Lesson 2 of 7 - learn to communicate effectively

How to react to someone who  doesn't value themselves

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW

Member NSRC Expert's Council

The Web address of this article is http://sfhelp.org/cx/apps/neglect.htm

Updated  01-27-2015

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      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to respond effectively to annoying social behavior. An effective response occurs when you get your  primary needs met well enough, and both people feel heard and respected enough.

      This article offers (a) perspective on "self-neglect," and (b) sample responses to a self-neglectful (shame-based) person. It assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it  

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • basic options for all responses

  • how to give effective feedback to someone

  • effective assertion and empathic listening skills.

      This two-part YouTube video offers perspective on self-respect - the best defense against self-neglect:


      To neglect is to ignore or minimize something of importance to someone. Something of undeniable importance to everyone is their physical health and longevity. Yet paradoxically, most Western people neglect (take poor care of)  themselves. Glaring symptoms of this are widespread obesity, stress, hypertension, depression, poor diets, and little exercise and quality sleep, ignoring atmospheric pollution, and workaholism. Do you agree?

       Premise - self neglect implies a person's basic attitude is "I'm not worth caring about." It also may mean "Nothing bad will happen to me," which can be a serious reality distortion. Both are clear symptoms of major psychological wounds from traumatic early-childhood years.

      Reactions to a self-neglectful person vary with personalities, circumstances, and the relationship. For example, observing an obese store clerk evokes a different response than an overweight mate or child. This article focuses on responding to someone you feel is important.

      Common responses range between hinting ("You might feel better if you...'), moralizing ("People who ignore their health are ______"),  warning ("You're a heart attack waiting to happen!"), threatening, criticizing ("What's happened to your common sense?"), and advising ("You really ought to _______"). Responses like these are apt to imply a 1-up (superior) attitude, which raises Emotion-levels and impairs hearing and trust.

        In contrast, consider these respectful...

Response Options

  • After you finish reading this, study these options for relating to a psychologically-wounded person;

  • Use awareness to judge (a) whether you feel the other person is self-neglectful and in denial (vs. bad, lazy, careless, disinterested, passionate, distracted, etc.), and whether (b) you need to say something about how that affects you. If you do...

  • Mentally review these basic options until they become a habit.

  • Accept that you cannot change the person's attitude, denial, or distortion with reasoning, pleading, or conflict. Use these wisdoms to guide you. You can tell the person how their self-neglect affects you and what you need.

  • Identify how you feel about the person's self neglect. Stay clear on the difference between psychological wounds (the primary problem), the neglect (a secondary problem) and the neglect's symptoms - e.g. stress, worry, extra weight, illness, depression, addiction, exhaustion, etc.

      If you feel indifferent to the neglectful person, or fatalistic, "nothing," analytic (in your head), angry, aggressive, or punitive, suspect that a false self has disabled your true Self. Make reversing that a high priority!

  • When you're clear on what you feel and need from responding, consider options like these:

"(Name), are you open to some personal feedback?"  This is a courtesy. If you get "No," you have another problem to respond to...

 you seem really stressed most of the time, and you don't seem concerned about that."

"When you choose to ignore your health, I feel worried and frustrated."

"I worry that your addicted to work, and are trying to avoid some major pain."

"I care about you, (Name), and I'm really scared I'm going to lose you!"

"(Name) you have symptoms of a false self controlling you, which is putting your health at risk and denying that." That really scares me!  

"I'm frustrated because you're setting a dangerous lifestyle example for your kids."

"Will you to read this article on Grown Wounded Children and discuss it with me?" (This may open the door to discussing the primary problem).

"Will you to read this article on the [wounds + unawareness] cycle and discuss it with me?" (ditto)

      Notice the theme of these sample responses - brevity, honesty, directness, self-reports, vs. blaming, moralizing, or catastrophizing; and adapt it to your style and personality. Again, notice that these responses aim to fill your needs - not to change the other person's attitude or behaviors!

      Expect "resistances" to responses like these - like indignation, denial, excuses, explanations, criticisms, discounts (like "Don't worry, I'm fine."), going silent, changing the subject, hostility, joking, or whining (" just can't help it!"). If you get anything like these, use empathic listening to acknowledge (vs. agree with) it, and restate your response.

      Another option is to use metatalk - i.e. to make a factual observation about the other per-son's communication ("I noticed you just changed the subject / discounted my feelings / wanted to reassure me /  looked away / rolled your eyes / shrugged / said nothing...") Again - expect "resistance" to your meta-comment, and use empathic listening to acknowledge it.

      Think of several people in your life you feel are seriously self-neglectful, and imagine selecting from these communication options with each one. Imagine (a) how each person might react, and (b) how you would feel. If you might feel anxious and/or guilty, review your personal rights!

Bottom line - you don't have to repress, attack, blame, nag, or chide a self-neglectful person - you have many respectful options!


      This is one of a series of brief articles suggesting effective ways to respond to common social behaviors. This article offers (a) perspective on self-respect and self-neglect, and (b) options for responding to a self-neglectful person. The ways are based on...

  • keeping your true Self in charge,

  • maintaining a mutual-respect attitude;

  • clarity on your feelings, needs, and mutual rights; and...

  • fluency in the relationship skills of awareness, metatalk, assertion, and empathic listening.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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