14 Examples of Self-Neglect and How to Stop It
Casey is tired of coming home to her apartment every day. She feels like her home drains her energy more than her job does. Not because it’s not a nice place, and not because of anyone else who lives there. Actually, she lives alone. It’s just that Casey’s apartment is a disorganized mess. Every Friday, she vows that she’ll do a thorough organizing and cleaning job before Monday comes. But every weekend, she finds something more interesting to do with her time.
Silas knows that he needs to cut down on his drinking. He’s been getting to work later and later on Mondays because he’s a bit hungover from the weekend. This doesn’t get him into trouble with his supervisor, but Silas can see the trend happening and gradually increasing throughout the year.
Beth and James are a busy couple with two young sons. They both work hard to take care of the boys and make a living. Generally, life is pretty good. Except that each secretly feels that the marriage is bland and unrewarding. “Something’s not right,” Beth thinks to herself. “I’m bored,” James thinks to himself. Both know they should say something to the other, but neither wants to take the risk of making matters worse. And neither wants to hurt the other.
We almost all neglect ourselves in one way or another, at one time or another. One could argue that the damage we do by neglecting ourselves is far more substantial than whatever neglect we experience from others.
What sets us up to neglect ourselves as adults? Being emotionally neglected as a child. When your parents fail to respond enough to your emotional needs, they inadvertently teach you how to ignore your own needs as an adult. So, if you have been neglecting yourself, don’t feel bad because it’s not your fault. But it is now your problem to fix. And, believe me, you can.
Read through the common areas of self-neglect below, and see if any ring true in your life.
Common Examples of Self-Neglect
- Not pursuing an activity that you know you would enjoy
- Settling for a job that’s under-challenging or isn’t stimulating
- Unhealthy eating
- Not getting enough sleep or rest
- Not developing a talent that you know you have
- Engaging excessively in an activity that harms your body and detracts from your emotional health, like pot-smoking or using other drugs (For example, Silas’s drinking)
- Generally over-focusing on other people’s needs while leaving your own unmet
- Not exercising enough
- Not speaking up for your opinions
- Over-scheduling yourself so that you don’t have enough free time
- Settling for too little joy or fun in your life
- Neglecting to address sources of unhappiness (Examples Casey, Beth, and James)
- Spending too little time, effort or money on your appearance, a potential source of self-esteem
- Depriving yourself of the freedom and pleasure brought by spending time in nature
Have you been neglecting yourself in these, or other ways? If so, rest assured that you are in good company, along with much of the human race.
Take a moment and try to imagine treating a child the way you are treating yourself/your body right now. Would you deprive a child of joy? Vegetables and fruits? Fun? Nice clothing? An opinion? Fresh air and exercise? Then why do you treat yourself or your body this way?
Now is a great time to stop the neglect and start giving yourself the time, attention, and effort that you need and deserve.
5 Steps to Cure Your Self-Neglect
- Identify the area or areas in which your self-neglect is the worst.
- Write each one down. Seeing it in writing will make it more vivid and real and will also serve as a record to consult throughout the year.
- Choose one item (working on one at a time will optimize your success) from your list, and promise yourself to improve it.
- Focus on that goal. Pay attention to when you fail to do what’s best for you or your body.
- Track your success on paper or using your smartphone. You can find specially designed Change Sheets for many of the areas listed above free on the website. Go to The Book page and click on “Download the Change Sheets.” They will help you target your chosen area(s) of self-neglect.
Imagine that Casey, Silas, Beth, and James followed the five steps above. Imagine that Casey cleans her apartment, and sets up a system to keep it clean. Imagine that her home becomes the place of comfort and solace that it should be.
The deep roots of self-neglect often spring from a lack of self-worth. Somewhere, somehow, maybe you don’t feel you are worth the effort of self-care.
Just as Silas could take charge of his own life, Beth and James could face their troubles and make their marriage warm and fulfilling again. And you can take charge of your own self-neglect with enough motivation, dedication, and perseverance. You only need to commit to yourself.
You are worth it.
To learn how Childhood Emotional Neglect sets you up for self-neglect in adulthood, see the book, Running on Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.
A version of this article was originally published on psychcentral. It has been republished here with the permission of the author and psychcentral.
In June 2020 I learned that I have childhood trauma and PTSD. I was told that my trauma is my neglected childhood. I had to grow up quickly and had to be strong for myself. I was an only child. I was 6 yrs old when my parents started to leave me on my own. I missed my mother, I vividly remember how I yearned for her. It still hurts just as much as it did when I was 6. I was not allowed to make friends or have achievements, or make future plans or dreams. I grew up without having ambitions or goals. I never understood the “what are you going to be when you grow up?” thing. I grew up keeping all my feelings,(joy, happiness, sadness, anger, fear, frustrations), bottled up. I could not share my feelings with my parents so I did not know how to evaluate them. My feelings were never validated. My parents did their best as they knew it. They were neglected children themselves.
I am 54 years old and finally last year I was able to put a finger and a name to these feelings and hurt I felt all my life. The shame, the guilt, feeling of underserving and unworthy stopped me from caring for myself all my life. Whenever I felt guilt and shame I deprived myself of things I needed, like clothes, haircuts, friends, buying little things made me happy. I would stop myself from doing what ever I was planning to do that was going to give me pleasure because I was unworthy of that pleasure. I gave up being creative, or did not go to doctors when I needed to. But the worse thing I did was to push my husband away when I felt shame and guilt. I thought I could never be able to live up to his standards and give him what he wanted. I punished myself by depriving myself of his love. When I pulled away it hurt him deeply. The more I heard him say he was hurt the more i felt shame and unworthy and I punished myself even more. I deprived myself of the thing I wanted the most: love and companionship. He filed for divorce and left me. Divorce was final April 2021.
I did not know that my ultimate goal was not to be abandoned… It’s been extremely difficult to comprehend any of this. Self care is foreign to me. I did not understand what self compassion meant. I have to ask my friends and therapist if what I’m doing is self-care. I still am not sure. Everyday is a big struggle. Being alone is not hard for me because I know that well. Liking myself enough to show compassion and care is the hardest…