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

  1. Identify the area or areas in which your self-neglect is the worst.
  2. 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.
  3. Choose one item (working on one at a time will optimize your success) from your list, and promise yourself to improve it.
  4. Focus on that goal. Pay attention to when you fail to do what’s best for you or your body.
  5. 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.

Jonice

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below
Katie - April 12, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice, I came across this information re CEN through a Highly Sensitive Person webpage. I am blown away by how on target your work is. I am a HSP, INFP, ACOA, empath and now CEN. I have been searching for the core of my discontent and you nailed it. Thanks so much for bringing this out. What steps can I take to heal? I have been on this journey a very long time. Amazed and grateful in Nashville, Tennessee.

    Jonice - April 12, 2020 Reply

    Dear Katie, I’m so glad to have offered you some answers. I suggest you join my newsletter and read both of my books to start with. You are at the beginning of a great journey.

Doug - April 9, 2020 Reply

Dr. Webb,
Personally, found CEN’s role in these 14 examples of self-neglect is tied people pleasing. CEN experiencer’s are unsure of who they are at their core. Validation of any kind is missing from others. So… best way to gain secondary approval indirectly is to become a pleaser. In my humble opinion it provides some self-worth in the short term. It is the next best thing if direct validation is missing. However, it can be devastating long term.
All 14 behaviors have a common theme in their exhibited outcomes and behaviors. The person desires to please those around them at their own expense. They have beaten themselves down begging to be validated. Self-acceptance, self-care and self-actualization are all missing from their lives. I personally experienced a strong desire to read everything “self-help” in effort to get myself “right”. If I could only change this or only do that. It was a dead end. In my years long quest for the grail of getting myself normal I came to my aha moment. If I am in constant pursuit of self-improvement, when will I ever arrive at self-acceptance?… Answer = NEVER.
I now tell myself “I matter”. I now ask myself, “how are you doing?” I know ask myself “how was your day?”
Looking back is deeply difficult, but necessary. No stronger emotions in my life have ever been conjured up as with this subject. The day it flipped for me was when I resolved to stop being a people pleaser. Recommend those who struggle in this area learn to become self-aware and practice self-care. The only validation one really needs is from the True Nature of self.

    Jonice - April 10, 2020 Reply

    Thank you, Doug. All so heartfelt and true, and so well-said.

Sally - April 8, 2020 Reply

I’m an only child of a narcissistic authoritarian father and have only recently discovered at 47yo what CEN actually is and finally an answer to why I am the way I am. I’m at the beginning of my recovery journey and can’t thank you enough that you have enabled this to happen where every other MH avenues have failed me. I haven’t practiced self care for many many years. Why bother? I have no intention of being with anyone as I am a single mum of twins. Who’s gonna see me? I very rarely go out anyway and when I do I go at the quietest possible time to avoid people. From reading this article I realise actually the most important person who does see me every day is me and that should count. It doesn’t feel like it for me atm but I am still early in my recovery so hopefully it will come. In the meantime I am vowing to take just a little bit of time on my appearance each day. It does feel self indulgent to me to be doing that. But I will do it. Little to start with and then build up.
Thank you for listening and thank you for all that you do. Take care and be well x

    Jonice - April 8, 2020 Reply

    Dear Sally, it seems like you are at the beginnings of recognizing your true worth. It sounds like you have a way to go! But I like your start very much. Please keep doing what you’re doing in terms of self-care. And keep pushing forward with it, fighting off the guilt that is your worst enemy right now. All my best wishes for self-discovery, care, and wellness.

Anna - April 6, 2020 Reply

Dr. Webb,
I am doing EMDR for cptsd that began in childhood (of course!)
Do you think it can be effective for CEN?

    Jonice - April 6, 2020 Reply

    Dear Anna, I have noticed that EMDR can clear out the trauma and enable you to start working on learning the feeling skills. So, indirectly, yes.

