Solving a Nail Biting Habit & Anxiety

biting nails

Anne was a very elegantly dressed woman who came to see me in my office. She was a lawyer working for one of the most prestigious law firms in town. When I asked her the reason for her visit, she showed me her nails.

“I bite my nails incessantly,” she said with a sigh. “And this makes me very anxious.”

She was a beautiful woman who obviously took great care of her image. Her ugly chewed nails were a major disconnect from the professional and elegant image that she projected from a distance.

She said that she had tried all sorts of tricks and ways to stop biting her nails: she had painted them, she had worn long fake nails and even applied bitter tasting nail polish. She had also tried eating nuts and chew gum as a substitute. And one of her close friends would slap her hand whenever she caught her biting her nails. But nothing had worked. Anne was anxious because she felt she couldn’t control her nail biting. She said that she didn’t know what to do. She felt embarrassed and anxious whenever she had to meet a client, dreading the moment they would notice and fixate on the state of her fingers.

“Are you ready” I asked, “to perform some unusual tasks?”

She looked puzzled and expressed her full commitment to follow my instructions. I told Anne that from now on, every time she felt the urge to bite her nails she should first tell a joke to a stranger. Only after telling the joke, could she – if she wanted to – indulge her urge to bite her nails. She was somewhat puzzled by my instructions, but agreed to apply them nonetheless.

She came back and said that she was amused about the task. Since our first session she had still bitten her nails but not as often. With a smile on her face, she said that she was running out of jokes!

We spent a few sessions during which I subtly modified the task I had originally given to her. After a few weeks, Anne showed up for our session with perfectly manicured nails.

In total, I saw Anne three times over several weeks. The change seemed amazing to her and her friend because she could not explain how such a weird but simple task could have possibly solved her long-standing and bitter problem. She wanted me to explain to her why she had been biting her nails in the first place. I told her that we all bite our nails. Some people do it occasionally and others more often. And there are those that form a habit of it and cannot stop it.

Visibly moved, Anne said: “You have helped me a lot in many other aspects too.” She explained that she had overcome anxiety and nail biting –but also – she felt more confident and had more self-esteem.

Six months later I called Anne to ask her how she was doing. I was happy to hear that Anne was confident and happy and of course, sporting beautiful long nails.