abnormal psychology, health, mental disorders, mental health, mental illness, psychology, self-help, women's issues

PTSD and the Habit of Neglecting Our Own Personal Care

People with depression, anxiety and other types of mental illness are usually not in the habit of taking care of themselves. Once you are out of the habit, it is hard to get back into it again.

If you have PTSD from domestic abuse then caring for yourself was likely something that was not “allowed” in the relationship. From my experience, anything I did for myself was a trigger to the abuser to become angry at me.

I would hear “Oh You have time to do take a shower and dry your hair but you have left me to starve to death. You haven’t made me anything to eat all day.” In fact he would say that , even when I had made him an omelette for breakfast and a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch. I was just taking a shower before I made dinner.

Then he would rage at me about all sorts of things I apparently did not do properly. What nerve I had to take 15 minutes to care for myself.

If I went a week without a shower , he would complain that I was dirty and not “keeping myself up for him” So I guess the rule was I could take a shower but only if I told him I was doing it for him.

So then, I would be afraid to take a shower for fear of angering him. I would only take a shower when he was out of the house. Even then I would try to clean up the evidence.
The showers got less and less frequent because the fear of him coming home while I was in the shower and vulnerable (naked) was severe.

The thought of him barging into the bathroom drunk and angry, while I was in the shower was terrifying. It was a risk that I often was not willing to deal with.

Once the behavioral pattern is altered, it is hard to get it back. You go a long time with taking sowers every 2 weeks and you feel strange taking a shower every day. You have to slowly get the routine back. It may take a very long time to feel like taking a shower even every few days.

The best thing is to start with a small change such as adding in one shower a week. Even washing at the sink in between will help get back into taking care of yourself.

Make-up! That was a tuff one. It took me a long time after living in severe mental abuse situations to be able to wear make-up and fix my hair in anything other than a ponytail.

If I put make-up on to go to work, he would call me a slut and ask me who I was sleeping with at work. This was completely irrational since he knew I worked with elderly people and almost all of the health care workers were female.

he would get very angry if I put on make-up and brushed my hair. I asked him one time why he did not want me to look my best. I asked him, “don’t you like when I get prettied up for you?”

His response was “NO. I want you to look plain. I can tolerate you plain and that way no other guys will look at you.”

It was so crushing to my self esteem that I was basically required to look “plain” going out of the house and even in the house. I was conditioned to feel like a plain or ugly girl that did not deserve to feel pretty.

After I left that situation, it took me a long time to begin to wear make-up and fix my hair nicely. I felt self conscious the first few times I wore make-up out of the house.

Years before that, I wore make-up and fixed my hair all the time. The behavioral pattern of doing that and the mental / emotional association I had with wearing the male-up were very uncomfortable.

So, we can slowly begin to take care of our appearance and this will improve our self-esteem. I remember the first time I got a nice hair cut. I had not done that in a few years. I felt so good about it.

I felt how my hair had that bounce to it. it styled and brushed easier. i felt more like a “normal” girl again. The elevation of self-esteem from a hair cut was amazing. Then I bought nail polish and painted my nails. It felt so good to be allowed to be pretty again.

Taking care of ourselves is critical to our self esteem. it helps to get over the trauma of the past. Maybe not fully, but it helps for us to be able to move on.

So long as we stay in the same patterns of not caring for ourselves, we don’t move our thought processes forward. We have the right to be a person. We have just as much of a right to basic care than anyone else does.

Once we begin to change to healthier behavioral patterns then we can begin to heal.

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