Elaine - April 6, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice,
Good blog post. For me, amidst the entire unknown and uncertain times of COVID-19, I wonder if this will ever end and if anything I do will even make a difference. I’ve read a lot of your CEN information. Not sure I entirely fit that picture as a child, but I know my parents always avoided risk like the plague so there were a TON of things that “we just don’t want to ‘fool’ with that right now” so my parents never tried anything new. Both had anxiety and I came by it honest.
So I suppose my childhood mind is saying “anything you do won’t really make a difference, this is going to last forever anyway” but I can’t stop these thoughts from coming back.
Elaine

    Jonice - April 6, 2020 Reply

    Dear Elaine, that voice is programmed into your brain at this point so instead of trying to stop it, try talking back to it. When you “hear” that message, say something powerful back to it that you wish you could have said to your parents when you were a child. Like, for ex., “That’s not true. Every little thing you do can make a difference. And nothing lasts forever.”

mike - April 6, 2020 Reply

Hi DR. Webb, always nice to hear from you, the irony of this situation is horrible for me because I have self isolated as much as I could my whole life. Because being alone was always the safest place for me to be. And if I could ask you, why am I so funny? how do people like me use humor? do you run across that in your practice? I don’t know, but I agree with Mel brooks, watch Young Frankenstien and laugh in the face of death. And hopefully you won’t be laughing alone.

    Jonice - April 6, 2020 Reply

    Dear Mike, yes, I hear this often in CEN people and warn the therapists about it in my training. Humor is a way to avoid feelings, and CEN folks are all about that, right? I have required many of my clients to stop making jokes in sessions so that we can get to their feelings and it does work very well. Just wanted you to know that. Take care and stay healthy and safe during these challenging times.

Tim - April 6, 2020 Reply

The question about whether or not I’d treat a child this way was telling. I’ve always loved children, and not just because I’ve always felt invested in doing whatever I can to ensure that no child I encounter feels the way I did growing up…invisible, unwanted, and alone. I pay attention to my nieces and nephew because I care deeply about them, but the little attention I pay to me comes from knowing that I “need to” rather than from actually caring how I’m doing. I’m getting more positive attention from myself now than I got growing up from the people around me, but far less than I’d be getting if I was as invested in my well-being with the same level of intensity and concern that I’m invested in the well-being of my dearly beloved nieces and nephew.

I can treat myself like I matter as an act of will, but I’ve yet to figure how how to get to a point where I treat myself like I matter because I feel like I matter. Pretty sure there’s still some major trauma issues blocking this from changing, but we shall see. Ideas would be appreciated, but at least I’m now aware of this as an issue…I bet it gets a lot easier to move forward in healing from all this once this particular facet gets addressed.

    Jonice - April 6, 2020 Reply

    Dear Tim, one thing I see missing from your description is the work involved in honoring your feelings. You clearly have them for your nieces so now it’s vital to connect with your feelings about yourself, whatever they are, and honor them by tolerating, sorting, and managing them. You are on an incredible journey. Keep on going!

Martin - April 6, 2020 Reply

Thank you so much Jonice. I have used your CEN Recovery Guide to help a lot of my clients heal from CEN and many have reported tremendous happiness and satisfaction in life after that.

    Jonice - April 6, 2020 Reply

    That is wonderful to hear, Martin! Thank you so much for sharing and using my work so well. I appreciate your comment! Be well.

Gail - April 5, 2020 Reply

I have that same problem as Heather does of going to extremes-cleaning for hours- and then being so turned off by the end that I don’t want to even keep up a basic 10- minutes a day maintenance routine. So now my living space is such a mess that I don’t even know where to start and with a full time job, no corona break for me since my job is considered essential, it would take months to get in order. Add to that keeping up with laundry and meals and I’m always feeling completely overwhelmed. On the weekends I’m tired and want to just rest. I don’t know how to get out of this rut. I know it’s CEN related, but don’t want to shame my parents online with details. They did what they thought was best. Depressing

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    Dear Gail, first of all, thank you for doing your essential job! You are helping society. CEN is not about shaming parents at all! It’s about understanding what went wrong for you, and that’s it. I hope you will ask someone for some help or let your employer know you must have a day off. Please do something for yourself so you can get a foothold on self-care. Then start with 10 minutes per day. You deserve it!

    Evita - April 6, 2020 Reply

    Gail, I can relate to the feeling that the war zone that is the black hole of my house/room feels like it would take months to get in order. It feels overwhelming before Iv3 even started! I am a Highly Sensitive Person , which is a new age sounding way of saying my neurological system runs on overdrive always! I’m hyper aware of my surroundings, the people & their moods/vibe they exude, and I get over stimulated by the smallest things that most people don’t even think twice about. My neuro system is constantly scanning for change, threat, & anything else startling, disturbing, un0leasant, etc. I can’t even watch most TV or movies, & news is a no-no-never! What bothers people for an hour, sticks with me for a month, maybe l9nger. As an 3xample, my husband likes really he metal music, he was watching a music video one day & it bothered me so much, it pops back into my head weekly at least. It’s been 3 yeare since I saw it once. Needless to say, at 35, I watch and prefer almost solely cartoons…lol

