Nail Biting, Hair Pulling, Skin Picking - Why Do I Do It?
Nail biting is a common issue of childhood that often extends into adulthood and can make us very self conscious about people seeing our hands.
Nail biting was recently added to the Diagnostic and Statistics Manual and placed into the same category as OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorders) along with Hair Pulling ( trichotillomania) and Skin Picking (dermatillomania). These are also known as forms of pathological grooming.
These groom behaviours stem from normal grooming behaviors such as removing a broken or jagged nail but then become out of hand so that the behaviour is exhibited even though there is no real need for it. Usually this behaviour is started with a trigger e.g. stress, fatigue, boredom but overtime the behaviour becomes 'self sufficient' and is present even when there are no obvious triggers; so it's a behaviour for which the on/off switch is not wired correctly.
What makes it different from OCD is that people with OCD consiously believe and feel they have to do something or something bad will happen, where as people with pathological grooming habits are seeking a feeling of satisfaction, a somewhat off kilter sense of reward.
This is why nail biting is often a learned behaviour, i.e. a child will observe an admired adult doing it and will mimic the behaviour until it becomes a habit for them too. Sometimes when young we associate the behaviour with something cool e.g. with intense thinking, being introspective.
Nail biting, hair pulling and skin picking can be passed down through our genes to although even if there is a history of nail biting in your family studies show that you are still only 80% likely to adopt the habit based on genetics alone.
Nail biting is not a life or death issue, some people are quite comfortable with the habit and have no desire to overcome it. However for some people it becomes a big issue as they feel self-conscious about he appearance of their hands, they may be in an profession where appearance is important, they may not want to be perceived as nervous etc. Skin picking and Hair Pulling can become very debilitating as it becomes harder and harder to explain or disguise.