Childhood Emotional Neglect

Why Self Care Feels Selfish—And Why You Need To Do It Anyway

 On last week’s episode of the Woman Worriers podcast I talked about the practice of self-care and offered some small, simple ways to care for yourself. Even as I was writing up some notes for the recording, I was asking myself, “Am I the right person to tell others how they can better take care of themselves?”

Although today I’m much better at my own self-care, I didn’t always take great care of myself. There were times in my life that I drank too much, I wasn’t a very healthy eater and I was more concerned about taking care of others than paying attention to what I needed.

Our Past Can Shape Our Present Behaviors

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When we’re stressed or anxious, we tend to fall back into old patterns of behaviors. Chances are, the old patterns are things we did for a very long time. Sometimes that means we forget or choose not to care for ourselves, even when we know it’s good for us.

We now know that when we practice new behaviors we can create new pathways in the brain. It’s called neuroplasticity. However, we can easily revert back to our old ways of doing things when we feel overwhelmed or triggered. Those old neural pathways are well established, like deep ruts in a road. When life makes us stressed or anxious, we can get stuck back in those old ways of doing —or not doing— things.

This past weekend I took some time away from work to spend with family. I noticed that I was really tired when I got home. I had planned to take a day off to do the usual weekend things that help me prepare for the week ahead, but, I filled that first day back home with business instead of using it to rest.  I was exhausted from travel but felt guilty when I thought about lying down, so I pushed myself until it was time for bed. Then —no surprise—it was hard for me to fall asleep! 

Why Self-Care Can Be So Hard

Does that scenario sound familiar to you? We have lots of reasons to put off taking care of ourselves. What I see so often in my psychotherapy practice is that the clients who have a hard time prioritizing self-care had caregivers who didn’t take care of themselves, or parents who were too strict or who didn’t enforce rules, boundaries and expectations for their kids.

We learn how to take care of our needs, create boundaries, and do things we don’t want to do from our parents. In her very informative blog on childhood emotional neglect, Dr. Jonice Webb writes :

“Most people don’t realize that we humans are not born with the ability to structure ourselves. Nor are we born with a natural ability to make ourselves do what we don’t want to do. In fact, quite the opposite.  We learn this skill from our parents. As a child, each time your parents called you in to dinner, interrupting your play with the neighbor kids, made you take a bath, clear the table, clean your room, brush your teeth, hang up your clothes, weed the garden or empty the dishwasher, they were teaching you the two most vital aspects of self-discipline:  how to make yourself do what you don’t want to do; and how to stop yourself from doing what you do want to do.”

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So, if your parents didn’t teach you when to stop playing and get a drink of water, to have a snack or a meal, or to go to bed, it’s very hard to reinforce those self-care activities now that you’re an adult. Making those behaviors a habit takes conscious effort and reinforcement. Even then, when we’re stressed, we might fall back into old patterns.

Having a parent who is always spending their energy and time on others’ needs can also make it hard for us to prioritize our own needs as adults. If you had overly strict parents or parents with narcissistic tendencies, you might have been taught that having your own needs was selfish or self-centered. You might have been shamed or made to feel guilty when you tried to get your needs met, so you learned that caring for yourself shouldn’t be a priority. The shame and guilt you carry with you from childhood can also make you feel very anxious when you do try to meet your own needs in adulthood.

We Can Learn To Care For Ourselves

But we can make changes. We can choose to do things differently. It might feel really hard at first, because those old patterns of behavior get triggered and are very ingrained in us. But through mindful awareness, continued practice and reinforcement, we can learn to take good care of ourselves.

Mindful awareness in daily life helps bring a focused attention to the present moment and gives you some insight into how your thoughts, feelings and behaviors impact your body and your mind. For instance, if you take a moment a few times throughout the day to ask yourself what you need in that moment, you might find that your body is telling you it’s hungry or thirsty. You might find that you’re extremely stressed and you need to take a few slow deep breaths to calm yourself.

