Perfectionism is one of the world’s most prevalent diseases in modern society, particularly given the advancements of social media and a rapidly increasing average workload and stress level on most individuals. However, if you’re concerned that you might be a perfectionist, then checking out several notable habits might be suitably indicative, namely biting your nails or picking at your skin.
For as long as the idea of perfectionism has been around, certain behavioural ticks, habits, and behaviours have been associated with the stereotypical image of the perfectionist – the high maintenance, the Type-A, the highly-strung. However, while the stereotype has long since become part of the modern day society’s pressures, the associative behaviours remain.
Research conducted by the University of Montreal has found that people who have the typically nervous habits of biting their nails or picking at their skin, usually around their nails, are more likely to exhibit and report behaviours, traits, and attitudes consistent with perfectionism. They found that people who are generally impatient, or who get bored or frustrated easily, are more likely to engage in these behaviours; said behaviours and traits are believed to be rooted within the feelings of restlessness and anxiety that are so often associated with perfectionism, with the need to adjust and repeat an action until a perceived notion of ‘perfection’ is achieved in the mind of the sufferer.
This comorbidity between perfectionism and these almost self-mutilating, if extremely minor, behaviours has been previously documented in pre-existing research. Dr. Kieron O’Connor, Professor of Psychiatry at the university and the study’s lead author commented on the research’s findings: “We believe that individuals with these repetitive behaviors may be perfectionist, meaning that they are unable to relax and to perform task at a ‘normal’ pace. They are therefore prone to frustration, impatience, and dissatisfaction when they do not reach their goals. They also experience greater levels of boredom.”
These ‘perfectionist’ behaviours, such as biting your nails when you’re stuck waiting or in a tediously boring position, can even sometimes have a positive effect; “The positive effects of the habits are stimulation and a way of regulating emotion,” O’Connor discussed with The Huffington Post. “What triggers the habit is largely frustration and impatience so the action substitutes for more constructive action.” However, in the long term, these behaviours can cause more harm than good.
Treatment for these conditions is being developed – one is a treatment of behavioural modification that involves replacing said habit (such as biting your nails or picking at your skin) with an equal, less self-injuring action. Another possible avenue of interest seems akin to cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT); investigating the root cause of what factors cause the tension that lead to the behaviours, and aiming to challenge and defeat of the behaviours.
O’Connor seems particularly interested in the latter approach: “We look at all the thoughts and behaviors present in situations at high risk for the habit and change them through cognitive therapy to more resemble the thoughts and behaviors in low risk situations,” O’Connor told HuffPost. “We do not address the habit directly so the person does not need to learn a competing response to replace the habit.”
Perfectionists face more than the social associations of their condition – the wider world might seem them as the high-maintenance divas of the world, never satisfied and never willing to let anything go until it’s perfect to a point. However, those suffering with anxious and perfectionist tendencies know that the associated behaviours and habits, however minor, are still irritating and infuriating; any avenues of help that can be given to them should be wholeheartedly and thoroughly encouraged.