Lip biting is one trope I have noticed in many of the romance novels I have read. I was curious about whether it was just a literary device or recognition of a genuine medical condition. Here are my findings…
Lip biting is a medical condition that needs to be taken seriously and is often triggered by nervousness, stress or even distraction. It falls under the category of body-focused repetitive behaviour which also includes nail biting (another romance trope). Lara J. Hoppe et al in Neurobiology of Grooming Behaviour (2010, p242) suggests that these be seen under the umbrella of obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorders. If characters have this condition, rather than mock them we need to offer our support – they simply cannot stop themselves from biting nails or their lips without counselling or in severe forms, medication.
I have identified some strategies that may prove useful for authors assisting their characters through these difficult times:
- Work out what causes your character to engage in lip or nail biting so you can actively monitor the situation
- If stress brings on the body-focused repetitive behaviour, then give your character a way to relax perhaps through yoga or meditation
- Help your character reprogram themself by replacing the biting with something else. It might just be swapping one repetitive behaviour for another but if the new one doesn’t harm your character, then it might be worth it.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical expert in any way. The accuracy of this information is not guaranteed and cannot be relied on by authors, characters or even real life people. If you think you have this condition or would like further information, please seek advice from your doctor or other medical professionals.