My Habit Can Bite Me



Someday I hope to be able to stop biting my finger nails. It’s my worst habit (over-using kleenex when I’m alone at home is second place, if you were wondering). On the face of it, quitting something as inoccuous as nail-biting should be way easier than quitting any of the big three addictions (drugs, alcohol, and gambling). In fact, wiping my hands of nail-biting (so to speak) should even be easier that even quitting sugar or caffeine. For me it is not easy.

Some habits go away on their own. I sucked my thumb a few years past when I “supposed to” have stopped behaving like a baby, but I did stop and did so without intervention. I always assumed the same thing was going to happen to my other not completely socially acceptable behavior of nail biting.

Now, to be sure, as an adult, I fit in much better as a nail-biter than I would if I were still a thumb-sucker, but still, I’m not “supposed to” be gnawing my nails. Most adults don’t. I have tried to quit, of course. But, my gross, self-cannibalism is stronger than any anti-nail-biting oil I’ve put on my fingers. The internet tells me I can quit. It says to commit and concentrate. To know my trigger.

My main trigger is sitting still. I need a physical outlet. “Put something in your hands,” the experts say. “Okay,” I say. I’ve held rocks and rubber bands and any number of things to quell my urge, and I find these items right where I put them down…so I could bite my nails. My secondary trigger comes from biting my nails so much I have to “fix” them. A message from my brain feels the nail needs to be evened out, or some skin needs to be removed to “help” the nail. None of this make sense even to me, but I have to work on the nail and nail area to make it right. Which, to a normal, non-nail-biter means making it worse.

For a brief time when the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) was being revised, psychologists and medical professionals were considering a separate diagnosis for nail biting under OCD/excessive grooming. I was very excited that, even though I wasn’t an anxious, excessive groomer, a pill to cure me and my habit was surely on the way.

In the end the diagnosis didn’t make it. My cuticles prepared to be nibbled while I read up on why the medical community left me out in the cold.

Compare nail-biting to another disorder that didn’t make the DSM update, that of sex addiction. Sex addiction is as much of an now simply alleged (i.e. Not official) disorder as is nail-biting except if a celebrity or rich person gets “diagnosed” with sex addiction issues they get to go to sex camp in the hills of California for a couple of weeks for the cure. I don’t have nail-biting issues. I just have nail-biting. Where is nail-biting camp?

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