You might find that you know what you need but have come up with reasons for not taking care of yourself. Reflect on these moments with compassion. When you can listen to the part of you that believes that taking care of yourself isn’t important, and you recognize that self-care sometimes makes you feel uncomfortable, you can often recognize that those feelings and beliefs are rooted in your past. That’s a moment of mindful awareness. That’s the moment you can choose to do things differently.

If you live in the greater Annapolis, Maryland, area, consider joining one of my mindfulness groups for women. I’d love to have you be a part of our group!  You can find out more about the groups here.

You can also find more episodes of the Woman Worriers podcast here.


 If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979 .

 

Healing Your Wounded Parts

Recently, I’ve been reading through some of my old journals, exploring who I was so many years ago. I used my journals to record events but they were also a place where I wrote about my fears, desires, frustrations and all of my feelings.

When I’m reading about those long ago experiences, I find myself feeling as if I’m still there—as if I’m 15 or 19 or 25 again. I’m right back there with all the emotions. My journals give me some perspective on my younger wounded parts, but at times I can feel myself judging those younger selves for not behaving in more socially acceptable ways, for pushing hard against boundaries or for not meeting others’ expectations.

In those moments, when the judgmental part shows up, my anxiety begins to rise. Most often it’s a burning feeling in my chest and throat, but the anxiety can show up as an upset stomach or a tightening in my throat that makes it hard to eat and digest anything.

I’ve worked hard to manage my anxiety. When it does show up, it can be very frustrating. I begin to feel like a fraud, because my critical part starts questioning my abilities. “How can you help others when you can’t even help yourself!”

The 15-Year-Old Rebel

teen girls

My 15-year-old self has been making herself known to me lately. In my journal, she recounts all the parties she went to or wants to go to, all the boys she has crushes on or kissed, the distress she feels when she’s alone, her feelings of loneliness (although she seems to have so many friends), her constant need of stimulation, either through substance use or business.

As I read through page after page of my journals, I find that a part of me wants that 15-year-old to behave better, to be more in control, to be less reckless, to stop pushing back so hard. She makes me uncomfortable, and her wildness scares me a little. I want see her clearly. I want to feel compassion and acceptance for her and all that she went through, and yet I don’t want feel her pain or see her vulnerability and loneliness.

But she keeps showing up and she wants to be seen.

Rethinking and Ruminating

If you’ve experienced childhood trauma or childhood emotional neglect, there’s a good chance you also have some younger parts that feel wounded. They show up in our lives because they’re tired of hurting and they want us to help them heal. They show up in our dreams, they show up when we feel triggered, and they show up in our relationships.

When we shame our younger parts with expectations that they couldn’t live up to then and certainly can’t live up to now, we retraumatize them again and again. If we approach our wounded parts with judgment and we shame them with our present-day expectations, we’re sending negative messages: they’re not enough, they need to change to be loved, they need to get over the hurt. These messages are probably pretty similar to those they heard when they were struggling.

Our parts feel wounded when we judge them instead of seeing them with compassion and love.

Healing Old Wounds

We can’t change the past but we can heal. The healing happens when we can show our wounded parts unconditional love and acceptance. There are many ways to explore all of your parts. Here are a few suggestions:

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  • Individual or group trauma herapy

  • Journaling

  • Artwork 

  • Dance or  movement

It’s important to remember that when we’re exploring our wounded parts, we want start with an intention to bring an attitude of curiosity, compassion and caring to that part. The goal is to accept and love all of our parts in an open and non-judgmental way.

I recognize that I sometimes find myself wishing that my 15-year-old part had behaved in more socially acceptable ways. But when I hear the judgment or fear in my approach, I try instead to welcome her with curiosity, kindness and caring.  She reminds me how hard she was struggling. She had a lot of changes and upheavals in her life. I can see now that she was surviving the only way she knew how.

She’s not going anywhere and she wants me to know that. She’s a part of me. She’s my fighter, my boundary pusher, my resilience, my strength, my princess. I’ll continue to work on being with her without any expectations other than her just being one part of me.

For more insights…

If you’d like to know more about recognizing and challenging some of the expectations we put on ourselves and society puts on us, you can listen to my conversation with Dr. Agnes Wainman on the Woman Worriers podcast.


If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979 .

