Are you one of those people that finds themselves chewing their fingernails throughout the day? If so, you’re not alone. About half of all children and teens bite their nails, and adults that bite their nails probably bit them when they were younger and just never stopped . But what if biting your nails is more than just an unattractive habit? What causes nail biting in adults?
What Biting Your Nails Says About Your Personality
Most people will associate nail biting with stress, anxiety, and nervousness. While this might be true, a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry has found that nail biting could be a sign of perfectionism.
Nail Biting and Perfectionism
For perfectionists, life has been described as an endless report card on accomplishments or looks . Perfectionism is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders and while perfectionists desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure. Perfectionism can be handed down from parents; all it could take is a raised eyebrow over a B on a test instead of an A .
Biting your nails is classified as a body-focused repetitive behavior (BFRB), like pulling hair or picking at skin . The researchers wanted to compare the tendency to participate in BFRBs using two models: emotional regulation (ER) and frustrated action (FA) .
The ER model shows that BFRBs are triggered by negative emotions and alleviation of unpleasant effect. The FA model posits that BFRBs are triggered by and alleviate impatience, boredom, frustration, and dissatisfaction.
Researchers hypothesized that those who engage in BFRBs are more prone to actions under the FA model, as “they demonstrate maladaptive planning styles characterized by high standards and unwillingness to relax,” two inherent traits in perfectionists.
Kieron O’Conner, the lead author of the study, stated “We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors may be perfectionists, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform tasks at a normal pace. They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals.”
So biting your nails may actually be a sign of being a perfectionist. The study showed less of a correlation between nail biting and anxiety than it did with frustration – along with other perfectionist traits like impatience, boredom, and dissatisfaction. But is nail-biting really the healthiest thing you could be doing?
How to Stop Biting Your Nails
While biting your nails may not cause any serious damage, it definitely has its downsides :
- It can make your nails grow in weird. Biting your nails can ruin the tissue around them, causing your nails to not grow the way they’re supposed to.
- It can spoil your smile. Biting your nails can result in chips, breaks, and cracks in your teeth. Long periods of nail biting can also cause jaw pain.
- It can make you sick. Your nails can be harboring potentially dangerous germs. Putting your nails in your mouth raises the chance of you getting sick. Skin damage also raises the chance of bacteria entering your body.
If you’re looking for ways to break the habit, here are some great suggestions from WebMD :
- Cut them short.
- Coat them with a bad taste.
- Wear gloves.
- Find your triggers. Next time you find yourself biting your nails, ask yourself why you’re doing it. Once you find out the cause, you can find different ways to cope.
- Keep your hands or mouth busy.
So while nail biting might reveal you’re a perfectionist, it’s not the healthiest habit to have. Next time you find yourself about to take a bite, try an apple instead.