DreamBig/ShutterstockOur poor nails go through so much. They snag on sweaters, get slammed in car doors, and crack when we neglect to file them properly. It only gets worse when we start to bite them.
Onychophagia (habitual nail biting) not only ruins your nails, but it can lead to health problems like infections and cracked teeth. Unfortunately, once you start, it’s hard to break the habit. Scientists have categorized it as a body-focused repetitive disorder (distantly related to obsessive-compulsive disorders) that usually helps people cope with stress and anxiety. Remember those cartoons where someone would bite their nails if they were scared? A bit exaggerated, but otherwise an accurate example.
But your nail-biting habit can reveal more than your stress level. According to a study out of the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, it is also a sign that you’re a perfectionist.
Researchers conducted a survey of 48 participants, half of whom had body-focused repetitive disorders. The results showed that those with a disorder exhibited signs of organizational perfectionists, namely overworking themselves, overplanning, and getting frustrated quickly. (Here are more signs you might be a perfectionist.)
Then, the participants were put in four situations designed to make them feel stressed, frustrated, bored, and relaxed. The situations associated with the first three emotions caused those with a body-focused repetitive disorder to give into their individual nervous behaviors, including nail biting.
“We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors may be perfectionistic, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform tasks at a normal pace,” said study author Dr. Kieron O’Conner in the research. “They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals.”
The way they deal with those negative feelings? Biting their nails.
If this sounds anything like you, there are tricks that can help you stop biting your nails, or you can talk to a dermatologist about other options. The perfectionist tendencies may be hard to control, but at least you can get perfect nails at home—no biting required.