It is often thought that when an individual bites or picks at their nails that it is a sign of anxiety or nervousness.
Even if the individual does not actually have a confirmed diagnosis of anxiety, we assume they are stressed about something if we see them chewing on their nails.
The key word here is ‘assume’ since assumptions are almost always incorrect.
Recent science has revealed that nail biting is more than just a nervous habit. One study discovered a surprising personality trait shared by nail biters.
Read on to find out what it is!
Serious Health Risks from Nail Biting
Some experts say that biting your nails can have serious consequesnces to your health. If bites remain untreated, germs and bacteria can enter the body through these open areas and cause:
- ingrown nails
- painful hand nails
- bacterial infections
- toxic poisoning from nail polish
- warts that spread from fingers to face
- colds, flu viruses, or even serious illnesses like hepatitis
- paronychia, a skin infection that occurs around your nails
In rare cases, these infections can end in death (there is actually a confirmed case of death in a British person from nail biting).
Generally, nail biting is viewed as a socially unacceptable habit. If an individual chews on their nails in public, they are looked down upon.
Although you may view nail biting as a fairly uncommon habit, it actually occurs far more often than you think. Studies have shown that around 50% percent of the population will bite on their nails at some point in their lifetime (most of these nails biters are women).
The behavior, which can be a result of anxiety, can lead to an issue with self-esteem due to the damaged appearance of the nails. This negative self-esteem can then cause additional anxiety. It can be a potentially disastrous cycle.
Why Do We Gnaw on Our Nails?
Nail biting and other similar habits are quite difficult to quit. As nail biters know, it can be an extremely addictive behavior. Researchers even discovered that nail biting can produce a calming effect on the body.
Although the causes of nail biting vary from person to person, there are some common traits behind the habit. It may be a behavior learned from a brother, sister, or parent, a trait that was inherited, a way to inflict self-harm, or a way to stay alert and occupied.
Nail Biting Linked to Perfectionism?
Here is where the research gets particularly interesting: Nail biting reveals a person’s intense desire to be perfect.
The Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry published a study that determined nail biting is linked to perfectionism. At its most basic level, nail biting happens when the individual is unhappy with imperfection – in this case, a chipped or broken nail.
Although nail biters place the main focus directly on their nails, the true imperfection could be coming from a much more serious issue—a missed opportunity at work, an argument with their spouse, a big decision to make, an approaching deadline, or failing to finish a goal.
When an individual experiences stress or fails when trying to reach a goal, they can express their frustration through nail biting.
According to Wikipedia, Perfectionism, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations
Perfectionists like to constantly be on the move and stay busy. When there is not enough to keep them occupied, they get restless and frustrated. This is where nail biting can serve as a distraction.
Dr. Kieron O’Connor, the author of the study, concluded that: “We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors may be perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform tasks at a normal pace”.
Dr. O’Connor continued, “they are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals.”
How to Stop Biting Your Nails?
WebMd offers some great tips or you can watch the video below to break this bad habit once and for all!
Are You a Nail Biter? Are You a Perfectionist?
Tell us in the comments below. And don’t forget to SHARE this with your friends and family!