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Breaking the Habit

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! 
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This post was written for Two Shoes Tuesday
where the prompt choices this week are habit and lost...
Come and join us there!

32 comments:

  1. I am glad you overcame this habit. You turned out just fine. I don't think your father meant to "win his eforts to convince you that you were a failure", though. From everything you have said about your dad, I think he loved you and wanted what was best for you. Obviously, he went about it wrong, but that was a different time and place, as you said. People did what they knew. Parents make mistakes,and are so very human. Love forgives.

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    1. I am glad too, Annie, it is one small area of my life that I can say I conquered a bad habit, since then I've gone on to chip away at a few more! :-) My father made it very clear, for most of my life, in no uncertain terms that I was major disappointment to him, and perhaps he was correct in that assumption. I made bad choices, a lot of them. Yes, I know that he loved me and wanted the best for me. I agree that he did what he knew as far as child raising, his was certainly as harsh, or moreso, than mine. I have long since forgiven him. It is the way one was made to feel that remains. Believing the messages you were taught as a child is the very hardest habit to overcome.

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  2. You and I had parallel lives. Yes we did. Habits, even bad habits, are hard to break. I'm glad we both did.

    Have a fabulous day honey. Big hugs. ☺

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    1. Indeed Sandee... the very worst habit that we both broke was trusting bad guys with our lives! Now we've got it right, older and wiser and so much happier than either one of us ever believed possible! Old habits are hard to break, but never impossible! :-))

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  3. He was turning some internal anger about himself on you...sad...hope you have learned to forgive him. From your writing, I suspect you have, and it seems to me that you are a beautiful lady on the outside and especially on the inside...Papa Bear is a lucky man!

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    1. Yes, I'm sure that he was also berated as a child, and I have long since forgiven him for not doing better, for not being more supportive, because I truly believe that he didn't know how, and didn't realize how damaging the things he said and did could be. Thank you for the kind compliment, I tell Papa Bear that he must have some secret karma that is very bad indeed, but he laughs. I think turned out pretty good...eventually, I was just a slow learner when it came to life lessons! ;-)

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  4. YOu are a wildly , independent and colorful woman...right on down to those nails!

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    1. Thank you Zoe! Yes, that is me to a t, and I think that independence and "different" character was very hard for my parents to understand or relate to. I strive to include color and brightness in my life now and in the lives of those around me. My nails aren't always quite this BRIGHT, sometimes just a lovely shade of royal purple, but last night I just felt the need for a bit of "fiesta" color. One cannot look at those nails without at least a grin! :-)

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  5. love your fingernails!!!! and love your post even more!!!

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    1. Thanks you Kathe! If you knew me as a coworker you might be puzzled by the seemingly out of place bright nails on a rather subdued and frumpy old woman. But they make ME smile, and that is all that matters. It is the one girly luxury I indulge in, I don't do clothes or hair or shoes. Everyone needs some bright spot in their lives, be in nails, or red shoes, or bright red hair! :-)

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  6. Once again, you open my eyes. Looking at someone with nails like yours, thinking, "Why would she do that?" I never would have guessed the reason, of course. Everyone has a story, and the things people do so oftentimes celebrate something or is a result of their stories. You just never know. Great job celebrating those nails!

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    1. You made a wonderful point here, Christine, that I hadn't really considered. When we look at people from the outside only, we judge without knowing their story. If we take the time to get to know them, we discover all kinds of reasons for the choices they make and why they are the way they are. I think my nails are silly fun, and sometimes that's the best kind. In the stress and tedium of the everyday work world, there has to be a few reasons to smile! Sometimes I choose more traditional designs with lovely hand-painted flowers and such, and sometimes no design at all, last night was just a particularly colorful session with the nail tech! :-)

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  7. I like your pretty nails, Josie. Your story was neat too. I never did bite mine so there I can only know of the problem when growing up from others like you. Again, Josie, you told it well.
    ..

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    1. Thank you Jim, it is a fun and fairly harmless form of self-expression... and I can change them more easily than I can my tattoos... but that's another post entirely! :-)

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  8. I have a nail biter in this house,it's my Sharky the middle boy. He was/is a chewer,his school jumper used to have holes upon holes around the wrists and sometimes even the neck. Then when he went to comp he didn't wear a jumper and his nails became his chewy thing. Sometimes he tries to stop but often those fingers creep back into his mouth.
    I'm glad for your sake you managed to forgive your father. I think a lot of damage can be done be some parents and it takes their children a long time to work through issues. That's just my opinion after a tough childhood.
    Oh and I LOVE your nails in that photo! Cool or what!
    Also Christine made a good point about not knowing someone's reasons for doing what they do.Sometimes we are quick to judge without knowing the background that makes a person behave like they do....maybe we should stop making snap judgements quite as quickly or not even at all!
    Have a good evening,I'm on my way to bed before I swallow someone with one of my gigantic yawns! Night!

