Nail biting is a common habit, and many people see it as a sign of anxiety or being nervous and worried. A study done by the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry indicated that nail biting may be a manifestation of perfectionism, and the activity is performed out of frustration.
Study author Dr. Kieron O’Connor said people who habitually bite their nails have an inability to complete tasks at a regular pace, which creates feelings of dissatisfaction and impatience. In addition, nail biters displayed traits of “organizational perfectionism,” which manifests as making highly detailed plans and overworking to the point of exhaustion.
Periods of inactivity are frustrating to this personality type, which leads to repetitive behavior like nail biting. Perfectionists also display all-or-nothing thinking, are highly self-critical, will become upset at themselves for not getting things done and often feel let down even after achieving a goal.
While nail biting may not seem like a serious condition, it can lead to dental problems, malformed nails and even infection. Therapists who work with nail-biting patients gradually change thought patterns away from boredom and frustration to a more realistic outlook that does not include perfectionism. Another approach is to use a bitter-tasting substance on the nails to discourage biting.