For outsiders, it can be very hard to understand why people bite their nails. What can make a person put his fingers in his mouth and bite his nails? Why would anybody do such a thing? You destroy your beautiful looking nails, it can often be painful, you can get terrible infections, it is embarrassing and it is plain disgusting!
There is no simple answer to why people bite their nails. The habit develops for many different reasons, which can change from person to person. But many psychologists’ points to some common reasons to be; stress, boredom, anxiety, and nervousness.
I was a nail biter for 35 years and though I was embarrassed and hated my disgusting nails, I just couldn’t stop. Not even after I learned that nails can be host to bacteria like Salmonella and E.Coli.
As you will see below, there is so much more to nail-biting than just a couple of ugly half bitten nails and some bacteria.
Who bite their nails
Nail biting is not something new. In fact, it can be traced back to ancient Greece, where the philosopher Cleanthes was said to be addicted to nail biting.
Today nail biting is a lot more common than you would think. Despite the embarrassment and the potential health consequences, between 20 and 30 percent of people do it.
And you can´t just point in one direction and say “These are the type of people who bite their nails”. Nail biters you will find all over the place; big or small, tall or short, young or old, rich or poor, boy or girl, successful or not successful, happy or unhappy, etc. They are everywhere! So no – you are not alone with this habit.
I clearly remember that several of my school and football friends were nail biters. And today when I am among other people, it does not take me long to spot some nail biters.
If you look at age groups, the majority of nail-biters are young kids and teenagers. It is estimated that around 45 percent of teenagers are nail-biters at some point. And though most quit again by themselves, we can still see that many take this habit into adulthood. I was one of them!
Why do people bite their nails
Many people look at nail-biting as a part of the so-called “nervous habits” which also include thumb-sucking, teeth grinding, skin-picking, nose picking, and hair twisting. If you ask a psychologist, he will call these habits for BFRD (Body-Focused Repetitive Disorder).
And nail biting is not only the most common one. According to many doctors, it is also the most difficult one to stop.
For many years I was told that when you bite your nails, it means you are nervous or anxious.
Today I know that there are many other suggestions to why people bite their nails. Some of them being:
Nail biting can serve as an emotional regulator, helping us to cope with a certain situation. It can be the frustration of waiting for the bus, the stress when you need to finish a presentation or the nervousness of starting in a new school. And when we bite our nails it can provide us with a simulation, temporary calm, and distraction.
I am sure that if you ask 10 nail biters why they do it, you will properly get at least 8 different answers. Everything from “I am stressed” to “I don´t know“.
Fact is, we can´t give one single reason to why people bite their nails. People have their own reasons to why and how they got started and it can differ from person to person.
Personally, I don´t know when or why I started. For as long as I can remember, I have had this habit. And in my case, after 35 years of nail-biting, I really don’t think I needed any reason for biting my nails. It had just become a habit and was such a natural part of me, just like eating or walking. I did not realize when I did it, which in my opinion is one of the biggest reasons why it is so hard to stop again.
Why you should stop nail biting
I know that stopping nail biting is easier said than done. But having a reason to stop is one of the first steps in the right direction.
It is easy to come up with several reasons to why you should stop nail biting. I will give you 3 good ones here.
Every day our hands get in contact with thousands of germs. They are transferred to us when we use public transportation, shaking people’s hands, using the coffee machine, preparing a meal and typing the keyboard. They are everywhere.
And the perfect place for them to live – under your nails!
These germs can include bacteria like Salmonella and E.Coli. And every time you bite your nails, you transfer them into your mouth. From there, they have good access to the rest of the body.
You can get a worm infection
When you bite your nails, you increase the possibility of getting pinworms.
For me, nail-biting was a huge embarrassment and I honestly think it is for most nail biters. The bitten nails and damaged skin around them give your hands an unattractive appearance. For many people, this will cause a feeling of shame and embarrassment.
Especially when I got older and started to work, I found my nail biting habit very problematic. I would be among other adults and suddenly realize I was sitting with a finger in my mouth biting my nails. Did anybody notice? I hope not!
If you want to get more reasons to stop nail biting, read my list of 9 good reasons why you should stop nail biting.
How do you quit nail biting
After reading about the bacterias or gum disease you can get from nail biting, you would assume anybody could quit this habit in less than a second, right?
But it is not that easy and there is no one single recipe for stopping nail biting. Just like any other bad habits, different techniques will work for different people. And most nail biters are not even aware when they do it.
So how do you get rid of this bad habit?
Mostly we can boil it down to a simple basic strategy, looking much like this:
- Find out (if you can) when you started biting your nails.
Did something special happen in your life? What made you bite your first nail?
- Identify the triggers.
When do you bite your nails? In front of the TV? Driving the car? Reading a book? All the time?
- Find alternatives or remove/block your triggers
The biggest challenge here is finding out how to remove the triggers. But the more you know about your triggers, the easier it is. Most properly you will end up using several techniques.
The above is just the basic strategy. If you want to read more about how you can stop your nail biting, then read my post How to Stop Nail Biting.
As you can see, there is so much more to nail-biting than just the ugly bitten nails.
But the more you understand about when and why you bite your nails, the easier it gets to find the right tools to help you stop.
Featured photo credit: Irene Bonacchi / Flickr