Enjoy a good chomp on your nails? You’re not alone. But why do people bite their nails in the first place? The answer, as we’ll see, isn’t simple — but the habit is certainly a common one. I know that I understand the struggle. I’m a chronic nail biter, and my parents tried a lot of things to break me from the habit: nail polish so foul that it made me want to be sick, gloves at night, manicures, the lot. All to no avail. My nails are weak and soft from the years of abuse, and I live in fear of contracting something disgusting from an unclean bit of cuticle that I’ve unconsciously peeled off. But I still can’t stop. Even reading that diseases like salmonella and e. coli are more likely to accumulate under your fingernailsthan on hands still won’t break the habit.
So where does this mania come from? Is it more likely to appear in certain people than in others? And is there any science to stopping it? If you’re one of the approximate third of all adults who still bites their nails, then sit on them for a few minutes while you read this. It might just help you get free of the habit of a lifetime ― or at least help you look at your poor nails with some sympathy for their plight.
1. Nail Biting’s Cause Is Hard To Pinpoint
When it comes to picking out the causes for a nail biting habit, psychologists have pinpointed virtually everything under the sun. Some stick to a fairly conventional explanation: that it’s due to preoccupation, boredom, tiredness, or a wish for simple comfort. Others, however, have more out-there explanations. Sigmund Freud thought that it indicated some kind of fault in your psychosexual development since childhood (because of course he did). Suggestions have also included that it’s about self-mutilation and a sign of inward aggression toward yourself. Which, if you ever just pick idly at a nail on a slow day, may make you slightly freak out.
Another theory, however, is that there isn’t really a universal cause ― that the habit develops for many different reasons, and that the behavior happens to be the same because nails are easily accessible, and we grow up putting things in our mouths. You may bite your nails because you need an outlet for your stress while doing taxes, while your friend may bite them to take the edge off on a long car ride. It’s all part of the same spectrum. The problem with this? It becomes much harder to “cure” something when there isn’t a distinct cause.