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Hypnotherapy for nail biting (onychopagia)

female hands with neat manicure

Have you tried to stop biting your finger or toe nails without success? Do you pick at your cuticles and nails when you're stressed, bored or anxious? Are you unaware that you're biting your nails until after you've done it? Are you embarrassed by the state of your nails, and maybe starting to avoid situations in which people may notice your hands?

We specialise in hypnotherapy for Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRBs) like hair pulling (trichotillomania), skin picking (dermatillomania), nail biting (onychophagia) and thumb sucking. Sian is a Professional Member of The TLC Foundation for Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours, and has completed their professional training for treatment of BFRBs.

What is nail biting (onychophagia)?

Nail biting (finger/toes) is one in a set of disorders categorised as Body Focused Repetitive Behaviours (BFRBs), which occur on the Obsessive Compulsive spectrum. BFRBs are far more common than previously understood, often up to three times more common than anorexia, with a prevalence of between 1-4% in the general population. Typically, people will regularly engage in repetitive self-grooming habits that end up damaging their bodies, for example, pulling, picking, biting or scraping of the hair, skin or nails. It's important to note that the intention is to remove perceived imperfections, so this is not self-harm - any damage is a by-product, rather than desired outcome.

In addition to the physical impact of nail biting/picking, people often also experience a sense of shame and isolation, frustration, anxiety and low self-esteem related to the behaviour. This often creates a vicious cycle, as the nail biting has a negative effect on relationships, work and overall quality of life, which often leads to more nail biting/picking to alleviate the uncomfortable feelings being experienced.

Research conducted at the University of Montreal in March 2015 indicates that some character traits may predispose individuals to developing a BFRB. These include being easily frustrated and impatient, and high levels of perfectionism.

While there are instances of people who have started biting their nails much earlier than adolescence, most people who bite or pick their nails (or engage in other BFRBs) start between the ages of 11 and 13. BFRBs tend to occur more frequently in women, but this may be due to that fact that men tend to under-report health issues. Over time, nail biting often features cycles of varying severity.

Habits like nail biting and cuticle picking are created by the subconscious, as solutions to issues like boredom, anxiety and stress. The problem is that the effects of the solution are negative, and reinforce the feelings that it is meant to alleviate. So, for example, if you bite your nails when you feel anxious, your bitten nails and peeled cuticles might make you feel self-conscious, which increases your anxiety and the desire to do the habit.

How hypnotherapy can help you stop biting your nails

When nail biting or picking, individuals often show many of the characteristics of being in trance. Their attention is narrowly focused, they are powerfully engaged with the activity using all senses and time may seem to disappear. And all this is often triggered by a powerful suggestion/cue that has been built and reinforced over time when in this trance-like state. So, in many ways, people who bite or pick their nails already have a lot of experience at going into trance and using it to reinforce behaviour and its benefits - they just need a bit of help to turn that power in a positive direction.

Hypnotherapy is very good at changing a negative habit into positive one, by using the habit mechanism and changing its content. The habit blueprint is stored in the subconscious and in the relaxed hypnotic state, it is easy and effective to revise the habit, so that there is a positive action to perform in response to the original habit cue. For example, you could file your nails instead of biting them, have something else to hand that provides satisyfing sensations, or do a few minutes of self-hypnosis to create the feelings of satisfaction, calm or relaxation you want.

The deep relaxation of hypnosis also allows you to mentally rehearse using your new habits and responses, reinforcing them with repetition and the positive benefits that it creates (nice looking hands and nails you can be proud of, feeling more in control). In addition, if there are any past experiences that contribute to your nail biting, hypnotherapy can help you easily and safely work with them, so that they no longer fuel the habit.

Hypnotherapy is also very useful for working directly with improving your ability to control the impulse to bite or pick your nails, managing stress and anxiety better, and increasing your self-esteem and confidence, so you have new ways to cope with any challenges you face.

Hypnotherapy can also help you develop the determination, confidence and patience to go through the process of your nails growing back in, and the particular challenges that are part of the process, such as not picking at growing cuticles and nails, and keeping going even if you do bite or pick again.

For more information about hypnotherapy to stop biting your nails, or to book an appointment, contact Sian on 07725 732810 or email.

Absolutely delighted with the results. After 29 years of compulsive nail biting I think Sian has helped me crack it in three sessions over six weeks.

In a safe and comfortable environment I've learned various techniques to stop biting my nails and prevent relapses. I cannot recommend Sian highly enough.
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...just a quick note to say thanks - the hypnotherapy has worked. Since I saw you, I have managed not to bite my nails, and have had two manicures. Keeping my nails nice has really helped stop the urge to bite...
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...when I booked my first hypnotherapy session I was sceptical that I could break many years of habit in just a few sessions as other forms of therapy had failed before. Sian seemed to really listen and understand my concerns. I was able to benefit very quickly from our sessions which addressed my hair pulling and nail biting habits by providing practical solutions. I feel a lot more hopeful about the future...
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