If you have a habit of biting your nails, you’re not alone. In fact, about one-third of adults continue to bite their fingernails. While many assume that nail-biting is a sign of nervousness and anxiety, a study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry suggests that it may also be a sign of perfectionism.
The research team behind the study sought to compare two models of body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs): emotional regulation (ER) and frustrated action (FA). The emotional regulation model implies that BFRBs are triggered by negative emotions and the alleviation of unpleasant effects, while the frustrated action model posits that BFRBs are triggered by and alleviate impatience, boredom, frustration, and dissatisfaction.
The study observed a BFRB group and a control group of 24 and 23 participants, respectively, and concluded that individuals who engage in BFRBs are more prone to actions under the frustrated action model, as they demonstrate maladaptive planning styles characterized by high standards and an unwillingness to relax, two inherent traits in perfectionists.
Dr. Kieron O’Connor, the lead writer of the study, expressed that people who engage in these tedious practices might be perfectionists, meaning that they are unable to unwind and perform tasks at an ordinary pace. They would, therefore, be inclined to frustration, impatience, and disappointment when they don’t reach their goals. This observation, along with the study’s demonstrated linkage between nail-biting and other perfectionistic qualities such as impatience, boredom, and disappointment, provides further evidence that perfectionism may lead to the gesture of nail-biting.
As the study makes clear, nail-biting is recognized as a body-focused repetitive behavior, which can be harmful to one’s health. Nail-biting has physical consequences such as soreness and redness of nails and cuticles, bleeding and potential infection of skin surrounding nails, and an increased vulnerability to bacteria, infection, and viruses. Additionally, nail-biting can weaken teeth enamel, cause maladjusted teeth, and give a poor impression through ragged-looking nails or biting them in front of others.
Psychologically, nail-biting is associated with anxiety and stress, and it may even indicate a more serious mental issue such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Perfectionism is also considered a risk factor for OCD. Nail-biting is a bad habit that is often fed by counterproductive emotions and potential mental issues.
While perfectionism may be stoked by a sense of pride, it is a harmful mental state. Studies have linked perfectionistic traits with various mental issues, including personalized disorders, eating disorders, social anxiety, social phobia, body dysmorphic disorder, self-harm, substance abuse, and clinical depression. Perfectionists may also be at an increased risk of developing heart-related conditions.
The relationship between nail-biting and perfectionism may be one that warrants further inquiry. While the study comprised a relatively small sample of individuals, the observed correlation between perfectionistic qualities and nail-biting is significant. It is essential to recognize that nail-biting is a bad habit that can have both physical and emotional consequences and seek help if necessary.