Nail-biting, nail-picking and other compulsive habits are generally thought to be symptoms of anxiety. Whether the person who does them has an official medical diagnosis of anxiety or not, when we see someone chewing on their nails or picking their cuticles with their other fingers, we just assume that they’re preoccupied with something on their mind. The problem here is that this is an assumption – and assumptions are often wrong.
But science has shown that there is a lot more going on behind the “nervous” habit than simple anxiety. One study found that nail-biters often shared a personality trait that you probably weren’t expecting.
Discover what it is below!
Only on rare occasions is nail-biting dangerous to your health. If these bites are left open and untreated, bacteria and germs can get inside and lead to an infection. And in rare instances, these infections can lead to death like it did for one British nail-biter.
But far more often, nail biting is considered a socially unacceptable behavior. And if someone does it in public, they can become a social outcast.
Although you may think it is a fairly rare habit, studies find that 20-30% of the population bite their nails, the majority of nail-biters being women. The habit, which could be caused by anxiety, can result in a negative self-esteem issue, which in turn causes more anxiety – nail-biting can result in a disaster cycle of behavior.
Nail-biting and similar habits are difficult to stop. They can become addictive as anyone who bites or picks their nails knows. Researchers have even found that the simple act of nail-biting can offer a calming effect on the body’s nervous system.
Although the cause of nail-biting can differ widely, the behavior shares some commonalities. Sometimes it is a learned behavior picked up from a parent or sibling, inherited genetically, something started to stay alerted when bored, and even a way to cause self-harm.
But here’s where the research gets interesting…
Nail-biting reveals the person’s relentless drive to be perfect.
According to a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, nail-biting was found to be an indicator that someone is a perfectionist. Nail-biting occurs when the person is frustrated with imperfection – in the most basic case, a broken or chipped nail.
While nail-biters focus on their nails, the true imperfection could be something much larger – like a fight with their spouse, a failed opportunity at work, or a failure to accomplish a goal. When someone fails to accomplish a goal, whether something specific or imagined, they can turn to nail-biting to express their frustration.
Perfectionists like to go, go, go. So, when things are not moving, perfectionists get frustrated and bored. That’s where this anxious habit comes in to save the day.
The author of the study, Dr. Kieron O’Connor, wrote: “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 says in the research. “They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals.”
Are you a nail-biter? Are you a perfectionist?