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Nail Biting (Onychophagia) – Spiritual Meaning And Causes

Nail Biting (Onychophagia) – Spiritual Meaning And Causes

Nail biting, also referred to as onychophagia, is an oral compulsive habit to bite the nails and fingertips.

In 2012, the American Psychiatric Association decided to re-classify onychophagia as a type of obsessive-compulsive disorder, along with other forms of “pathological grooming.”

OCD traps individuals in an endless cycle of repetitive behavior and thoughts.

Nail biting starts during childhood, increases notably during adolescence, and declines with age. However, the habit may continue into adulthood.

According to statistics, about 30% of children, 45% of teenagers, 25% of young adults, and 5% of older adults bite their nails.


Common symptoms may include:

  • pain around the nail bed;
  • extremely short nails;
  • hangnails – jagged pieces of skin which jut out from around the sides of the fingernails;
  • uncontrolled nail-biting;
  • bleeding of soft tissues;
  • hard bumps or calluses;
  • damaged skin around the nails and tips of fingers;
  • bleeding around the nails.


Causes of onychophagia include:

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Oral FixationHow To Stop Biting Your Nails

This condition is described by a feeling the constant need to keep something in the mouth. 

Some researchers linked it to an impaired mother-child relationship.


Some nail-biters can spend tremendous time examining and grooming their nails for irregularities and then trying to fix these issues.


Some individuals bite their nails when they feel guilty about something or some situation.

In addition, some individuals may tend to punish themselves by biting their nails to get over the guilty feeling.


For some, this habit is a reaction of their hands towards boredom.

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Some studies have established that when people face stressful situations, they are somehow compelled to bite their nails as it may seem to ease the tension.

Important Note

The mental illnesses most often reported in association with onychophagia in children and adolescents presenting to a mental healthcare clinic are:

  • major depressive disorder;
  • mental retardation;
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder;
  • tic disorder;
  • enuresis (a repeated inability to control urination);
  • separation anxiety disorder;
  • oppositional defiant disorder;
  • attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.


Even if nail-biters wash their hands regularly, there will always be some viruses, bacteria, and parasites under the fingernails at the edge of the fingers. Hence, onychophagia can be the cause of various infections.

Additionally, about 25 percent of patients with temporomandibular joint pain and dysfunction have the nail-biting habit.

You can also crack, chip, or break your teeth when you bite your nails.

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Spiritual Meaning of Nail BitingSpiritual Meaning of Nail Biting

Among other things, nails can be used to scratch and for protection.

Nail-biting often indicates the fear of showing aggression, which often occurs when parents exert too much pressure on children and demonstrate a lack of confidence.

A child who bites his nails tries to have more self-confidence.

Give your child the freedom to express all aspects of his character without feeling guilty.

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To kick this habit, it is recommended to use these tips:

  • try to gradually stop biting your nails – some scientists recommend taking a gradual approach to breaking this habit;
  • identify your triggers – by figuring out what causes you to bite your nails, you can figure out how to avoid these situations;
  • support groups can help to cope with the symptoms and improve the quality of one’s life;
  • replace the nail-biting habit with a good habit;
  • cover your nails with tape or stickers or wear gloves to prevent biting;
  • get regular manicures – spending money to keep your nails looking attractive may make you less likely to bite them;
  • apply bitter-tasting nail polish to your nails;
  • keep your nails trimmed short.


  • behavioral therapy is considered to be effective in this case since it starts with helping the individual figure out what are the situations that trigger this habit;
  • dialectic behavior therapy – this type of psychotherapy is recommended for individuals with severe personality disturbances.
Images credit – Shutterstock

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