My sister and I, while completely different on the surface — different body types, different interests — suffer from very similar psychological issues. Poor body image and food issues are two prime examples, though we’re on opposite sides of those coins.
Nail biting is something else we share.
Years ago, I bought a palmistry book from the bargain bin at the local bookstore. One of the chapters dealt with what you could tell about people by what nails, if any, they bit. It mentioned that it was rare to come across people who bit all of their fingernails (what planet were they living on?) and that it was invariably a sign of severe psychological issues.
My sister was a more thorough biter from an earlier age. Unfortunately, she took a liking to that liquid crap they suggest you put on your nails to make you stop biting them so that backfired. I took awhile to build up to her level. But what I missed in time I made up for in severity. I also developed a compulsion to bite the skin on my fingers. I never told my mother about that until recently — she and the dermatologists she took me to always diagnosed a skin allergy and I let them. (Hey, anything that got me out of washing dishes was a good thing.) It gets worse when I’m stressed. I feel like a cannibal sometimes. It’s a weird compulsion in someone who doesn’t like meat. I was interested to read today that it is sometimes called “wolf-biting”. Neat. My mom likes wolves. Maybe I can convince her it’s natural and OK if she knows the word “wolf” is associated with it. 😉
I didn’t even know skin biting was it’s own illness until I read the Wikipedia nail biting page while linking to it tonight — I thought it was just a natural extension of nail biting. After all, once you run out of nail to bite and peel off, the compulsion is still there so what’s the next logical step? Right. The skin on your fingers. (For those of you who thought “toe nails?”, can I just say “ew!”) I really had to laugh when I read mig3X5’s recent “Hello, I’m a Wolf-Biter” post while I was looking that up — could be talking about me (except for the “wee lad” part, of course). I’d promise to tape your hands down but you’ll just start biting other things, and at least you can hide your hands.
Still, a couple of times a year I “break” the habit and stop biting my nails. It usually lasts for a month or two at the most, until I either get completely frustrated by them (how do people function with nails? they get in the way of everything) or a nail breaks — the sudden reversion to short nail kicks the compulsion into high gear and the remaining nails don’t usually last for very long after. They’ve lasted about 2 weeks so far, but boy it’s a hard slog. The problem with chronic nail biting is that it permanently changes the shape of your nail beds and fingertips. Unless you rip off the nail and start from scratch again.
Don’t look at me like that.
I considered it at one point. I’d shut my pinky finger in a car door , ripping the nail off completely. The ER doctor tacked the nail back on to the nail bed to provide a template for the new nail to grow against. Painful as hell but the nail, when it grew back in, had a normal length nail bed. It’s still longer than the pinky on the other hand but I’ve had years of biting it since to whittle that down from where it was. It’s a tough habit to break, especially if you’re an orally-fixated person.