The 7 Hidden Ways Abuse Teaches You Self Neglect



“Instead of asking, ‘Have I worked hard enough to deserve to rest?’ I’ve started asking, ‘Have I rested enough to do my most loving and meaningful work?’” Nicola Jane Hobbs

“Giving care to yourself isn’t selfish. Actually, self care is the responsible thing to do because you take care of things that are yours. Is it selfish to have your car serviced? Is it selfish to wash your clothes? No. It’s simply taking responsibility for what belongs to you. And those are just things. What could be more responsible than taking care of yourself?”


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Episode transcript: 

Welcome to the Overcoming Sexual Abuse podcast where you get the tools and inspiration to help you overcome childhood sexual abuse. I’m your host Christina Enevoldsen, certified coach, author, and incest survivor, and I’m here to help you heal and live your very best life.

With childhood sexual abuse, your needs for protection and nurturing weren’t met. And chances are, the neglect didn’t end in childhood,
because the way you were treated becomes the way you treat yourself. I’ll share the seven hidden ways you’re likely perpetuating the cycle of neglect and how to reverse the effects of neglect and abuse in your life.

Child sexual abuse treats you like you’re a disposable object, just used for someone else’s gratification and then tossed aside. And with child sexual abuse, there’s always a neglect factor. One of the reasons is that predators,
either inside or outside the home, prey on neglected children. Children who have a parent, or maybe both parents, who aren’t paying attention. Children who are left alone, who aren’t given a voice or encouraged to own their emotions, children who don’t have anyone else to turn to when they’re violated.

And it was your parents’ job to protect you from predators. And when they didn’t, that’s a form of neglect. Often it goes much deeper than that. Much deeper than having a busy or distracted parent or an uninformed parent.
Maybe you were treated like a burden, like you were too much, or your emotions were too much, or your needs were too much, you wanted or expected too much. Maybe you were made to feel like it was selfish to want attention. Maybe you were shamed when you needed comfort or reassurance.

And maybe you learned to suck it up, or to shove your emotions down, or to distract yourself, or to deny you even felt bad. And maybe you learned to say you were fine, to smile through your pain or fear or anger because nobody would be there for you anyway. And to show your vulnerability would only lead to being pushed away even more.

People were careless with you and you learned to be careless with yourself. You learned to live as though being low maintenance is a virtue.
You put yourself last, trying not to bother anyone, trying not to be too needy. Maybe to prove that you’re not needy, you take care of everyone else and let everyone else need you. You’re the dependable one or the kind one or the wise one and so people come to you. And so the neglect that started in childhood actually goes on and on and on.

And so let’s get into the the hidden ways you might be neglecting yourself and staying in those neglectful and abusive patterns with yourself. And really it’s the hidden beliefs and ways of thinking because behavior starts with thoughts. 

And the reason that they’re hidden is because they don’t seem like thoughts. They seem like just the way things are. They seem very reasonable, especially because these behaviors and ways of being are reinforced by our culture. But so much of our culture is based on survival methods. It’s about coping. It’s about making the pain go away or about proving your worth. And since abuse and neglect are so prevalent, that makes sense why our culture would be shaped by coping methods.

So these thoughts and behaviors don’t feel optional. They don’t feel like thoughts or like you have a choice about them. They just seem like the way things are. But the first step to changing them is to be aware of them.

So going from neglecting yourself and putting yourself last to taking good care of yourself and prioritizing your needs, it can feel foreign and uncomfortable and even wrong.

But keep in mind that anything new feels uncomfortable. That discomfort doesn’t mean it’s wrong; it’s just not familiar. And the brain really, really, really, likes familiar. The familiar feels safe. But the familiar isn’t optimal. You can’t thrive staying in the familiar. Keeping things the same means repeating the same patterns of thoughts, emotions and behavors over and over and childhood issues become adult issues and last until you die unless you intentionally address them. So the price of a new and improved life is feeling discomfort. That discomfort just means, “This isn’t the way we usually do things.” And that’s a good thing. 

