People like to assume that people who bite their nails are anxious people. While they might have some anxiety to deal with, as many people do, they do not all inherently deal with this struggle. But nail biters (and pickers) do share one thing in common. A new study found the connection that has been surprising people from all over.
Plus, it helps nail biters feel a bit better about their bad habit. So what is this personality trait that these people share? It’s perfectionism. That’s right. These people yearn to make all the pieces fit together so everything is “perfect.”
The study that was published in the Journal of Behavioral Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry found that body-focused repetitive behaviors, such as nail biting, skin picking, and others, are a symptom of perfectionism. 48 people participated in the study exhibit the nail biting or skin picking as a “frustrated action” that “are triggered by and alleviate impatience, boredom, frustration, and dissatisfaction. Individuals with BFRBs are hypothesized to be particularly susceptible to these emotions because they demonstrate maladaptive planning styles characterized by high standards and unwillingness to relax.”
Although these people have an urge to bite their nails or pick their skin, they do it to alleviate boredom and as a reflex of their perfectionism.
Study author Dr. Keiron O’Connor indicates that these people have a hard time relaxing.
“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 Dr. O’Connor. “They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals.”
If you’re a nail biter or skin picker, you might think that this search for perfection justifies your bad habit. But being a perfectionist is not really a good thing, for your psychology. It can mean you view the world in all-or-nothing terms. So even if you achieve 95 percent of your vision, you consider yourself a failure for not having gotten the “perfect” score. As a result, perfectionists are hard on themselves. And they get angry at themselves for not delivering perfect results, and that is not always a fair reaction especially if some of the circumstances are beyond their control.
The synopsis of the study indicated that people who bite their nails “presented significantly higher scores on maladaptive planning style, and maladaptive planning style was significantly correlated with difficulties with (emotional regulation).”
Perfectionists are very hard on themselves even when it is not a fair assessment. And this mental habit could indicate why people assume nail biters are anxious. Perhaps it is because they are relentlessly pursuing perfection, a consistently out of reach goal for any person, and are beating themselves up for not reaching it as they believe they should.
When we approach situations with expectations of perfection, it can be challenging to achieve those. And if we have aspirations like that, we often feel bad when we do not reach them.
Do you bite your nails? And do you identify as a perfectionist?