 

 

Reconnecting With Yourself

Feeling Different or Flawed: Part 2 in a two-part series

I recently posted about the impact that childhood emotional neglect and abuse can have when you’re an adult: Intentional and unintentional trauma and abuse can leave you feeling that some part of you will never feel truly connected to others  — that maybe you’re just different in some way. Dr. Jonice Webb calls it the fatal flaw.  I also posted my own story, A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Story into Seeing and Being Seen, sharing how trauma impacted me as a person and as a therapist.

Reconnecting with yourself can ease anxiety

Reconnecting with yourself can ease anxiety

Feeling different or apart can make it hard to feel connected from the people in your life you care most about. Or it can make it hard to form new connections. It can leave you feeling anxious because you don’t feel like you’re showing up as your “true self.” But what keeps that distance between you and others isn’t a fatal flaw that can never be healed.

If you’ve felt disconnected from others, there’s a good chance you were never taught how to manage or regulate your feelings when you were growing up. Maybe difficult feelings like anger, fear or sorrow weren’t validated, or you were punished or shunned for expressing them.

Anxiety Shows Up

When you’re taught that feeling and expressing our emotions isn’t safe, and you didn’t have people in your life who modeled how to manage emotions, it’s really hard to figure out these skills by yourself. You become uncomfortable when strong emotions surface, so you push them down, avoid and ignore them. Avoiding the difficult emotions creates a disconnection from yourself because you don’t know how you’re feeling in the moment. Anxiety creeps or jumps in, because your body understands that you’re feeling discomfort and it wants to alert you to any potential danger.

You might feel numb, unable to describe how you feel, or you might find it hard to identify the more subtle emotions. As a result, you use very basic language when describing your feelings:

  • I’m angry.
  • I’m sad.
  • I’m happy.

Those few phrases barely scratch the surface. There are so many ways to describe our different emotional states. Here’s a list of words you can use to better illustrate how you feel. Just to give you an idea of the diverse language of emotion, here are 10 words to express sadness to help you get to the core of what you’re experiencing:

  • depressed
  • dejected
  • in despair
  • despondent
  • disheartened
  • forlorn
  • gloomy
  • hopeless
  • melancholy
  • wretched

Reconnecting With Yourself

In order to feel connected to others, you have to be able to connect with yourself first, because when you don’t know how you’re feeling it can be hard to understand how others are feeling. So the first step is to get back in touch with those feelings that you have avoided, pushed down and ignored.

6 Suggestions For Getting In Touch With Your Feelings

Meditate. Meditation allows you to calm your mind and understand your body’s reaction to stress.

Practice mindfulness. Being more present in the moment gives you a greater understanding of your body, your thoughts and your feelings. Pausing and being mindful when you’re stressed and anxious can help you understand your feelings as they’re happening. And when you know what’s bubbling up, you can better soothe yourself.

Journal your emotions. Use the list of emotions try to identify exactly what you’re feeling. When you can name an emotion with authenticity, you might feel your body relax, because you’re allowing yourself to see it and feel it.

Get in touch with the “felt sense.” Try the exercise below to help you better understand what your body is telling you about how you feel. It helps you get in touch with the felt sense and honor what your body has to tell you.

This is an exercise to help you get in touch with your body when feeling difficult emotions.

Offer yourself some compassion. When you’re struggling or you feel like you’re “less than” or flawed, you might blame yourself or feel ashamed. Maybe you’re very critical of the mistakes you make or maybe you get caught up in the things you should have done or said. Offering yourself compassion can calm and soothe you in times of stress.

Share your story with a counselor. Finding a therapist who specializes in trauma and attachment, and childhood emotional abuse can help you feel understood and seen. Therapy can help you learn how to reconnect with yourself in meaningful ways.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photo courtesy of Samuel Dixon for Unsplash.

Symptoms Of Anxiety You Might Not Recognize

Some Not So Obvious Symptoms of Anxiety

Part 1 in a two-part series.

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Anxiety causes many physical and emotional symptoms. Some are more obvious and you can read more about them here. Others are subtle, so you might not recognize them. Maybe anxiety leaves you feeling disconnected from the people you care most about and wondering if there’s something “different” about you that keeps you from making deeper connections. Or maybe you believe that other people have some “thing” that enables them to pursue and maintain relationships with ease, and that you lack whatever that “thing” is.