Something to remember is to believe that your needs weren’t important protected you. It was survival to think of yourself as unworthy and undeserving, otherwise the neglect would have been intolerable and the abuse would have been worse.What if you were aware of how unjust your situation was and that you couldn’t do anything about it? So of course it will feel wrong to change that. Acceptance was protection.

And of course your brain will fight to change those thoughts and that’s okay. Your brain is just trying to keep you safe. and knowing that you’re prepared, you can tell yourself that there is nothing wrong with feeling uncomfortable, and it doesn’t mean it’s wrong to prioritize yourself.

It might feel selfish to care for yourself, to treat yourself like you’re someone important, like someone worth caring for.  So think about how you came to believe that. You weren’t born thinking that. When you were a baby, you had one way of communicating your needs, which was crying. 

When you had a need, you didn’t survey the room or consider how much sleep your mom needed. It was simple. You had a need and you cried.

So you weren’t born thinking it’s selfish to take care of yourself. It’s how you were treated and what was said to you that made you think it’s selfish.

In my group programs, both Bloom and Flourish, they are opportunities for connection and sharing and getting support. And one of the things that the group members deal with is the internal accusation, “You just want attention.” There’s often a craving for attention and a fear of it too. And a shame of wanting attention. But what’s wrong with wanting attention? Attention and love go together. When you love someone, you pay attention to them. You notice them and respond to them. Attention is a universal human need. But we’ve been treated as though it’s selfish.

And we tend to shame ourselves the way that we were shamed. And we go into this hyperbole in thinking, “I’m the worst person.” And there’s that tone of, “What are you thinking, Christina? Do you expect everyone to just drop everything and focus on you?” And so wanting attention is seen as this bad thing when it’s a really just universal human need. Everyone has it.

Yes, as an adult, you’re responsible for your own needs. And it’s not realistic that others put all their focus on you. However, you didn’t learn this shame as an adult. These were lessons from childhood, when you should have been able to count on your needs being met by others. And the beginning of getting your needs met is having someone’s focus, of having them notice you and what your particular needs are at that moment. That loving attention communicates to you that you’re worthy of it. You’re valuable and your needs are important.

And that kind of attention was supposed to be modeled to you as a way of you caring for yourself. As an adult, it’s good to have attention from others but others aren’t supposed to have their focus on your needs, But you are.

That focus, that noticing your particular needs from moment to moment. That attention. That was supposed to feel normal and good. And from that place of having that connection with yourself and your needs met, you have the resources to give and share with others. Everything else in your life comes out of how you care for yourself.

So giving care to yourself isn’t selfish. Actually, self care is the responsible thing to do because you take care of things that are yours. Is it selfish to have your car serviced? Is it selfish to wash your clothes? No. It’s simply taking responsibility for what belongs to you. And those are just things. What could be more responsible than taking care of yourself?

You take responsibility for what belongs to you and YOU belong to you. You belong to you.

Okay, so let’s dive deeper into the hidden ways you might be neglecting yourself. The first one is using self care as a reward. So self care is a need, it’s not a reward, and you don’t have to wait until you so -called deserve it. So let me ask you something, when does a car deserve to get fuel? After it’s taken you to your destination, do you say to your car you don’t deserve to have fuel? anything in your tank until you’ve actually done something useful? Cars just don’t operate like that. You have to fuel them first and then they’ll work for you. But humans are the same. You’re so much more valuable than a car. One definition of abuse is to misuse something, to use it in a way that it’s not designed to be used.

That’s what you do when you withold your needs and put yourself last. After you’ve worked, after you’ve cared for everyone else. After everything. And that’s abuse because just like your car, you need to be fueled first.

So self care is not a reward. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t incentivise yourself to reach a goal with some reward. But a reward is something extra; it’s not a need like self care is.

In the financial world, there’s an adage to “pay yourself first”. That means to set money aside for yourself (savings, investment) before anything else.

The theory is, if you pay everything else first and only save or invest what’s left, there likely won’t be much, if anything, left over. But if you pay yourself first, you’ll find a way to pay for everything else.

