep? Turns out, it's not that simple.
Broady appears on the new TLC 12-part series, "My Strange Addiction," which premieres Dec. 29 at 9 p.m. Also featured are folks with other extreme behaviors like thumb sucking, toilet paper eating, "tanorexia" and even a guy in a relationship with a silicone doll.
What’s clear is that it’s not easy being human. And unlike some creatures that simply run in circles to self-soothe (if you’ve ever owned a Jack Russell Terrier, you know what I mean) humans can be very creative in our attempts to control our lives and relieve stress. “Nothing (people do) surprises me,” says psychologist Jason Elias, Ph.D., director of psychological services and clinical research at McLean Hospital’s OCD Institute.
You don’t need to be a Freudian scholar to know that some of these seemingly odd behaviors have a lot do with early childhood experiences and other factors that may make a person associate a behavior or object as pleasurable. But no matter what your addiction -- heroin, cheeseburgers or silicone dolls -- “the biology is the same,” with the brain releasing a little squirt of dopamine in anticipation of the reward, explains psychoanalyst Mike Dow, co-host of TLC’s "Freaky Eaters." The more a person begins to associate pleasure with a specific behavior, the more they want. Self-soothing is a problem -- and can even be considered an addiction -- when it’s self-injurious, affects relationships and interferes with a person’s ability to function.
It’s important to remember that self-soothing strategies, of the non-extreme variety, are actually pretty common. So the next time you’re in a meeting, look around and see if your colleagues are twirling their hair, clicking a pen, or rubbing a pant leg (hopefully their own). All of these behaviors are self-soothing, says Elias, “but we consider them more acceptable than sucking on a thumb.” Or, for that matter, taking a silicone doll out to dinner.