That deep-down sense of difference can keep you stuck in the same patterns and justifying your isolating behaviors. You might tell yourself:

·      “I’m too busy to hang out.”

·      “I don’t want to be a burden.”

·      “I’m just not feeling social.”

·      “I prefer to stay home.”

·      “I’m not a ‘people person.’”

These statements keep you from reaching out and asking for help, or getting involved in things that might make you feel closer or connected to others in a deeper way. These thoughts reinforce your belief that you don’t have whatever that “thing” that others seem to have and can lead to feelings of difference and unease, loneliness, sadness or desperation.

What Makes It So Hard To Connect?

We all were born with the need to feel connected to others but, for some people, making or keeping close relationships can feel threatening or unsafe. You might read that last sentence and think it’s ridiculous. “I don’t feel unsafe! No one is going to hurt me!” But if you were emotionally neglected or abused in childhood, opening up and showing your true self can be a frightening experience. A deeply held sense that you can’t trust the people in your life, even those closest to you, to support and be there for you can keep your true self from showing up. When we hold back, other people sense our reserve; they feel our reluctance to bring them in close. This keeps them at a distance, leaving you feeling unsatisfied with your relationships, and reinforces your belief that there’s something wrong or different about you.

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When we are children, our needs are met when we're taken care of emotionally, physically and spiritually. If some of those needs are neglected, punishment is severe, or nurturing is intentionally withheld, you wind up feeling disconnected from yourself. If your parents didn't model how to manage difficult feelings, if they ignored your feelings or punished you for expressing them, you learned that feelings are bad and should be disguised or hidden. When you don’t learn how to manage emotions, you wind up as an adult without the ability to recognize what you’re feeling and you don't know how to regulate your emotions or soothe yourself.

We Blame Ourselves

As children, we often blame ourselves and feel shame when the caregivers who are supposed to love us aren’t able to meet our needs. Those feelings shame and the inability to understand what we’re feeling in the moment can lead to an underlying notion that you’re flawed or damaged, believing that there is a “thing” about you that’s different from everyone else. Dr. Jonice Webb calls this “The Fatal Flaw,” and describes it this way:

“A deep-seated feeling that something is wrong with you. You are missing something that other people have. You are living life on the outside, looking in. You don’t quite fit in anywhere.”

You can read more about this in her book, Running On Empty: Overcome Your Childhood Emotional Neglect.

Feeling inherently different from others can make it incredibly difficult to feel connected. If you think you’re flawed, then you might think that you’ll never change, that you’ll never have what others do. This can lead to feeling isolated, unsatisfied and anxious or depressed.

But there’s hope! Feeling disconnected or flawed isn’t a life sentence. In my next blog post, I’ll discuss ways to help you begin to recognize your feelings in the moment, and how to self-soothe when you’re feeling difficult emotions.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

Photos courtesy of Daria Nepriakhina and Kevin Gent for Unsplash

 

 

 

 

How To Manage Fear

Fear can make us feel isolated

Fear can make us feel isolated

Fear is one of those emotions that gets a bad rap, In our society fear is often identified as a weakness. We even have slurs for people who we deem scared or fearful: sissy (or worse), wuss, scaredy cat or wimp. However, fear often lies beneath other more acceptable emotional states like grieving, feeling anxious or being angry.

Why Do We Have Fear?

Fear is a natural, primal response to a perceived threat. According to Merriam Webster fear is:

“an unpleasant often strong emotion caused by anticipation or awareness of danger.”

Way back in the day, when we were being chased by lions or other predators, our fear kept us on our toes, ready to fight or flee. Fear kept us safe. And fear still keeps us safe. When we sense a threat, we guard ourselves both physically and emotionally. The problems come when we live with fear as a constant companion, and it creeps into how we manage our everyday life.

Fear In Modern Life

Early childhood trauma, childhood emotional neglect, sexual abuse or assault, and physically and/or emotionally abusive relationships can all manifest themselves in a deeply held sense that you’re not safe. Your mind and body want to protect you so they’re ready for danger all the time.

