The Surprising Cause Of Our Grossest Habits

by Jaime Lutz

Do you obsessively pop pimples? Pick at your nails? Pluck your eyebrows? According to a recent study published in the Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, these semi-gross, yet super common grooming habits aren't just the cause of any old anxiety problem — they may actually be signs you're a perfectionist.

Yep — turns out, perfectionism isn't just your canned answer for the "What's your biggest weakness?" question during job interviews. It's actually a huge burden for millions of people, and often leads to getting easily frustrated, burned out, or bored. Body-focused repetitive disorders like nail-biting or skin picking is simply one, of many signs, researchers have learned – and it can cause serious problems. Some people, for instance, pluck their eyebrows until they've damaged their appearance or caused themselves serious pain (beyond, you know, the normal amount of pain that comes when yanking hair out of your skin).

During the study, researchers took a group that was half comprised of people with body-focused repetitive disorders and had them complete a questionnaire about their habits and personality. They then tested the group in various situations aimed specifically at needling the perfectionists among them. It was all designed to elicit four different emotions out of them, Scientific American reports (via Salon): stress, which was induced by showing a movie of a plane crash; relaxation, which was brought on by a movie showing ocean waves; frustration, which came after participants were given a hard puzzle they were told was easy; and boredom, which happened after researchers made them sit in a room alone. While they were studied, researchers took note of how often participants diagnosed with the disorder engaged in various body-focused disorders. They reportedly did so in all cases — except while watching the relaxing waves movie.

No word yet on whether Her Royal Highness/documented nail-biter Kate Middleton is a perfectionist, but, you know, we've seen her outfits and they are always flawlessly on point. Just saying.

And if Kate is a perfectionist, she isn't alone. Apparently, women are more likely to be perfectionists than men — which, considering the link to obsessive body habits, isn't too surprising. How common is it to see men bite their nails — not to mention have more serious body-related obsessive habits like eating disorders?

The Internet is filled with lots of advice on combatting perfectionist tendencies, some of it very good. I particularly like this spot of wisdom, shared by Nicole Varvitsiotes over on The Daily Muse:

When my inner critic gets in a shouting match with reason, and self-doubt begins to bubble over reality, I make efforts to keep myself in check. I do that with this series of questions:

  1. Are my thoughts factual, or are they my interpretations?
  2. Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
  3. Is this situation as bad as I’m making it out to be?
  4. What’s the worst thing that could happen? How likely is that to happen?
  5. Will this matter in five years? At the pivotal moments of my life (read: moving abroad or childbirth), will this moment actually matter?

But considering that body-focused repetitive disorders can have serious consequences, the best advice of all is probably to speak with your doctor or consult a professional psychologist — particularly one with a background in cognitive-behavior therapy, which has been shown to help perfectionists.

Images: Giphy