Training myself in habit-reversal, to replace compulsive scratching with more socially acceptable behavior, has not been easy.
It's hard because you have to be on all the time. You have to intercept those impulses to scratch before the action happens. Of course the goal is to make the behavior automatic, so you don't have to consciously think about it, but you do at the start.
And I fail all the time. I'll just discover my hand doing something it's not supposed to, and I'll have to yank it away. Fortunately the inventors of habit-reversal acknowledge that you'll fail. You just have to try your best.
I haven't quantified the results yet but I do see one significant improvement. I've been able to stop scratching my scalp, especially on the days that I wash my hair with shampoo (tar shampoo, naturally). Just a few weeks ago, my scalp was covered with dry skin and little scabs that I was picking at. It's annoying to feel itchy all the time, and everyone knows how embarrassing dandruff is.
But, in this completely unscientific experiment lacking any sort of control, I observe that I am hardly scratching my head at all any more. To some extent, I have broken the itch-scratch cycle for this specific behavior. And that's great.
However, elsewhere on my body, particularly the backs of my knees, I've got red and inflamed skin from scratching that I haven't brought under control. It's like a different type of itch, although there's certainly a psychological contribution.
My ability to implement habit-reversal is strongest in the morning. Later in the day--especially after I get back from work and the circus of getting the kids through bathtime and into bed begins--the stress mounts and I find myself scratching various places vigorously. (Not the scalp though.) I'd guess that's because whatever part of my brain I need to control scratching is busy thinking about how to keep the kids disciplined instead. Or it could just be that the urge to scratch gets brought on by stress, and there's little more stressful than fighting with your two- and five-year olds to brush their damn teeth and get into the tub and stop trying to drown your sister and stop whining and crying about how she's got your rubber dolphin, etc.
I need some stress-reduction technique--something more powerful than the beer I open after the kids are in bed.