This constant underlying level of fear can make even mundane tasks seems scary or dangerous.

I know that fear has kept me from exploring new opportunities or opening myself up in new relationships. There were times when I even found it difficult to make phone calls because it didn’t feel safe. Because of my fears, I often felt stuck, lonely, afraid, disconnected and isolated. My own therapy has helped me to understand how my fears keep me from connecting with others and myself.

How Fear Shows Up

Because fear often lurks below the surface of our consciousness, it can show up in many different ways, and we don’t often recognize it for what it is. Here are a few ways that fear can present itself:

  • Anxiety — This is the fear of situations and things that are uncertain or that you feel you can’t control.
  •  Social Anxiety — This is the fear that others are judging you. You worry that you might embarrass yourself.
  • Grief  — This can include fear of the future, fear of death and fear of being alone.
  • Fear of rejection — This can keep you from opening yourself up to others.
  • Fear of abandonment — You might make you cling to those you love because you worry they will leave you.
  • Anger  — Anger can mask fear. For some people it’s easier to feel angry than it is to feel scared.
  • Fear of failure — This keeps you from trying new things.

No matter how fear shows up in your life, it can leave you feeling anxious, depressed, stressed and stuck.

Overcoming Fear Might Not Be The Answer

Most people manage their fear by avoiding the things they’re afraid of. If you worry about being judged by others, you avoid places where you might meet new people. If you’re afraid of rejection, you avoid opening yourself up to others. If you’re afraid you’ll be abandoned, you avoid confrontation, and you often put others’ needs before your own. If you’re grieving, you might fear you’ll never get over it, and you tell yourself it’s time to move on. If you’re scared of being emotionally hurt, you might lash out in anger to avoid feeling that pain.

The problem with using avoidance to manage your fears is that it’s only temporary relief. Ultimately, avoiding situations that make you fearful can leave you feeling anxious or depressed because you want to overcome your fears. You want to change, but you can’t do so if you constantly avoiding what you fear. Avoiding your fears makes you feel stuck where you are, disconnected from those you love and care for, and worrying that maybe there’s something wrong with you. 

Facing Fear With Compassion

Facing fear with compassion

Facing fear with compassion

 It’s not possible, or even desirable, to overcome fear completely. If we did, we would no longer sense real danger, and knowing when to protect yourself is a valuable tool for survival. What we can do is learn to how live with our fears.

Being afraid can be physically and emotionally uncomfortable. You sweat. Your heart rate increases. Breathing becomes shallow. It can be hard to swallow. Your stomach or head might ache and you might begin to shake. All of these bodily sensations alert you to possible danger ahead. And then there’s your brain. It’s probably telling you to get away from whatever it is you’re fearful of. Although your body and mind are telling you to run away from or avoid the scary things, research tells us that the best thing we can do (when there is no actual danger) is to be open and curious about our fears.

Now I get that you’re probably saying that leaning into your fear is the last thing you want to do! But if you allow your fear to exist, if acknowledge it, if you’re open it and willing to explore what your fear wants you to know with compassion, it can actually reduce the fear response. Sounds crazy, right?

An Exercise To Help You Manage Fear

Here’s an exercise you can try the next time fear is keeping you from living your life fully:

If you find you’re avoiding something because the idea of it makes you uncomfortable, find a quiet place and really tune into your body.

What physical sensations do you notice?

  • Is your chest tight?
  • Are your breaths shallow and quick?
  • Can you feel your heart racing?
  • Are sweating a little
  • Does your throat feel constricted?

Accept whatever sensations you experience. Take a few slow deep breaths. Breathe into any tension you might feel in your body, and imagine the tension melting away as you breathe out.

Now check in with what’s going on in your head.

What are you telling yourself? Are you…

  • Worried you’ll embarrass yourself?
  •  Worried that others will be judging you?
  • Afraid you’ll make a mistake, or be rejected?
  • Worried that by feeling your fear you’ll get sucked into it or that feeling your fear will make it worse?