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    1. Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Jess. I agree that parents, whether intentionally or unintentionally can leave their kids with some heavy baggage to unpack, but I also believe that we can't spend the rest of our lives using that as an excuse for failing to grow and thrive. What was, was, and then it's time to build yourself up and move on! I'm betting that you are more patient with your son, and when he's ready, he'll likely quit. I think there are worse things our children can get into than nail-biting, it's a scary world out there for kids these days!

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  9. wow...that's an awesome story. Good on you...as the Aussies would say.
    I pick and bite my nails all the time...I don't think I'm insecure (but maybe I am)...I was never treated like that by either parent...the bad news is that I have no one to blame by my self...so every morning I say "self your stupid" and then I continue to do those things I know are wrong...I think I just wrote a blog about that.

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    1. Thanks GS! I know that for me, if I let my nails get ragged, it's far more tempting to start nipping at them, even things up a bit, and then a bit more. That's why the acrylic overlay works well for me, it's very sturdy and doesn't taste good at all! I suspect that Mrs. GS might be a bit concerned if you suddenly start having your nails done, I'm betting she likes you just as you are. We spend too much time in life judging folks by such unimportant details. I have to say that my morning philosophy mirrors yours exactly. Oh well! :)

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  10. great post! I used to bite my nails. My dad told me that I was allowed to bite my nails until the first day of 4th grade and then I would have to stop. And, I did. I never felt pressured, I just knew I had to stop. I tried that with one of my sons and it worked with him as well. LOL! Sorry you had such a bad experience. Love your nails today!

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    1. That's a very clever approach, Susan, far more encouraging than punishment and derision. I can see where it just might work, because when one gets an idea set in their mind it can happen. When I was ready to quit, I did, simple as that. I'm delighted this worked for your son as well. I have heard of parents doing similar things with children learning to sleep in their own bed, etc. YAY for creative parenting! I'm glad you like my nails, I do too! :-)

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  11. What fun your nails are. I am pretty conservative with my fingernails but my toes...that's another story.

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    1. That's a great approach Patricia, one can be a bit more proper at first glance, but if someone looks down they may find a rainbow of pretty color on your toes! I once watched a very elderly woman at the Nail Shop getting her fingers and toes painted in true neon Day-Glo Orange... at first I was stunned, then I realized that she must really love that brightness, and if it makes her happy, her happiness will show. It is ok to do things that give us joy!

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  12. What a touching story! You should wear your badges of accomplishment very proudly. Your nails are beautiful.

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    1. Thank you Gail, I appreciate your understanding! There are so many flaws that I have yet to work on, and some that I never will, but at least I can look at my fingers each day and say, "Look, they look just fine!" I enjoy the humor of me, so very farm girl plain in all other ways, doing something so seemingly out of character with my nails, but for those who know me, they see it fits right in! Underneath this mild-mannered old woman is a free spirit that loves to dance around the fire! :-)

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  13. How wonderful that you were able to move on from some bad influences, and find what really mattered to you... what inspired and enriched you. It seems to me that that is a great part of life, searching and finding what really matters to us.

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    1. That's a really great thought, Shimon, and I agree, contentment comes into your life when you find your own place and role, your own identity, and are able to focus on what is important to you. I am a strong believer in breaking free from burdens of the past. We must live in today, because really, that is all we have!

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  14. I used to bite my nails as a child and I stopped too. But I don't think they have ever recovered. Anything will crack or rip them and i have tried everything! I keep them as neat as I can though.

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    1. That may be the problem with mine too, CC! I can grow them out, but they tear easily, never growing strong enough to endure the pounding of hours of daily keyboarding. That's why I'm in love with acrylic powder overlays. No false nailtips, just a coating over mine to keep them strong, that can be "filled" as needed, for me every couple of weeks. The power comes in a vast array of colors from nearly nude to eggplant purple! I love it because it's durable, unlike polish that chips and wears off.

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  15. That's sad. I remember when I had a habit of biting the lids of pens and I accidentally, unconsciously, bit the lid of my dads favorite pen, even though he told me not too, and I promised him that I wouldn't. After I borrowed it though, I noticed that I had chewed on his pens lid. I thought he was going to yell at me, but he said that's ok, but I felt bad though because I could tell that he was sad.

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    1. You sound a bit like my son, Joseph, he went through a stage of chewing on things, toys, pencils, whatever he had at hand. Thankfully, he eventually outgrew it, but I remember us calling him "Chewbaca" there for awhile! :-) I'm glad that your Dad was understanding about his favorite pen, I'm sure you felt bad enough.

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  16. sad story Josie. Sorry for what you went through. But you came through it a strong woman. I bite my lips. Bad. To the point they bleed sometimes. Not sure why.
    but, I think your nails are fun and what better way to say "Hey, I am doing ok!"

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    1. I have done that at times two, Lynn, and chew on the inside of my mouth until it's sore, anxiety behaviors I suppose. Scratching and picking at any skin blemish or scab, another childhood habit carried over. Nail overlays have helped with that, they are too thick to be effective scratchers! :-) I agree with you, my nails remind me that I have the power to change things I think should be different.

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Your comments are always appreciated... they make me smile! :-)