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What Do Nail Biting & Hair Twirling Reveal?

Author: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 24 October 2014 | commentsComment
 
Nail Biting Hair Twirling Playing With

Q.

I am currently writing my dissertation on the stigma surrounding nail biting and hair twirling, I was wondering if possible could you provide me with any information these aspects of body language reveal about the individual?

(Mrs Katie Rogers, 17 September 2008)

A.

Nail biting and hair twirling are two quite explicit forms of body language. Both nail biting and hair twirling can be either conscious or subconscious body language gestures, each revealing some interesting aspects of the character, emotion and inner workings of the individual.

Nail Biting

Nail biting is a non-verbal gesture. In adults it is often a habit that is adopted and carried through from childhood and can become apparent in stressful situations throughout adulthood. To most people, nail biting is associated with nervousness and shyness and is an involuntary response to certain social situations. In many cases, it is an adaptor behaviour that channels nervous energy, inactivity or boredom and does not interfere with normal functioning, the only effect being cosmetic. In severe cases nail biting can become a repetitive behaviour that is intentionally performed. It can result in substantial physical damage.

So when we look deeper, in both adults and children, it has been suggested that severe nail biting is often referred to as a method of ‘self-beating’. This indicates that nail biting is a subconscious behaviour signifying increased anxiety and low self-esteem in the perpetrator. In fact, some have gone as far as to suggest that extensive, frequent nail biting in children can even serve as a cue indicating that child has suffered some level of abuse. However, it’s worth noting that this is not necessarily the view of all psychologists.

Playing With Hair

Playing, twirling, fiddling and hair pulling can be indicative with a number of emotions and behaviours. For instance, children that bite their nails and frequently pull or play with their hair may be nervous or have low self-esteem. Hair twirling may be a comforting action for a child who is tense and anxious, and may become habitual later in life in stressful situations. Routine and severe hair pulling (trichotillomania) can be a compulsive disorder that may be linked to genetics, anxiety, depression and obsessive compulsive disorder. It is most commonly thought to be a stress-related condition.

However, fiddling with hair is also another non-verbal body language that can signify different things in different situations. For example, hair twirling can signify interest and desire. Women in particular are noted for hair twirling when talking to someone that they’re attracted to. It is regarded as flirtatious and preening behaviour, perhaps inviting or inciting the other party to touch their hair. But in other situations, as above, hair twirling can signify anxiety, incompetence, uncertainty or shyness. Why not find out more about how to read body language here?

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I've never actually stopped to look into this until now, but i would consider myself a compulsive finger picker and hair "twirler". Im 24 years old and have been doing both since i can remember, the finger picking can hurt, especially as the air gets colder and my fingers get drier, the bleed alot. But ive never thought my hair twirling was a problem, but concerned me with what underlying things I may have mentally. And its not even that I just twirl my hair, i twist it into loops, and press the loops against my fingers and lips. I can do this for a very very long time. I also loop and twist my hair to the root and then squeeze it like a soft ball and left it go. Ive been diagnosed with ptsd, depression, anxiety and adhd. Im not really sure what to think of these habits, but it makes me feel "different"
compulsive? - 24-Oct-14 @ 2:32 AM
@DeeAnonymous. Yes and I think once you're in the habit it's hard to break it too.
brasher - 8-Oct-14 @ 10:16 AM
When I was much younger I used to eat the skin around my fingers nails to the point of beeding, I realized much later this was just as much as nail biting and self-hurt. Every little skin which is pealed oit or crust i feel the need to take it out. I do touch my hair and face constantly i guesss this is a sign of insecurity too.
Dee Anonymous - 7-Oct-14 @ 8:12 PM
I was definitely physically and mentally abused as a small kid right up til ...well recently as in only a few years ago - I finally "woke" up and decided I don't need to accept being a punching bag or a dump zone for others. I bit my nails as a little one and twiddled my hair constantly. Now I don't bite my nails and only twiddle when in situations I find anxiety ridden, I have a very pragmatic side and was able to discern where my anxieties came from and talked myself thru them into no longer biting nails and occasional hair twiddling. I developed a way of quietly deep breathing to slow everything down and always ensure I get my alone time to refocus and relax my mind by meditating, even if it is only a few minutes per day. I find a way. Although it has taken me years to get here, I'm glad I persevered.
Tatum - 30-Sep-13 @ 7:19 PM
i have the same problem, please help me, I hate biting my nailsand hair twirling. im not sure why i do it
jen23 - 14-Dec-12 @ 6:48 AM
Hello! In response of the hair twirling you could try putting your hair up (with no loose strands). As for the fingernails i can't really help :/ you could try dipping your nails in something like lemon juice(?)
Just somebody - 22-Nov-12 @ 4:27 PM
I am 18 years old, i bite my nails till theres practically nothing left. Also, i have a big bald spot on the right side of my head towards the neck area due to hair twirling. Please give me some advice and some causes an symptoms of these horrible problems i hate them. -extreme nail biter/hair twirler :/
Chance - 18-May-12 @ 10:57 PM
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