I want you to acknowledge all those uncomfortable thoughts. You can say to yourself, “Wow, I’m really scared and struggling right now.”  Sometimes it can help to place a hand on your heart and say, “This is so hard. I’m so afraid to ______.” (You fill in the blank.) Try to hold your fear with compassion.

Take some more time to check in with your body once again. Notice if any of the physical sensations have changed. Are they more intense? Have they lessened? If you’re still feeling the strong physical presence of fear, take a few more deep breaths, breathing into tension and imagining the edges of that tension softening just a little. 

Now, imagine that your fear is there in the room with you. What does it look like? What color and shape is it? If you have the supplies on hand, draw a picture of it. If not, create a mental picture of the fear.

Get Curious About Fear

Once you have a clear sense of how the fear feels and looks, ask it if it would be willing to let you get closer. Ask it if it’s willing to let you be curious about why it’s showing up. If it feels safe, ask the fear what its worries are and what it wants you to know. Often, our fear wants to protect us, to keep us safe. Maybe it’s worried that you’ll be hurt and wants you to stay at home so you’ll never be hurt again. Maybe it’s worried that you’ll be overwhelmed by grief, and so it wants you to stop thinking about it and move on.

If you can, thank your fear for wanting to protect you. Acknowledge that it’s kept you safe, but that now it’s time for it to step back and let you move forward, so you can take some chances and feel your feelings. When you can appreciate and feel gratitude for your fear and how it’s protected you all these years, it can open up space inside you and calm your body.

It might be too hard to be curious about your fear because it still doesn’t feel safe. If you’re not ready to investigate your fear, that’s OK. Instead, I want you to ask your fear if you can just sit with it for a bit. Allow the fear to be present. Take a few deep, cleansing breaths. Notice where you feel it in your body and continue to offer yourself compassion.

Moving Forward And Facing Your Fear

If you’ve experienced childhood trauma or childhood emotional neglect and you want help managing your fears I’d love work with you on this journey. Please send me an email or call me at 410-340-8469.


Photos courtesy of Milada Vigerova andGiuila Bertelli for Unsplash.

Elizabeth Cush, LGPC is a therapist and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md. She helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose.

 

Why Do Women Struggle With Self-Care?

 Part 2 in a Series: Over-Stressed and Overwhelmed —We're Not Taking Care Of Ourselves

Women don't take time for self-care

Recently, two different female clients told me that they couldn’t fit self-care into their schedule. I think everyone struggles with making self-care a priority, but I also believe that many women make caring for others a priority.  Doing so makes them prime targets for burn-out, added stress, anxiety and feeling overwhelmed. Perhaps it’s because I am a woman, or because I talk to female friends about this more frequently than I do with male friends, but it seems to me that women in particular struggle more than men when making self-care a priority.  For me, when life is crazy, self-care is the first thing that drops from my to-do list.

Is it genetics? Societal factors? Where did we learn that we should care for others before we care for ourselves? In my last post, several colleagues offered their thoughts on the importance of self-care. I asked some of them, and some others, about why women seem to struggle more with self-care.

Experts Offer Perspectives

Julie Blamphin, a registered yoga teacher, and owner of Stretch Your Spirit in Annapolis, MD, says, “We live in a culture that sometimes tells us that if we put Self before all others, it means that we’re narcissistic, egocentric, or downright selfish. So many of us women shy away from shining our light fully bright. We instead focus that light upon caring for others.”

When we put the focus on others instead of ourselves we can lose track of who we are, what our priorities are, and can lead us to feel unfulfilled, or living our life for others. Blamphin says that when we neglect our needs, our energy becomes imbalanced. This imbalance shows up in our life as:

  • Insomnia
  • Anger
  • Illness
  • Addiction
  • Pain
  • Resentment
  • A general sense of grumpiness

Agnes Wainman, Ph.D., C. Psych., of London Psychological Services in London, ON, agrees that our culture’s expectations and perceptions can play a role in women’s priorities. She says, “Women are often expected to take care of others and to put their own needs below others. Self-care is often seen as being selfish or indulgent. We often think of self-care as extravagant — like weekends at the spa. We may feel guilty for taking time for ourselves.”