The same could be said of your self care. When it comes to planning your day or week or month or life, invest in yourself first. Give yourself what you need and then you’ll find a way to fit in everything else. Otherwise, if you give yourself the “leftover” time, there likely won’t be any.

Nicola Jane Hobbs said, “Instead of asking, “Have I worked hard enough to deserve to rest?” I’ve started asking, “Have I rested enough to do my most loving and meaningful work?” 

I started practicing that in my life. I call it “playing it forward”. Playing it forward is starting with play. I do something creative or fun or inspiring. And then I do what I have to do. I used to think that playing first was undisciplined and would lead to disaster. The truth is it takes discipline to play first because you have to know when to stop playing and focus on something else.

There’s a secret to that I’ve learned. It’s not as much about discipline as it is about presence. I used to do fun things but I wasn’t present doing them. I used them as escape. So not being there meant I didn’t get the benefit from the play. It didn’t fill me up. So I just wanted more. It was never enough. But as I’m present and really there to enjoy it, there’s a point that it’s enough. I’m taken care of; I’m filled up. So I notice when I’m filled up and ready to work.

And when you’re running on empty, when you deny yourself that play and that joy, you make everything harder. My work is easier and more inspired and lighter because I play.

The second hidden way you might neglect yourself is: making self care conditional.

Imagine you’re a child moving from one traumatic experience to another. All you know is abuse and neglect. Then unexpectedly, you have a new mother attending to all your needs. She provides nutritious meals and stimulating activities. She gives you an education and even tucks you in bed at night and sings you to sleep.

After a period of her nurturing attention, your mothers says to you, “I give up on you. You don’t melt into my arms when I hold you. You still flinch when I reach out to you. You’re still startled when I say your name. I wanted a child who would respond to my love. You don’t seem much different than when I found you.”

Sometimes, we treat ourselves that way. When we think of self care, it’s toward a particular outcome. “I’ll take care of my body so I’ll heal.” Or “I’ll eat right so I’ll lose weight.” You might not say those words but if you don’t experience the results you expected, or they take longer than you wanted, you get discouraged or maybe even give up. Maybe you tell yourself, “It’s not worth it.”

And what you’re really saying is you’re not worth it. Maybe you treat yourself like a project to be completed or a problem to be fixed. but you’re a human to be loved. What if you loved and cared for yourself without conditions or expectations? What if it wasn’t toward a particular goal but just because you deserve to be loved? You deserve to be loved without conditions.

The third hidden way you might be neglecting yourself is: Treating self care like it’s all-or-nothing.

I’m recording this in January and January is tends to be the time when we get the urge to do a complete life makeover. It’s not good enough to make one small improvement that you might actually follow through with; no, it’s the big, the grand overhaul.

It’s better to do less than what you hoped for rather than nothing at all. You don’t have to take a walk everyday; walk one day a week. Or even, don’t walk every week, walk today. You don’t have to eat healthy from now on; eat one healthy meal. You don’t have to walk away from an entire dysfunctional relationship; just say no to one aspect of it. One small act of self care is better than none at all.

A lot of the world has the expectation the new year should be started by bolting into action with new goals or resolutions. There’s so much internal pressure to get started on the “perfect” body or to finally get organized or to become “more” in some way.

If self improvement is coming from a belief you’re not enough or not good enough exactly as you are now, no matter how fit you are, successful you are, how clean your house is, or any other external thing, you’ll always be driven to do more and more and more.

Perfection doesn’t exist except as an idea. It’s an unattainable, unrealistic target. And it’s not helpful to demand perfection from yourself. What will help is steady progress that allows for continual improvement.

Miss a self care task? Great! It’s practice for being gentle with yourself and telling yourself you can get back to it tomorrow. And if you miss tomorrow, you can practice telling yourself you’re a valuable human anyway and your value isn’t in what you do or what you look like or what you have. Practice being there for yourself when you don’t take care of yourself perfectly. Because it’s not good self care to beat yourself up for not doing good self care.

And this is related to the fourth hidden way you might be neglecting yourself: thinking it’s the grand gestures that matter.