    Science thinks HSP’s are born of a mix of nature & nurture, I’m just happy they finally legitimized what I’ve been dealing with since I was a kid, that there are those of us who truly are more sensitive to the externals & even internals of the world.. I try to tell my husband that things most don’t notice, hit me like a freight train!
    I just realized I’m rambling & most of that has little to do with what I wanted to say….sorry…lol
    Are you familiar with the Japanese concept Kaizen? I had never heard of it until I discovered a kindle book that I could read for free about it. The description sounded like something I could use big time. Basically they say that the journey of 1,000 steps starts with the very 1st one. Break things down into bite sized pieces that are easily accomplished, then you get the warm fuzzier for accomplishing something, plus the benefits of whatever the finished task awards (like a comforting inviting clean house, room, or even just a desk to start) I’ve found it really helps me break through the stagnation that borders on paralysis from being overwhelmed & without hope.
    Big companies like Toyota & Amazon are big on the Kaizen way.

    Sorry for rambling, I just like to share info when I find a gem or a person with similarities to issues I’m dealing or have dealt with. Take careď

      Jonice - April 6, 2020 Reply

      What a wonderful suggestion, Evita. I’m sure it will help many others who struggle with the same feeling of overwhelm.

      Pam - April 9, 2020 Reply

      Evita,
      You are not alone. I hope you find a friend where you can be yourself, enjoy yourself, and evolve into the person you were always meant to be. Remind yourself often
      that your uniqueness is
      linked to your divine purpose in life. It’s not work when you give from your beautiful love-filled
      heart. You’re in your mind when you say that your parents were your source of love. Return to your heart, where the true source of love resides. Sit in your heart connecting with that sweet feeling of love. That is your Superpower!!!
      Everything that has made you so wonderfully unique
      comes from your higher self. Don’t let insensitive people dictate their rules to you. Only you know what you need to be happy and what makes you feel loved. Only you know your heart’s desire. Only you can give to the world your special gifts and only you
      know how to do that.

      P.S. Once you begin living in love, you will see that the piles of stuff are no longer necessary. It will be easy to let them go. You will only surround yourself with things that inspire you. Things that remind you to go inside your heart. Be who you were born to be…exactly
      who you are!!! You are perfect TODAY in this moment. You have everything you need to succeed. Share the love in your heart…Today!!! Be Happy!

        Jonice - April 10, 2020 Reply

        Dear Pam, thank you for your caring and supportive message to Evita. You make some excellent points!

Nanajude - April 5, 2020 Reply

Hi Jonice,

Thank you for this!!… That’s my flat to a “t”!!
I have a tiny flat…but a huge garage/ carshed!!
I want to set that up as a
R & R area… Jigsaws, Lego, books, craft…BUT!!!
I did some on line exercises yesterday.. so feeling a bit better today…
I have been wondering how to get motivated…so these ideas will help!!
Thank you…from New Zealand!!!
Judith…

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    Dear Nanajude, I hope you will follow through with your excellent ideas to care for yourself.

lynne - April 5, 2020 Reply

A lot of this is me, I’ve lived on my own for 13 years, I’ve just turned 60. I was doing well with my fitness and eating and it’s gone downhill again, I self sabotage with wine, then I just feel I must be an alocoholic. I hate my job but feel I am lucky to have one in the current situation, my mum who was narcissistic is 87 and can be very difficult although she’s 400 miles away. I can’t seem to find any joy in my life, I feel like I am on a merry-go-round and I want to jump off and run away with my dogs. Yes I also feel like my home gets on top of me as well, I am trying to declutter but I find it difficult. Thanks for this Jonice, you made me understand after all these years what the problem was x

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    Dear Lynne, I can hear the hamster wheel you are running in. Please try to focus on self-care, self-care, and more self-care. It will get you out of that wheel and on a better path that will take you somewhere.

Sands - April 5, 2020 Reply

This article really resonated with me. I feel like I understand my actions better.

Many thanks,
Jonice

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    That’s great, Sands! Understanding is key.

Heidi - April 5, 2020 Reply

I realize after reading the list above that I have, in fact- changed my life over the last year based on acknowledging that I have CEN- and seeing how clearly it has stolen parts of my life. I have taken many actions to change things, sometimes feeling like I
have to literally force myself to do things I love or do basic things that seem normal to others. The first ten minutes can be very hard because it feels unnatural- but day by day, I keep at it to develop a new muscle.

