There are numerous opinions regarding the onset of nail biting. Some psychologists claim high levels of stress and anxiety to be the cause, while other hold traumatic childhood experiences responsible for the development of nail biting.
The following paragraphs will discuss the 4 most probably factors for sparking nail biting, as well as the three causes for the maintenance of nervous habits such as nail biting.
Some scientists suggest that nail biting may be caused by an ancient grooming behavior in the brain, left behind by evolution. This mechanism has gotten out of control and manifests itself in excessive nail biting. The theory is supported by the fact that certain breeds of dogs and cats engage similar behaviors. They are seen licking their forepaws to excess, removing their fur, and causing great irritation and even skin damage.
There’s support for the theory that nail biting is caused by stressful or traumatic events, such as parental scolding or punishment, bullying in school or shyness around peers. Other factors that could catalyze the habit include pressure to achieve good grades or the inability to fit into a social group. To receive comfort and handle the excess stress, the child turns to his nails and starts biting them; it then becomes a habit.
Studies have revealed that nail biting tends to run in families. This supports the idea that it may be a learned behavior: a child sees a parent or other family member engaging in nail biting and starts to copy the movements, assuming that they are useful. The action provides a sense of feel-good, whereupon a habit is sparked. This theory sounds reasonable, given that we are influenced by our parents in many ways.
Lack Of Proper Tools
Another theory as to what initiates nail biting is that the nail biter simply doesn’t have the right tools to trim the nails or handle irregularities as they arise. Instead of finding an instrument to either clip or smooth the nails, the person simply turns to his teeth for help. The nail biter repeats the action and, despite the often unsatisfactory results, the habit remains.
Whatever caused you to start your habit—it may have been a combination of the factors described above—now persists as a bad habit. Whenever you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation, nail biting provides relief. In downtimes, chewing your nails gives you something to do with your hands. In fact, researchers tells us that there are three primary reasons for the maintenance of nervous habits like nail biting.
1. To relief tension or stress.
2. To reduce boredom and occupy the hands.
3. To smooth out rough edges or uneven cuticles.
Although nail biting is intended to reduce tension, relief boredom or achieve a physical outcome such as smooth fingernails, it rarely leads to the desired result. Most likely, you feel more stressed after indulging in the habit and your fingernails look even worse. Initially, it may have been an effective coping strategy for childhood stresses—it probably was the best way your body knew how to cope at the time—but today, the behavior doesn’t serve you anymore.
In many cases, nail biting can be caused by any of these factors. Also note that it can also be a combination of these and in some cases none at all. It is up to your personal evaluation to decide whether any of these factors might have any relevance and apply to your personal situation.