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Do you view your nail biting as an addiction?

Tuesday, July 11, 2023

Finally Stop Nail Biting Blog/General/Do you view your nail biting as an addiction?

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Do you view your nail biting as an addiction?

In my opinion nail biting is a habit NOT an addiction.

I'm increasingly seeing nail biters referring to nail biting as an addiction rather than describing their behaviour as simply an unwanted habit.

Nail biting can feel out of control and the urge to bite does feel so compelling in the moment, but our biology is not altered when we bite - in the way drugs, smoking or alcohol alters our blood chemistry.

Yes we get a hit of dopamine when we bite our nails, but this is a neurotransmitter our body naturally produces. Dopamine is not a substance artificially produced externally to us, that we introduce into our body.

There is a world of difference between the habits we create that produce dopamine versus addictions that involve the introduction of substances not naturally produced by our body such as alcohol, nicotine, opiates etc.

We don't get the shakes, vomit, have cramps or headaches when we stop nail biting. There is not the withdrawal associated with ending nail biting that people suffer with quitting sugar or caffeine. We go through a bit of deprivation because we are removing out 'soother', but not physiological upset.

We are functioning humans going about our day to day business and not impaired, other than by perhaps hiding our hands and feeling crappy feelings such as shame or guilt or embarrassment.....

My favourite definition of a habit is:
A habit is a combination of thought, feeling and action, that when repeated many times, becomes unconscious and effortless.

Nail biting is an ACTION. Anything with 'ing' on the end is an action!

Nail biting is something we inadvertently taught our brains - usually as infants.

It is something we can therefore unlearn.

I unlearned it after 50+ years of habitual biting, once I understood the brain science of a habit. I witness others end this habit too in my work as a coach helping nail biters to end their nail biting habit. They too stop nail biting and never start again. There is no physical withdrawal associated with ending nail biting.

Thinking of nail biting as an addiction actually disempowers us, because we see ourselves as beyond help, helpless, powerless, as victims of our behaviour.

Addiction is a label our brain can latch on to as an excuse to continue with a behaviour (that the automatic part of our brain views as essential) - because that is what we inadvertently taught our brain to believe.

It is better to keep nail biting in perspective - if you want to end the habit.

Calling it an addiction makes the job of stopping harder than it needs to be. It adds another hurdle, another layer to something that is already challenging. Makes it bigger, less possible and this is not a helpful perspective.

So, if you find yourself using the word ‘addiction’ to describe your nail biting habit:
- ask yourself WHY you are using that word instead of habit?
- is it a way of abdicating responsibility, of making excuses for something you find yourself repeatedly doing, that seems beyond your control?
- do you think that you will never be able to stop nail biting?
- do you think it's not something that you could ever do and therefore it is easier to give it a label of something that has a medical sounding 'reason' that seems beyond your current capability?

The uncomfortable truth is that we can only stop nail biting when we take ownership of our habitual action of biting. It is easier to own our behaviour when we view it as a habit rather than an addiction.

Why make the task unnecessarily harder than it already is? What are your thoughts about addictions? What are your thoughts about habits? Compare the two sets of thoughts.

If you find yourself using the word addiction in relation to your nail biting then, once you question and understand WHY you are choosing to use that word, make a conscious decision to stop using the word addiction, ever again in relation to your nails. Reduce the scale of the task in front of you, make it more do-able. Tackling a habit is so more do-able to our brain, than dealing with an addiction. You get to choose the words you use in relation to your nail biting. You could even stop using the word Habit and decide to say 'unwanted action' instead which is an accurate description of what you are doing. 

Words have incredible power.

Anyone who really wants to stop nail biting can. The only thing 'wrong' is the method you've been using all these years. Of course you are going to think that stopping nail biting is not possible and there must be something wrong with you, especially when you have tried so many times and failed. You probably think you have 'tried everything and nothing works'. The chances are that what you have been doing is many variations of try a new product whilst using willpower to resist urges.

Simply changing your Actions and ignoring the Think and Feel components of the habit is never likely to work. Go back to the definition of a habit at the top of this blog post and see that there are 3 components to any habit - Thought, Feeling and Action. The biting part is the action piece of the habit.

The work I do with clients is explore the Thought and Feeling components that nail biters largely ignore. Together we work on those, alongside planning all the simple strategies, to help you to get unstuck and making progress.

When the Thought and Feeling components are addressed and aligned, the Action of nail biting naturally changes. You no longer have to 'try' to stop nail biting. You Believe something completely different, understand the role of your Feelings and your Actions are naturally different.

It is absolutely possible for you to become someone who no longer bites their nails too. However just working on the Action component on its own and white knuckling urges by resisting them is back to front, unlikely to ever work long term. If you are someone who really wants to stop nail biting for good, then I can help you. 

Sign up for my free guide and get started.

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Hi, I'm Ann Barton

This blog:
Busts the myths that keeps nail biters stuck.
Speaks truth about our nail biting habit.
Takes a different approach based on cognitive behaviour.

I ended my 50+ year nail biting habit, after 5 decades of miserably trying and failing. I now teach and coach clients to permanently end nail biting too.

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