When I think of nail biting, I think of an anxious looking person with both hands served up to a tense mouth, teeth nibbling down to the cuticle. The term itself, nail biting, can be used to describe a thrilling or chilling movie. Nail biting can describe a dangerous event where nerves are on edge. Nail biting can also be a sign of perfectionism, which is stressful as well; or it can represent boredom. So, generally speaking, it doesn’t make sense for someone to call themselves calm when they come in to stop nail biting. Habitual nail biting simply is not something a calm person does, unless…..

Leslie’s Nail Biting Session

Les ran a busy cycle hire business. He was always on the go. He liked being on the go, he saw it as motivating. After all he had a lot to do and he needed that edge. Fair enough. But he also wanted to stop nail biting. Personally he didn’t care too much, except when others saw him doing it., because they thought it was unhygienic. His wife did care however, now that they had a baby on the way and she was concerned about germs.

He decided that he wanted to stop. When I asked him if he was nervy or unsettled, he told me he was always very calm. I found this interesting. I would not anticipate a very calm person to be a habitual nail biter, I told him. We talked through it some more and still, Les told me he was always calm. OK, let’s see where this goes, I thought.

We did a timeline regression and ended up down Les’s mothers line. In other words, we traced this nail biting sensation, back along Les’s timeline and into the womb, and then up into his mother’s timeline, back to the time that she started this behaviour. She had bitten her nails all of Les’s life. It’s something that he had witnessed thousands of times. This is where that ‘unless…’ comes into play. Nail biting can in fact occur as copycat behaviour, the result of watching others.

When I asked Les to trace this sensation back to the first time his mother bit her nails, he landed at the time when her father died. She was only a child. We looked at this event and determined what Les’s mother needed to feel at the time that her father died, in order to not start nail biting. Feeling calm was one of the key emotional resources we found to correct the problem.

As we brought Les up through his mother’s timeline and then into his own timeline, with these emotional resources – calm, supported, accepting – we managed to subdue Les’s nail biting urge, as if we undid his mother’s behaviour, and so there was nothing for him to copy. He no longer felt that he needed to do it. As we reframed his mother’s experience, that old story fell away.

Acknowledging Unconscious Behaviours

It is interesting that some people are unaware of how they are really feeling at the time. I’ve often seen clients who are in fact unsettled, anxious or frustrated and call themselves calm, which is what I originally thought with Les. Similarly I’ve had teeth grinders tell me that they are calm and relaxed. I’ve also had sufferers of abuse tell me that they are OK with what happened, yet their behaviour says otherwise. Not acknowledging an unsettled feeling, not acknowledging frustration, not acknowledging resentment, and the list goes on.

It is really important to acknowledge what’s going on. Positive thinking will not change it. You can adopt positive thinking but not by denying what’s happening, otherwise you will not be able to change it. Acceptance comes first.

If you have a nail biting tendency or any other kind of behaviour you would like to stop doing, we can help. I don’t work with drug addictions or illegal behaviours. Horizons Clinical Hypnotherapy Sunshine Coast