It is working! So grateful for your work, Dr Jonice!

I also think I have to be ever-vigilant as the past patterns start to re-emerge. I am going to keep this list as a checkpoint. It is a good measure as to living a life I was meant to live!!

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    Excellent, Heidi! Keep up all that great work.

Andy - April 5, 2020 Reply

As usual, generally, great stuff!
Since we are more likely to change in the context of a relationship, I would add a last step to your plans – including another person regarding what specifically you are going to do, how often, and then training them for if and when you fade, what questions you want them to ask, in what tone, and how often. (To avoid nagging, control, etc.)
thanks again for your work. Several of my clients have purchased your book, and I sometimes circulate your articles among them.

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    That’s a good additional step, Andy. Thanks for suggesting it! And for your lovely support of my work. I appreciate it very much.

Heather - April 5, 2020 Reply

I think a big part of putting your needs first is from coming to the understanding that you count too. I grew up in a family where we weren’t allowed to have personal interests. Anything that was focusing on ones self was considered selfish, which was considered a sin. I grew up always putting my needs and wants last at default. Your book really helped me come to the realization that I matter too! What I’ve found to be a problem is when I was helping everyone else out, I was putting my own life on hold, which was a really awful feeling. It was like I was a walking dead person, viewing life on the side but not a real participant…lol. Everyone else counted but I somehow didn’t…lol. I knew someday I would start living, but it was in the future, and I couldn’t bring it to the present. What this did was create a misalignment in myself; I wasn’t living now, so the motivation to achieve things now was not there. I tried to start living many times, but it was always done in an extreme way, like doing a 5 hr extreme workout, or eating broccoli for breakfast, or deep cleaning my home. And then I would go straight back to not living because it was too hard to live. Because I wasn’t living, I had no place to put a schedule into my life. I would be absolutely exhausted from work with no energy to do anything for myself. Everything was done in an extreme way, because I had no experience living. I think there might be a link with these issues and CEN patients. I wrote a short unedited book about it, which I don’t plan to actually publish, but let me know if you would like to read it, Jonice. 🙂 It might be cool to see if any of your patients have the same issues! 🙂

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    Dear Heather, thank you for sharing your experience and you are right; so much is about believing, and feeling, that you matter. I hope you are believing that more and more every day because it is certainly true!

    Anne - April 5, 2020 Reply

    Hi Heather thank you for your comments. I think I was raised a lot like this, too, to put the needs of others first. Plus being emotionally neglected.

    Even now I am making concerted efforts to recognize my own life, and my Own children’s lives, instead of stepping in to take care of others’ needs, and other people’s children’s needs at the expense of my own children’s needs.

    I’m Learning that I am important too.

    One verse I try to remind myself of (often) is how Jesus said to. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” AS yourself. So I must also love myself. It is not a sin to love myself!!!! (Oh man can you believe I’m seriously still learning this at my adult age!) Jesus tells us to (love ourself)! God help me with this one.

    I’d be interested to read your book, if it’s not too long, if you wanted to share it. Absolutely it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to. Thanks again for sharing your story. I very much relate.

    Thank you so much, Jonice for your work in this area and this email. I will print this list to, to refer to and check myself with. It’s like I have to conciously give myself permission to care about myself, and I presently need to talk myself through the steps (in my head) of how to do that, eg, “I feel cold – that means I need to get up and put some warmer clothes on”, etc. Simple Self care actions that I imagine what would be so basic and second nature to others.

    Jonice, I have your book and am so grateful a friend told me about you and your work. Thank you for all you’ve done to help others love themselves and others better.

      Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

      Dear Anne, you are welcome and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

Beth - April 5, 2020 Reply

Hello,
I simply want to thank you for this information; it has given me a wonderful pivot point in my own growth and healing. You have given form to the air I did not realize I was breathing (though I had sneaking suspicions). I sincerely appreciate you work and efforts.

Beth

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    I’m so glad my work is helpful to you, Beth. Music to my ears.

Gaynor - April 5, 2020 Reply

Thank you. This perfectly describes me. I’ll check out the book because I keep putting off helping myself at the expense of other things.

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    It’s time to focus on yourself, Gaynor!

Karen - April 5, 2020 Reply

Thank you Dr. Jonice ♥♥♥

    Jonice - April 5, 2020 Reply

    You’re welcome, Karen!

Leave a Comment: