How to Stop Biting Your Nails (And Maybe Other Things Too)
Er, I meant to say how to stop biting your nails and maybe other bad habits, not how to stop biting nails and biting other things. Unless you do bite other things. I mean I hope you aren’t biting any other non-food items to begin with but… You know what?
Let’s just continue.
I have bitten my nails for years. I was doing this ever since I was a child. I would bite my nails down to nothing, and still be tempted to bite at them more. They would hurt, bleed, and I’d still want to nibble at them.
My mom would get after me for biting my nails, and we tried “everything” to help me stop. Fingernail polish didn’t work. Bitter fingernail polish didn’t work. Nail strengtheners didn’t work. Nothing worked.
Fakes weren’t any better since they weakened my nails – which made me want to bite them off completely since I didn’t like feeling my nails so weak and flimsy.
One day, while gnawing at my fingers into adulthood, I stopped to think about what might be causing this behavior in myself. I discovered something both terrible and wonderful: I bit them all the time, regardless of events, circumstances or environment.
I realized there was no distinct pattern to my habit.
I would bite my nails while anxious, relaxed, happy, sad, any time. I could be busy, or bored. It happened more while bored, but I think that’s merely a product of having more time to do it.
As I thought more about it, the cause finally dawned on me.
For some reason, I’ve had a mild oral fixation most my life also. This is especially evident when I eat. Some foods I will eat like a normal adult, but I’ve always loved to play with my food.
I don’t make mashed potato castles or anything, but I do like to break apart foods with my teeth before eating them. Corn, for example, I will peel the skin off and squish the middle out of – right before chewing and swallowing. I do virtually the same thing with edamame. After popping a bean out, I will pull the beans out of their skin, and bite each half into littler pieces.
I honestly don’t know what compels me to do this or how many other people have this compulsion. (Do you?) It doesn’t take me hours to eat or anything to where it’s a problem, it’s just something I do when I can and depending what I’m eating.
Where does this help with a nail biting habit?
Simple – it’s the reason.
My eyes, hands, and mouth just couldn’t stand to have rough nails. I realized that I never bit my nails when they were smooth, unless they got too long (i.e. too flexible – as you might expect I have weak nails). When they break, feel sharp or rough, or feel like they are on the verge of breaking – I can’t handle it. I have to chew them off.
Biting them off doesn’t leave a clean, smooth edge like clippers. That leads to more biting in an impossibly endless quest for smooth nails.
I was able to immediately stop the habit by cutting my nails down very short and filing them smooth. I cut them down to a point where they wouldn’t “feel like they might break”, to avoid the temptation to chew them until they did.
I also kept a nail file with me so that they were constantly smooth. If I got a snag of any kind, I could file it away to avoid biting at it.
It worked perfectly.
The very few times I’ve ever broken a nail without a file handy (after discovering the solution), I was instantly tempted to nibble at it again. Sometimes I even did. But it never became an issue again because I knew to get a nail file or clippers as soon as possible and I wouldn’t fall into the habit again.
The point of this isn’t so much about the actual nail biting habit. It’s about the contemplation about oneself that is required to determine the why behind it. Nail biting, like most other bad habits, is merely a symptom of another problem. Nails aren’t tasty or interesting and aren’t appetizing to look at, so it isn’t about the nails themselves.
This is why things like bitter nail polishes weren’t enough to deter me. It wasn’t about an express desire to munch my nails. (That sounds really gross. Not as gross as the actual habit is, but still really gross.)
The problem was about a mild obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) tendency I possess, my oral fixation.
I realize that solving the nail biting doesn’t solve the compulsion problem, but had I not stopped and reflected on my behaviors I wouldn’t have figured out that much even.
I tend to lean toward the, “There’s always a solution, it’s just a matter of finding it” mentality, even to a fault at times. The right words, the right actions, the right environment change – if we can find the cause, we can figure out the solution.
I know this isn’t always true, and is almost never this simple.
But let’s start with who you know best – yourself.
You may not be able to use this logic when dealing with others, but you can often use it on yourself, provided you are willing to reflect on your life.
I frequently reflect on my life, my choices, and my actions. Why do I think like this? Why do I feel so strongly about this? Some things you know right away, others require some deep thinking.
Some things you may realize about yourself but be unable to provide a reason for – and that’s OK. Maybe one day it will come to you, or maybe thinking about another aspect of your life will eventually lead you to it. Maybe finding the reason will take a few days, months, or even years.
Through contemplation and reflection, I have determined many behaviors that I otherwise hadn’t taken explicit notice of. I’ve also gained understanding about reasons behind such behaviors or patterns I have.
Maybe you are in and out of bad relationships constantly, and can’t figure out “why you can’t seem to find any good guys/girls”. This isn’t a coincidence – it starts with you. Take note of how you prioritize your interests. Do you always tell yourself you can “tolerate” this or that, that you later end up regretting?
Do you notice a pattern in your relationships that perhaps is realized in the beginning (but ignored)?
The only way to stop these problems is to realize why you have them in the first place.
Obviously what worked for me, to stop a bad habit, may not work for you. Maybe you do bite your nails out of anxiety, and when you’re relaxed you don’t have the problem. The solution then is to focus on easing your anxiety or chew gum while anxious – whatever fixes the problem for you.
Through honest self-examination, you can discover things about yourself you may not have been fully aware of.
If you truly want to improve, don’t be afraid to ask for help if need be. Surround yourself with supportive but honest friends and family who can help you realize and address problems that you have. Pray that God will guide, direct, and change you.
But don’t expect your answers to be immediate.
If you are prone to depression or anxiety, you may need to contemplate only in small doses. Delving too deep on anything that troubles you can become very depressing and may not even have a solution, or at least not a readily identifiable one. It can be daunting. Don’t rush yourself.
And contrary to what many would have you think – contemplation isn’t always beneficial. Some problems won’t have simple or quick solutions, and may not have any solution.
Don’t let self-examination turn into overanalytical dwelling on all your problems. The point is to help you learn why your problems exist and how to go about resolving them, not to become flawless.
Never forget that in the end – we are all human and we will all have problems. Only work towards solutions and understandings that will help you change parts of your life that you are unhappy with. 🙂