My father believed that ridicule was a form of motivation, that making fun of someone would help them see the error of their ways, and encourage them to reform. I suspect that is probably the way he was raised too. People who pick on others were often picked on when they were children, and they do so without realizing it, just like abused children often become abusing adults. Patterns of behavior imprint from a very early age.
From the time I was young, I chewed my fingernails down to nothing... my fingers looked very much like the ones pictured above. I don't recall when I started or why, I wish that my mom was still alive so that I could ask her. I would venture to guess that it was at least in part due to insecurity. I internalized stress, and there was plenty of that in the house. From an adult perspective, I also see that it was in reaction to my inner rage at being made fun of, and perhaps even a form of self-mutilation, a sub-conscious acknowledgement that I was just as unacceptable as he seemed to believe.
I can't begin to count how many times he tore into me for biting my nails, making it clear just how disgusting it was. Yeah, that really helped a lot, like I didn't already know that. I thought I was ugly anyway, so what difference did it make if my hands were ugly too? It was already pretty clear that in his eyes I didn't measure up... I wasn't cute like my little sister, wasn't thin like my older one, wasn't coordinated, wasn't really anything but "book smart", and for some reason that didn't seem to count for much. My tattered fingernails were just one more thing to add to my sense of shame.
I can remember a time when he was so fed up with me constantly gnawing on my fingernails, tearing them down to the quick until they were tender and sore, that he dragged me by the arm to the bathroom and stuck my hand in the toilet, making some vague point about it being just that disgusting. Geesh! Obviously, child psychology wasn't in vogue back in those days. It was a "spare the rod and spoil the child" world, and it was the parents' job to make sure your child "straightened up", whatever it took to accomplish that. Needless to say, his humiliating tactics didn't work. Inside I seethed with anger, frustration, and self-loathing. Bottom line, the things he said and did were cruel and they hurt my heart. Every child wants their parents' acceptance and approval, and it was clear that I didn't have his. That remained true of our relationship up until his very final years of life.
I don't remember what inspired it, but somewhere in my early teens I took a good look at my hands and decided I didn't want them to look like that anymore. I stopped biting my nails, by myself, just like that. Little by little I let them grow stronger and longer, at one point filing them rather pointy so that I could poke my sisters. :-) It was a long, long time before I began to address other areas of my life that I'd been led to believe made me inferior, but this was a start, something I could take pride in.
My nails still tear easily, and once in a great when life is stressful, I'll catch myself putting one to my mouth and contemplating a nibble. But I never do. This is one habit I broke for good, and it remains broken.
These days, when I look at my old worn hands - that look surprisingly like my mother's with varicose veins, scars, and knobby knuckles - I smile. Why? Because instead of being a source of shame I've turned my fingernails into a source of pleasure. Although I have to keep them short for typing, that doesn't mean they have to be dull and boring. I have them overlaid with sparkly acrylic to keep them strong, and have them painted with designs in bright colors, like they are in the photo below.
I work with my hands all day long, hours spent at the keyboard... and every time I look at my ridiculously colorful nails, it makes me laugh. You see, he didn't win in his efforts to convince me that I was a failure. My nails are a reminder that, by my standards at least, I turned out pretty good after all... and I did it on my own... that's something to celebrate!
This post was written for Two Shoes Tuesday
where the prompt choices this week are habit and lost...
Come and join us there!