How Can You Break the Cycle of Self-Harm and Self-Neglect?

July 23, 2020 Kim Berkley

Self-neglect and self-harm may not be the same thing, but there is certainly some overlap. What drives people to hurt themselves may also drive them to deprive themselves of the basic care and comfort we all deserve and need in order to thrive.

The Difference Between Self-Neglect and Self-Harm

Self-harm is the deliberate act of injuring oneself. Self-neglect, on the other hand, is passive. It involves not taking certain actions, like brushing your teeth or eating regular meals, that are vital to a healthy, balanced lifestyle.

On the surface, self-harm and self-neglect seem like opposites, but there may be substantial overlap in the motivations—and effects—associated with each. Some people who self-harm do so in order to punish themselves for not living up to some (often self-imposed) standard. Likewise, some people develop self-neglect patterns for similar reasons; they may feel they are lacking in some way and do not deserve a hot bath or a clean home.

Depression and suicidal ideation may also play a role in each; the same people who hurt themselves to distract or relieve themselves of emotional pain may also feel too weighed down by that pain to take out the trash or cook themselves dinner.

This is not to say that self-harm and self-neglect are the same thing, or that they are always rooted in the same causes. However, in many ways, self-neglect can function in the same way as self-harm—both can ultimately result in deep physical and psychological damage. This is especially true if the two happen to co-occur.

When Self-Harm and Self-Neglect Co-Occur

Separately, self-harm and self-neglect can have lasting, even dangerous, consequences. Simultaneously, they can create a particularly vicious spiral from which it can be difficult to escape.

If, for example, you injure yourself and then decline to shower or to disinfect or dress your wounds, those wounds may become infected—possibly to the point of requiring hospitalization. Self-harm can also feed into the feelings that may drive you to neglect yourself; it can be all too easy to interpret self-inflicted scars as (false) proof that you are lacking or "ugly" in some way, and are therefore not worthy of care or attention.

Healing from Self-Harm and Self-Neglect

Recovery can seem far away when you are spiraling into a dark place. It can certainly be a difficult road to walk on your own—which is why it is so important to try and seek help if you can. Therapy can be an incredibly powerful tool for healing and breaking free of the cycle of self-harm and self-neglect, and support groups can provide much-needed motivation and empathy along the way.

Self-care, too, can play an important role in recovery.

Whether or not you have access to professional help, know that you are not going through this alone, and that you can get through this. Regardless of what you may feel now, you are worthy of self-care, and you don't need to earn basic human rights like food or a safe, clean environment. Your scars do not define you; the only thing they prove is what you have survived.

Have you struggled with self-neglect as well as self-harm? What small self-care strategies can you implement today to make tomorrow just a little bit better? (Even something small, like washing your face or doing a few simple stretches can help.)

Tags: self-neglect

APA Reference
Kim Berkley (2020, July 23). How Can You Break the Cycle of Self-Harm and Self-Neglect?, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 13 from

Author: Kim Berkley

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