What does nail biting mean

By M.Farouk Radwan, MSc.

What does nail biting mean

People usually bite their nails when they feel anxious. Because feelings of anxiety are usually associated with feelings of loss of control people bite their nails when they feel they want to be more in control.

There are lots of gestures in body language that shows that a person is anxious (like fidgeting, sweating, tapping your hands on your lap quickly…etc) but when anxiety is associated with loss of control the person usually bites his nails

Why does the person bite his nails?

People usually don’t understand the fact that behind most bad habits is a strong psychological drive and so trying to break the habit itself without examining the underlying cause usually leads to complete failure.

Lots of bad habits have the goal of bringing the sense of control back to the person who is doing them like shopping addiction where the person feels control over the money he is spending or like self harm where the person feels control over the intensity and the location of the pain.

Nail biting is one of those habits that makes the person feel more in control over the nails he is biting as the movement itself is highly controlled and predictable.

In addition to this, controlled movements that are predictable helps us reduce the anxiety we feel when we experience a vague situation. This is one of the main reasons some people smoke when they are anxious as the repetitive movement of inhaling and exhaling helps them feel in control. (see Why do people smoke cigarettes).

How to stop biting your nails?

Will power will never work because its your response to anxiety and uncertainty that needs to be dealt with. Learn how to not lose control even when things go out of your hand, learn how to be calm and confident in the face of uncertainty and you won’t find yourself biting your nails again.

Loss of control and behavior

People who feel that they lost control over their lives always try to regain that control by distracting themselves with another task that they have better control over.

Obsessive hand washing for example can be no more than a defensive mechanism a person uses to regain the lost control over his life. By doing the same thing that he is used to over and over he gains a false sense of control. (see also OCD and hand washing)

In order to get rid of any psychological disorder you first need to understand the goal your mind is trying to reach through that behavior. The nail biting habit follows the same rules.

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