Since we were children, we have been told that nail-biting is a bad habit to have, and sometimes it has been termed as a very disgusting habit too. But this is not a habit that everyone has, and for those who do, some of them turn out to be compulsive nail-biters. Even though it’s very easy to criticize them for this habit, sometimes the reasons behind it can be psychological and more serious than how it seems from the outside.
The occasional nail-biting is fine and doesn’t need to be taken that seriously, but when someone obsessively bites their nails, then it’s a cause for concern. Excessive nail-biting is also known as onychophagia, and this is one condition that a lot of people suffer from. It is actually quite similar to other grooming disorders such as skin picking and hair pulling. Understanding the psychological reasons behind biting your nails might help you curb this habit, and let go of it for good.
5 Psychological Reasons Behind Nail Biting
1. Childhood history or childhood trauma.
The behavior of nail-biting is normally associated with anxiety, mental pressure, and tension, and doing it relieves some of the stress that you feel in your mind. Sometimes nail-biting can originate in your childhood when perhaps you used to bite your nails in order to cope with the stress and pressure at your home or school. Because you were a child, and you didn’t really have a lot of power to handle the negative experiences coming your way, so biting your nails served as a coping mechanism.
The habit of biting nails usually starts at the age of 5 or 6 years, and boys are more likely to have this habit than girls. As children gradually step into adulthood and mature as people, they find it hard to let go of this habit, no matter how hard they may try. The shadows of their childhood experiences, stress, trauma, and anxiety stay with them well into their adulthood and make it harder for them to let go of this compulsive habit.
2. Self-harming tendencies.
Excessive nail-biting can lead to deep injuries in the fingers and nails because when you are constantly biting your cuticles, it ends up exposing your nail bed and makes you susceptible to serious infections. And this is one of the reasons why nail-biters sometimes give up this habit of theirs, because obviously it never releases any kind of tension, nor does it make you feel good in any way.
However, when nail-biting becomes overly excessive and starts to cause real harm to you, it quickly slips into the self-inflicted violence or self-harm category. If this habit is not treated or controlled at the right time, it can lead to serious consequences such as breaking bones, ripping of the skin on the fingers, and even amputation of the fingers.
3. Being obsessed with perfectionism.
Perfectionism can sometimes play a major part in nail-biting, as some people are more likely to bite on their nails when they feel frustrated or bored. For example, in a 2015 research, some people were chosen to prove or disprove this, in which half of them had body grooming habits, and the other half did not. They were then exposed to situations that had the potential to cause frustration, boredom, and even relaxation, to see whether it triggers them to bite their nails or not.
After the whole thing was finished, they were then asked about how many times did they feel negative emotions such as anxiety, anger, fear, boredom, and frustration during this whole experiment.