For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a nail biter. I don’t know when I started, but I know I was already biting my nails when I started secondary school. I remember my mum threatening that she’d tape cotton gloves to my hands if I didn’t stop. (It didn’t help.) There were points where my nails were so short that they were red and raw, if not bleeding.
They say nail biting is a ‘social habit’ and that you pick it up from seeing someone close to you doing it. They also say it’s connected to anxiety.
What I’m going to say now may be provoking to some people – the ones who say ‘just stop doing it’ – but I see it a bit like smoking, or obsessive eating. It’s easy for people who’ve never done it to think that it’s a disgusting habit (I’m not saying that it’s not) and that it should be easy to quit. There are all kinds of statistics about dirt and bacteria and infections as a result of nail biting, but just hearing it doesn’t work. Just like it often doesn’t work to just say to a smoker that they could get cancer, or to tell an obsessive eater they could become obese or get diabetes or so on.
I’m not a professional, but the literature available on the internet, as well as my personal experience, would suggest that there is often a psychological as well as habitual reason behind the biting. That’s why saying “your nails look disgusting, you should stop biting them” to a nail biter may do more harm than good. For me it was(/is) a vicious circle – I would feel ashamed of the state of my nails, so I would bite them more because I was feeling bad about it. And so on.
I think I’ve tried pretty much everything short of hypnosis to finally quit for good – with varying results. Foul tasting ‘nail polishes’: didn’t work. The ‘shame and blame’ method: didn’t work. Painting my nails regularly: didn’t work. Chewing gum: didn’t work (you can chew gum and bite your nails at the same time). Snapping a hair tie around my wrist: didn’t work. Wearing gloves/plasters on your nails: didn’t work.
The only thing that has worked for any longer period of time has been getting fake nails (gel/acrylics) and then let my nails grow underneath them. The problem with this, though, is that just like a gastric band on an obsessive eater, it doesn’t deal with the reason why you’re biting to begin with. So some (and sometimes several) months would pass where my nails would be gorgeous and healthy looking, and then something would happen that would set me off again. And as before, I would be ashamed that I’d ruined my nails, feel bad about myself, and thus bite them even more.
What doesn’t help is that I have this perfection need, so once I get a tiny scuff on my nail polish I have to start peeling it all off – on all 10 nails! I’ve also, after all these years, become used to having my fingers in my mouth (terrible, I know) even if I’m not biting them. So sometimes when I’m concentrating on or thinking about something my fingers will wander to my face and end up resting in the corner of my mouth. And, if one of my nails break, I feel the need to cut them all off to the same length – and for some reason (I guess because they’re not as nice looking?) biting shorter nails is more appealing than biting longer ones.
The funny thing is that when I have long nails I go all girly-girl and think they’re so pretty and I want to paint them in all different colours (I have a supermarket shopping bag full of nail polishes) and my own (and failed) attempts at nail art. When I’m already biting my nails I sometimes do it because I’m bored or out of habit – and sometimes even without realizing – but that’s never the reason for relapsing, which is why I say that it’s not always as simple as ‘just quitting’. The relapses have always been emotionally connected, and that’s why, when you’re trying to quit, you have to deal with the psychology and trigger points as well. Obsessive eaters eat when they’re upset – compulsive nail biters (or at least this one) bites their nails.
But (and I know I’ve said this before) now it’s time for a change. For the xth time I’ve managed to grow my nails out again and have left them alone for the past few months. I’ve even had one break on me and not gone full barbarian – I just filed it down and left the others where they were! I’m trying not to fiddle (easier said than done), using nail scissors or a file instead of my teeth if I get a hangnail or something breaks, and trying to avoid putting them in my mouth subconsciously. I keep them nicely painted, and at the sight of the teeniest scuff mark I repaint them. Unfortunately, due to the composure of my nails that can be as often as every other day. (My nail polishes have never lasted very long and I read recently that if you have naturally oily or dry nails it can mean that the polish chips off much sooner.)
And since I’ve just started blogging again I figured I’d kill two birds with one stone (or two flies in one smack as we say in Swedish: “två flugor i en smäll”) and keep myself accountable on here. Once a week I will post a picture of my nails, and if you’re not interested you can just skip over it.
I will start off with a picture of my un-painted and un-manicured nails in their natural state, one of which – in honour of this very post – of course had to have a small cut on it.