The self-neglect in self-care

What is the missing piece of the jigsaw in self-care?

The self-neglect in self-care

Anyone who knew me many years ago may have looked at my exterior and said ‘she’s got it sussed’ – she takes care of herself, she looks good. In fact, to a fitness magazine or beauty magazine or even a fashion magazine I looked the part.

This was what my self-care looked like:

  • Physical fitness, kick boxing, swimming, running, cycling – my muscles were toned, I was slim and fit looking
  • Beauty – regular facials, great make up, regular hair treatments and cuts/colours, had pedicures and manicures, eyebrow shaping and the occasional fake tan
  • Fashion – always up to date, immaculately dressed – never a crease or a piece of clothing out of kilter, colour co-ordinated – to match my own face/skin/hair colours
  • Diet – very specific diets as the diet industry suggests (went to nutritionists to get support), low fats, lots of fruit and veg, lean meats like chicken
  • Wellbeing support for mind and body – regular massage, acupuncture, shiatsu, aromatherapy, and counselling when needed, as well as dentist, doctor, optician when needed too
  • Great house always pristinely clean, lovely candles e.g. for bath time, regular baths, fresh flowers, big fluffy cushions on my bed.

Added to which I always had great (and clean) cars, great jobs, regularly studying to advance myself, and a commitment to friends and family, to help them and to see them regularly.

Pretty as a picture you might say if you looked at my life from the outside. But there were cracks in it – and we know weeds grow up through the cracks if we leave them to languish.

The quality of my relationships particularly with partners was like a rollercoaster. And the quality of my relationship with myself was not one of absolute care but one of discipline, drive, forcing myself to keep the exterior ‘well’ while inside I was grumpy, tired, tense, full of anxiety and had a constant yearning for something. This yearning drove me to seek out more beauty, fashion, diets, fitness, wellbeing support, candles for the fireplace etc – it was insatiable and unfillable – as the quick fix of all of these things, whilst on one level you can’t fault, on another level it didn’t seem to fill me up from the inside, and for all that care I still lacked self-worth. So my exterior was constantly preened and my interior was left wanting.

There is nothing wrong with self-care in paying attention to nutrition, exercise, cleanliness and the many things listed above and indeed we do all need support, for instance medical or dental attention; but in themselves I came to realise, this list (as that is what it was in the way I was doing it – a ‘to do’ list) misses something fundamental.

If you look at definitions of self-neglect you will see that self-neglect covers behaviours whereby we neglect our hygiene and personal care, our health, our surroundings etc. And if we left it there, we could say I wasn’t in self-neglect as I ticked so many boxes of care for myself. Yet I was in self-neglect. The problem is that our current model of life focusses on those exterior self-care needs as the common standard: sadly, we have many who are in self-neglect based on the definitions around lack of personal hygiene, refusing medical care, lack of feeding.

Elder self-neglect is a public health issue that affects millions of older people each year[1]

But what if self-neglect also has another, deeper meaning? One that takes things to another level, one that we don’t often talk about or write about in magazines? And if self-neglect has another meaning, would that not then mean that self-care would take on another depth too?

One definition of self-neglect is failure to provide for our own essential needs – and this is the self-neglect I was in. Not because of those essential needs of food, water, etc but because I have come to realise there is a greater essential need – or a greater aspect of self-care that is foundational to all else. And that is to attend to our inner-heart, the inner-most that is within us all. As, if we have not connected to our inner-most, then what is it that is driving the way we are with self-care? And how is it that for all the ‘self-care’ I used to afford myself, I was still empty and devastated deep inside, and the levels of anxiety and occasional panic attacks were there no matter how much I cared for myself on the outer?

What if this is the missing link, whereby the craving for a level of care was for something that is within us all equally so and something that provides not only the foundation, but an inner compass, a place of understanding about ourselves and life that gives us our sense of a true understanding of what is needed, and of what works and what doesn’t work?

An example of this is that I would read magazines, watch documentaries, or look at research as to what to eat, what products to use on my face, which is the best way of exercising, how best to get to sleep at night etc – but where do we start with all the ideas, beliefs and products out there? Yes we can experiment, but it can be haphazard – and for any one idea or product another idea or product may contradict that.

So where do we find an anchor point, a place inside us that not only knows what is needed, but in itself is one of the greatest forms of nourishment, nurturance and vitality?

Connecting to my inner-most was for me the piece of the jigsaw puzzle I was always searching for, and it’s the fundamental piece. It is our natural way of being and our connection to the natural rhythms of the universe of which our body responds to. It led me to a place of steadiness whereby I would make daily life choices that were exactly what my body needed (and not prescribed by some magazine or research).

So how do we begin to connect to our inner-most? One simple way is the Gentle Breath Meditation® whereby we can take a moment to re-connect, and once connected the daily living choices become simple and in tune with our body. And through this the more we get to know our body, to feel our presence, the more we know what is needed. And more so, we also become aware when we are in self-neglect – those moments when we are disconnected from ourselves, which are the moments when we can make choices that are not so supportive for our body and our self-care.

For the current definitions of self-neglect and self-care we need to raise the bar to a new platform – one where our sense of care for ourselves comes from our inner-most, and when we come from our inner-most the simplicity is there. When we do this we begin to truly love ourselves deeply.

"Love yourself deeply – it is good medicine to do so."

Serge Benhayon Esoteric Teachings & Revelations Volume II, ed 1, p 246


  • [1]

    Dong X. (2017). Elder self-neglect: research and practice. Clinical interventions in aging, 12, 949–954.

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  • By Anonymous

  • Photography: Matt Paul