You’re in a recovery program, perhaps working the steps. You’ve checked your list and crossed off the names of people you’ve made amends to. Things are going well and then your eyes fix on your fingers. They’re bitten to the quick nubby and sore. Your cuticles look destroyed and torn and you even spot a scab of dried blood.
Crap – one more thing. One more habit. Nail biting; part soother, part mutilator. Sometimes it feels like too much work but at least nail biting doesn’t cost you a job, or relationship or your health.
Or could it?
You listen to the internal smack talk and wonder if it’s true. What does my nail biting say about me? What do people think? I’m Nervous, incompetent, not up to the job? And what affect does it have on my health?
Here’s where I can’t soft peddle. You ‘re a salmonella and E. coli transporter. These bacteria thrive beneath the tips of your nails and get straight to your gut, making you a prime target for getting sick.
According Chris Adigun, Dermatologist, M.D. at NYU Langone Medical Center, the wart virus HPV is also a common infection among nail biters. After infecting the fingers, these warts can spread to your mouth and lips.
If you haven’t already damaged your teeth, it’s possible you’ll chip or crack a tooth or create TMJ problems that cause severe jaw pain. According to the Academy of General Dentistry, nail biting can result in up to $4,000 in dental costs.
But you know all that…
If you’re like most of my clients you’ve already tried “everything.” You’ve tried the bitter nail polish and while it initially worked you strangely over rode the aversion, sufficient to keep biting. You’ve tried rubber bands, band-aids, gloves, chewing gum, and exhaustive willpower. I hear the desperation and frustration over and over again; and it’s not your fault. You can never punish your way into changing a behavior and expect it to last. These “outer game” strategies are like trying to stop a train going one hundred miles per hour.
So how do you stop nail biting?
Before it begins and from the inside out. If that just caused you to chomp down, on your very last nail, hold on. One of the first questions I ask my nail biting clients is, “How do you know it’s time to bite.” Most often they immediately answer, “I don’t, it’s unconscious.“
As a Master Practitioner of Neurolinguistic Programming, I know that all behavior is encoded in patterns in our brains we repeat efficiently. Bringing that pattern of behavior to a conscious level right down to the Nano second, just before the fingers are in the mouth, is the most important first step to effectively altering the pattern. The truth is you’re an expert at biting your nails and everyone has a unique repeatable sequence of events. It may begin with a visual or tactile inspection. Your right thumb is the lead inspector, rubbing each finger to find roughness. Or perhaps you rub your fingers against some fabric. Maybe you visually inspect for evidence of a hangnail. When we identify a pattern and then consciously decide on a desired different behavior we want, it sets the foundation for making this neurological shift.
What is Neurolinguistic programming? Besides being a mouthful of syllables, it’s a method of influencing brain behavior (“neuro”) through the use of language (“linguistic”) and other types of communication to enable a person to “re-code” the way the brain responds to stimuli (“programming”) and manifest new and better behaviors. This field of science/psychology came on the scene in the 1970’s and if it were renamed today, it might be called, Upgrade Your Operating System. Why NLP works quickly and effectively is because it scrambles the pattern of behavior, much like scratching a record, rendering it unable to play the same way. It fixes the bugs and re-patterns the brain to new more desirable behaviors. Using our basic modalities Visual, Auditory, Kinesthetic (feeling), Olfactory (smell) and Gustatory (taste) we are able to modify and shift old behaviors.
If you truly want to stop biting your nails, you have to work from the inside out. Align your subconscious and conscious minds. Re-pattern the behavior and re-condition your associations.
But there is one thing you can do today…..Make amends to your fingers.
Build on what you know works…. FORGIVENESS.
You can never bully or beat yourself into a new behavior and expect to sustain it through criticism, shame or punishment. You must start by being kind and forgiving and connecting with this part of you. Imagine for a moment if this were a parent or teacher criticizing and punishing you, you would call it abuse. In fact, you’re harming yourself with your thoughts and behavior; so you must begin with awareness and forgiveness. This does NOT give permission for the behavior; it simply allows you to accept what is (for the moment). As your resistance subsides your allowance for change increases. You can begin by saying to yourself (even better if you do it aloud) some version of forgiveness. Below is an example.
“Please forgive me for hurting you. You’ve always been here for me allowing me to do a million activities with you. Because of you I can eat and type and dress and groom myself, I can touch and feel and grasp and connect and I have never thanked you. I have harmed you and criticized you and complained about you. I realize I was doing the best I could to cope with stress and boredom and I am sorry I hurt you even to the point of bleeding and humiliation. Please forgive me. I intend to honor you and show you kindness and respect. You are me. I have hurt you and now I will love you even in this ragged hurt state. Please forgive me. Thank you. I love you.
What’s the upside of stopping nail biting? Restored confidence, renewed belief in your sense of control, healthy aligned teeth, beautiful nails, overall improved health, and you might just save yourself 1000’s of dollars.