What nail biting says about your personality

What nail biting says about your personality

Are you a hair-twister, nail biter or eyelash puller who has tried to quit the habit with no luck? According to a new study, your perfectionist tendencies may be the root cause.

Researchers asked surveyed people questions regarding the extent they experienced emotions like boredom, anger, guilt, irritability and anxiety. They were then put into situations that would provoke relaxation, stress, frustration and boredom. Study leaders found that those who were easily bored, frustrated or impatient were more likely to perform body-focused repetitive behavior such as nail biting and skin picking.

“Although these behaviors can induce important distress, they also seem to satisfy an urge and deliver some form of reward,” said principal investigator Kieron O’Connor, of the University of Montreal, in a press release. “We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors maybe perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and perform task at a ‘normal’ pace.  They are prone to frustration, impatience and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals. They also experience greater levels of boredom.”

Often, individuals who tend toward perfectionism have a certain internal mental model for how well they should perform or how positively others should see them.

When they can’t meet these unrealistically high expectations, they become anxious, explains Dr. Parag Merai, a psychiatrist at Advocate Dreyer Medical Clinic in Aurora, Ill.

“In my own practice, we tend to focus on identifying the underlying emotions that drive perfectionism, especially fears of failure, or how much one’s sense of self-esteem or identity is linked to one’s perceived success or failure,” says Dr. Merai.

The areas Dr. Merai focuses on with his patients include:

  • Be mindfully present with their fears instead of using perfectionism or avoidance to temporarily numb or placate fears.
  • Discuss how to build on their intrinsic worth rather than on achievements which can rise and fall throughout life.
  • Use cognitive behavioral therapy to break the habit of engaging in compulsive behavior.
  • Use habit reversal therapy, including replacing the habit of pulling or biting with adaptive behaviors that keep one’s hands occupied, as well as, exercise and meditation.

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4 Comments

  1. Hazel Peartree March 23, 2015 at 3:38 pm · Reply

    I bit my nails and orally trimmed my cuticles until I was 50 years old. I did manage to quit for a brief period in my mid-20s when I practiced transcendental meditation, but when I stopped meditating, I started up again.
    I don’t know what happened when I hit 50, but I seem to have stopped cold turkey, although I still do orally “trim” my cuticles from time to time.
    As I age (I’m pushing 65 now), I’d like to think I’m mellowing, which may be a contributing factor, although the urge to chew remains!

  2. This article I believe is a sign from God. I was just thinking about and asking myself why do I bite my fingernails and toenails? Why do I pick my scabs and eat them? Why do I do these things habitually, getting up 2-3 times during the nights to engage in these activities? I have engaged in these activities since I can remember, and I want do bad to stop. It’s becoming a disorder, a habit, and a bad example for my newborn daughter (7 months). On top of this I have eczema so I am constantly itching, and creating scabs. Then I don’t allow them to heal because I am constantly picking and eating them. I have thought before that it was a psychological problem, but did not know how to approach it. I know to some people I may seem weird, and even disgusting, and I know to others they may be thinking “I am not alone”, but it is a disorder, something we have no control over until we seek help from the right people. Honestly, this has answered a part of my concern, and I think the next step is to make an appointment with Dr. Parag Merai. I’m headed there now! Thanks Advocate.

  3. I have been biting my nails for the past 10 years now. It was worse before when i first started where i would even bite the skin around my fingers until I began to bleed without noticing. I seem to have gotten better. I only bite my nails now and not so often but it it is still something that i would like to stop since it can be embarrasing when youre having a conversation with someone and they are grossed out by your hands.

  4. As a psychotherapist I have treated nail biting with hypnosis with success. It appears in the clients I have worked with that it is a sign of unresolved tension or anxiety not dealt with in healthy ways. Sometimes anger is present and the nail biting is done without the person being aware that they are doing it until afterwords. It can be very difficult to get rid of unless the client has healthy alternate methods for dealing with stress and tension in their life. Habit disorders often respond to hypnosis or other behavioral approaches. Untreated they are not only a pain but are sources of embarassment.

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health enews Staff
health enews Staff

health enews staff is a group of experienced writers from our Advocate Health Care sites, also including freelance or intern writers.

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