Neglect of emotional needs can lead to anxiety

Laura Reagan, LCSW-C , a Severna Park, MD therapist, and creator/host of the Therapy Chat podcast, agrees that our culture plays a big role in our quest to put others’ needs before our own, but believes that other factors also impact how we care for ourselves. “If we grew up receiving praise for being quiet, nice, responsible and helping around the house, we associate those behaviors with being ‘a good girl.’ If no one attended to our emotional needs we learned to ignore them as well,” she says. “The problem is, if our own emotional needs were neglected by our caregivers in childhood and we continue to ignore our own emotional and physical needs in adulthood by neglecting our own self care, we are re-enacting the neglect we experienced in childhood. This eventually catches up with us, either with our bodies shutting down or having an emotional breakdown — what many people call a ‘midlife crisis’. 

We certainly want to avoid the dissatisfaction, the physical symptoms and the behaviors that accompany self-neglect.  

So how can we make self-care a part of our daily life, without adding to our stress, or our to-do list?

My next post will offer five tips for making self-care easier. In the meantime, if you’d like help reducing stress and making self-care a greater priority in your life, call me for a free 15-minute consultation at 410-340-8469!


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LGPC is an Annapolis counselor who works to help people manage their stress and anxiety. She owns and operates Progression Counseling in Annapolis, MD.

Photos by Benjamin Child and Alex Hockett for Unsplash.com

How to Take Control of Your Fatal Flaw

I recently communicated with Dr. Jonice Webb, the author of Running On Empty. I was inspired by her book, asked if I could share one of her article abouts Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN). She generously offered to share this article about "the fatal flaw," one of the psychological effects of CEN. Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, and visit Dr. Webb's website if you'd like to know more.

By: Jonice Webb, PhD

The Fatal Flaw:

A deep-seated feeling that something is wrong with you. You are missing something that other people have. You are living life on the outside, looking in. You don’t quite fit in anywhere.

CEN can cause anxiety and stress

If you grew up with Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN), chances are, The Fatal Flaw is at work in your life. If you pushed your feelings away as a child, you now lack access to them as an adult. You sense deep down that something is missing (it’s your emotions).  And your life lacks the richness, connection and meaning that your emotions should be bringing to you. This is the basic cause of the Fatal Flaw. Most people who have it are not aware of it, and this gives it incredible power.

Seven Effects of the Fatal Flaw:

  • You are not in touch with your gut feelings, so you don’t trust your gut (even though in the majority of CEN folks, it’s most often right).
  • It undermines your confidence to take risks.
  • It makes you uncomfortable in social situations.
  • It keeps many of your relationships at a surface level.
  • It makes you question the meaning and purpose of your life.
  • It makes you fear that if people get to know you well, they won’t like what they see.
  • Therefore you are quite fearful of rejection.

These seven effects will gradually wear away your contentment and your connection to life and happiness. So it is vital that you take control of your Fatal Flaw.

Six Steps to Break Down Your Fatal Flaw

  1. Recognize your Fatal Flaw: This will take away its power.
  2. Know that your Fatal Flaw is not a real flaw. It’s only a feeling.
  3. A feeling can be managed, so start to manage it. Pay attention to when you feel it, and how it affects you.
  4. Put it into words and tell someone about it.
  5. Override it every time that you possibly can. Do the opposite of everything your Fatal Flaw tells you to do.
  6. Start breaking down the wall between you and your feelings. Welcome them as the vital source of information, guidance, and richness that they are (even the painful ones).

Yes, your Fatal Flaw is powerful. But so are you. You have a great deal of personal power that is being drained by your Fatal Flaw.

So today’s the day. Declare war upon your Fatal Flaw, and start using your weapons of awareness, your emotions, your intellect and your words.

This is a battle that you can win. I promise.

To learn more about the Fatal Flaw, what causes it and how to overcome it, visit emotionalneglect.com and see the book Running on Empty. (link to: http://www.drjonicewebb.com/the-book/)


Elizabeth Cush, MA, LCPC, is an Annapolis therapist helping people manage their stress and anxiety. Progression Counseling, offices in Arnold and Annapolis. 410-340-8469