Your relationship with yourself and the way you care for yourself can be compared to a marriage. In a healthy marriage, you may invest in weekend get-aways and you might enjoy weekly or monthly date nights. However, you can’t expect a relationship to survive if it’s only those special events. It’s the regular, day-to-day, thoughtful gestures, loving comments, steady presence that impact the health of the relationship the most.

It’s the same way with self care. A lot of people think of self care as extravagant spa weekends or massages or facials. But it’s the small day-to-day things you do for yourself that make the most difference. It’s the way you care for your needs, the way you talk to yourself, the way you’re present for yourself that matters most

The fifth way you might be neglecting yourself is: Waiting until you have loving feelings before you take care of yourself

Many of my clients have told me they hate themselves. And they base that on their critical self talk, and self-sabotaging choices .

And what I tell them is that turning against yourself is actually the result of self love, not self hate. You turn against yourself to protect yourself. You criticize yourself before others do. That’s protection. You walk away from a great relationship before the other person walks away from you. That’s protection. You don’t protect what you hate; you protect what you love.

Yes, those are misguided ways of protecting yourself but you came up with those strategies when you were a child or teen. And that was the best you could come up with at the time. But that was your very best effort at loving and protecting yourself.

Many abuse survivors struggle to have loving feelings toward themselves. The trouble is, feelings come and go. Do you ever do loving things for a friend, partner or child even when you don’t feel a rush of love toward that person? Do you ever make a caring gesture just because you decide to do it?

Love is more action than feeling. You don’t have to feel the love to do the love. Even if it feels as though you don’t have the capacity to love yourself, the compassion and empathy you direct toward others proves you have it in you.

The sixth hidden way you might be neglecting yourself is: Limiting self care to the actions you take

Self care is more than what it looks like on the surface. Is eating a salad self care? Are you eating the salad because it’s the right fuel for your life or because you think you don’t deserve anything else?

Is working out everyday self care? Do you do it because you love your body or because you hate your body? Are you moving your body to make it healthy or to punish it? The reason behind your actions and what you say to yourself about your actions are just as important as the actions themselves.

A common subconscious belief is that if you criticize yourself, you will work harder to change. But is that really true?

Have you ever planned to create something beautiful and thought, “I know what would make this turn out wonderful–I’ll add a little hate to it!!!!”

When you attack yourself through critical thoughts, that triggers your nervous system in the same way an outside threat does. That means that you’ll go into fight, flight or freeze.

So you’re sending yourself into that state. So be aware of what you’re telling yourself.

You might say, I can’t control my thoughts. They come up and I can’t control them. And that thought that you can’t control your thoughts is a thought. It’s not a fact. We aren’t taught to choose our thoughts from an intentional place. The default is to just accept whatever floats through your mind. But you aren’t your thoughts; you’re the thinker of your thoughts.

I teach in detail exactly how to do that in my Bloom and Flourish group programs but for now, I’ll share, and this may seem over simplistic but here’s a way for you to start to work with your thoughts. Choose what you want to think instead of waiting to think something. because you can only focus on one thing at a time.

The seventh hidden way you might neglect yourself is: Waiting until you have a crisis to take care of yourself.

Not giving yourself the proper care can very easily lead to a crisis. Maybe a health crisis. Perhaps a financial crisis. Or a relationship crisis. When you only attend to your needs as a reaction, you’re struggling to get back up to zero.

Using self care as a last resort means you don’t have much to invest in yourself and that makes it that much more of a challenge when a crisis hits.

You can start now with small, manageable Each action you take adds up.

The mistake so many survivors make is thinking that if you aren’t already good at loving and caring for yourself, that you’ll never be good at it. It’s as though the world is divided between those with the ability and those without the ability to love themselves.

The truth is, even though you didn’t learn good self care in your past, you can learn it now. That’s why I want to share this free masterclass with you, where you can learn how to stop the cycle of neglect and permanently reverse the effects of abuse and neglect. To get that, go to the shownotes page at

Thanks for joining me today. I’m bringing you more on healing and self-care and boundaries and family and relationship issues, so be sure to subscribe so you don’t miss any of it.

The 7 Hidden Ways Abuse Teaches You Self Neglect

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