Thursday, November 08, 2007

My Worst Habit

I have bitten my fingernails since I can remember. And there are photos of me from even before I have memories, gnawing away at my tiny little fingernails as if they were teething toys.

Sometimes people ask me why I bite my nails, as if they expect a well organized list of psychologically sound reasons (I'm insecure; I had a traumatic childhood; I'm orally fixated -- none of which I believe are actually true), but I really don't know why I bite my nails. I'm driven to it by forces that I just don't really understand except to say that, even when it hurts, it feels good. Or at least it feels purposeful, as if some odd resolution or goal has been reached.

I did stop biting my nails (well, nine of them anyway; I always allowed myself my thumb) twice in my life, once when I went to Germany in 1980 and once for my wedding, but it's one of the hardest things I've ever done, largely because I don't even realize when I'm biting and just being cognizant of it proved to be a lot of work! Like losing weight, it took awareness and consistent work, and (again, like losing weight) as much as I loved the result, I just went back to my bad habits over time anyway.

Some people believe that fingernail biting is a form of self-injury, just as cutting is. The fact that I sometimes chew until it hurts gives credence to this view. These people also believe that cutting presents an immediate release of tension and anxiety, and even though I might dispute this by saying that I simply chew when a ridge forms, they might have a point. I do tend to chew more when I'm anxious. During my recent trip to the Bay Area which was, since you must know (or rather, since I apparently must tell you) to interview for an Executive Producer job with Leapfrog toys (!), I not only bit my nails to the quick, but chewed the skin around them too. Why would I do that, if not to deal with nervous anxiety and tension?

On the other hand, some believe that nail biting is simply innate and instinctual self-grooming behavior, like claw-sharpening, readying one for fight and/or flight. I kind of like this stance because... well, because it doesn't make me look so psychologically impoverished and abnormal! But if this were the case, we'd all chew our nails -- and we wouldn't chew them until they hurt; we'd only chew them until they didn't get in the way.

What do you think? What's your worst habit? What drives you toward it? How do you deal with it?

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5 comments:

Dixie said...

Thank goodness I was never a compulsive nail biter because I have very tough fingernails - they very seldom break and I simply cannot bite through them. Even when I do break or crack a nail I can't bite the snag free.

My worst habit? Procrastination. I considered putting off telling you about it until tomorrow.

Juanita said...

I pick at the skin around the nails of my thumbs. I know exactly what you mean by the feeling of having reached a goal; I even get a sense of pleasure when I have peeled back layers of skin to the point of bleeding and pain. I started doing it in High School, when fresh from Germany with no English knowledge at all, I felt to darn overwhelmed and helpless, especially when the teasing from other kids got really bad. Why I still do it is a mystery. I was able to stop only once for about two years when I had acrylic nails. As soon as they were gone, I was back at it.

Anonymous said...

Bd habits aside- Leapfrog? Cool! Would you move to the Bay Area if you get the job???

I had a friend who worked there. I can try to get in touch with her again if you want an ex-insiders POV. :)

Lynn

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

Ugh, mine has to do with language... I grew up around theater people and in a rough-ish neighborhood and, um, well, things slip out. A lot. It's embarrassing.

And congrats on the Leapfrog possibility!!! That is SO cool. Keep us posted!

mks said...

I am a nail biter too - and a cuticle picker (I know gross). The one thing that helps me is getting manicures. If I get one a week I don't bite - but since I have been a nail biter all my life the second my nails get to where I can see the white at the top of my nail. I trim them down. They are brittle anyway and if they snag...right back to the bite.

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