Developing Self: Acknowledging Physical Sabotage


By: Simone Napier

Do you physically abuse yourself?

What does it mean to physically abuse oneself?

What can be done to stop these damaging habits and patterns?


We’re on the last leg of this sabotage mini-series, I will be focusing on physical abuse and sabotage, the many ways we can hurt ourselves, our bodies. Abuse, as we know is to mistreat and harm ourselves in some way, and to sabotage, which can also mean to abuse in this sense. I have identified three major behaviors that we can do this, which I breakdown into further sub-topics to explore. They are:

  • Neglecting the needs of the physical body– sleep & rest, eat and personal hygiene and grooming
  • Over-Indulgence– overeating, in body image practices (over-exercising, and excessive body modification), substance abuse; drugs and alcohol
  • Self- Inflicted Punishment– cutting, burning, punching, slapping, etc.


After identifying these behaviors and their effects, in the next article, or part two of this episode, I will be covering the ways that we can reverse these destructive habits and patterns.  

Let’s take a look at neglecting sleep and rest, and the reasons why we do it.

To neglect one something is to not properly take care of something. Pertaining to sleep, you are failing to respond to your body’s need for sleep. There are are a few reasons why we would neglect this need.

The first reason, is that we are too busy, we are working too hard (long periods of time, shifts, burdened with tasks). We say “I need to do this..” or “This has to be done before…”, we are trying to complete/accomplish a heavy workload, in a short period of time. When our minds are busy/stressed/anxious, it is very hard to think of or settle to sleep.

The second reason, we may neglect sleep, is some of us grew up in an environment, and/or cultural upbringing that taught us that we do not deserve to sleep and rest. Specifically it may be something that was indoctrinated within us about gender roles (religious beliefs, ideals, culture).

The third reason we neglect sleep,(which may sound strange) is we are disturbed, agitated and/or worried. You would think that if you felt this way you would want to sleep, but that is not always the case. I will explain why that is. When we settle to sleep we are with ourselves; our thoughts, emotions, we reflect on the day, memories resurface, and many times it is about things we don’t want to think about. So what we do is, distract ourselves with t.v., social media, video games, texting, until we are too exhausted to stay up any longer, and fall asleep. It works in a way that we distract ourselves from uncomfortable thoughts, but we loose alot of sleep in the process.

So why is it so damaging to neglect our need for sleep? The body cannot function at its optimum when it’s tired. Sleep revitalizes, renews, and repairs the body, when it is deprives of such, it is harder to fight infections (become sick), does not recover as readily, has lower energy (slow, less efficient, clumsy). Sleep helps with renewing the mind (cognitive ability, sharpened thoughts); emotional wellness ( more balanced, a positive outlook, happier, calm). When deprived of sleep, we tend to be more sluggish, unfocused, unbalanced (emotionally), off-kilter, irritable/miserable, and causes depression (over time). When you choose to ignore your need for sleep , you are sabotaging the quality of life significantly, as it is essential and important to your overall well-being and life.

Neglecting the need to eat/under eating is another way that we can abuse without noticing. The degrees of this behavior can vary from subtle to extreme cases; like  occasionally skipping a meal or consuming less than needed at meal time (casual dieting), to outright starvation of a mental disorder called Anorexia Nervosa (which calls for professional help).

There are a couple reasons someone may ignore this need for food.

The first reason is our state of busy-ness. We are too busy. Our schedules are too hectic so food is the last thing to enter our minds. We of course, do not even realize we’re doing this, we are not mindful, or present in ourselves to even know what it needs, when it needs it. If  you are too busy to eat adequately, or to respond to your body’s need for sustenance, it is not healthy, and needs to be re-analyzed.

The next reason, as you may have guessed, is more intentional, for aesthetic purposes. What I mean by this is to use dieting (periodical fasting) or starving to “benefit” your outward appearance/looks with ideas of perceived desirability. You may want to achieve a certain body type/weight, having the belief that it is the only way to be more attractive, and thus feeling better about the self.

Why is it so damaging to be deprived of food? The body relies on food for the necessary nutrients; minerals, vitamins, sugars and fats to keep it functioning, alive. Food is our fuel; not only for our physical selves, but for our mental and emotional selves as well. When we are under eating/neglecting the need for food, we become malnourished, which means the body has a deficit in nutrients. This then creates problems (depending how severe the case is) in the body effectiveness to repair, replenish, revitalize itself, which can turn into more serious problem of sicknesses, weakened immune system, dehydration, hypoglycemia, etc. Also like sleep, food maintains a more balanced mood, clarity/sharpness of mind (mental and emotional wellness).When we are lacking is certain nutrients, it lowers our ability to tolerate/deal with stressful circumstances; making clear decisions/choices (fogginess and confusion), thus creating more anxiety and stress. If under eating has become a habit, over a long period of time, it causes depression. To sabotage yourself of what body and mind so desperately needs, you then consequently experience health problems that could have been avoided, and forfeiting a chance of living a healthy happy life.


Although this may not be a popular subject, to neglect personal hygiene and grooming is another way we can sabotage ourselves. To groom one’s self is to give ourselves a presentable, neat appearance (combed hair, neat, clean wrinkle-free clothes, overall clean appearance). To practice good hygiene (cleaning and sanitizing body, hair, nails, skin) it encompasses good grooming as well. To properly groom and practice good hygiene has a great bearing (also a reflection) on how you see yourself,  you have better self-esteem, mental and emotional wellness, and people perceive you in a higher light. To neglect good hygiene practices and habits, taking the appropriate bath and shower; cleaning  your skin, hair, nails, teeth, over time it can have a negative effects on your health, sometimes serious repercussions.

For example, if you neglect good oral hygiene, it can result in cavities, gingivitis, and plaque (bad breath, who wants that?), and if it left unchanged, it can result in further serious issues, like heart problems (attack or disease), respiratory infections, dementia etc. Do not overlook something as “small” as brushing ( and flossing) teeth, as you are seriously sabotaging your health by avoiding the responsibility of personal hygiene.

Another example like neglecting the care of your hair, can result in lice, fungal and even parasitic infection, hair loss, and can of course worsen over time if unchanged. Let’s put it his way, with bad hygienic habits, there will always be an overgrowth of micro organisms, of bacteria, viruses, parasites, which can overwhelm the body in excess and cause significant risk to health.

Why is it so damaging to not practice good personal hygiene and grooming? Poor hygiene does not have a good affect on social life/interactions, relationships (family and friends) because it is off-putting. To many (if not all), find it is unattractive to have or see an unkempt, un-groomed, unhygienic appearance(also a foul odor, sickness from these habits). Overtime,  social isolation happens as a result of neglecting self care, which then deepens low self-esteem, and then depression. As I stated above, it has serious health consequences as well.


The next section of this discussion, the next major self sabotaging/abusing behavior is Over Indulgence. I broke them into further sub categories which are:

  • Over eating
  • Over indulging in self image practices-exercising and body modification
  • Substance abuse- alcohol and drugs


Let’s look at Over eating, and how identify when when we are abusing ourselves with this behavior.

To over indulge in anything, to do something in excess, and in this case it is negatively impacts our physically bodies/health. Anything that is done in excess is damaging and unhealthy.

With this said, to over eat, is to eat more than is needed, more than you should. This can manifest in bingeing (snacks, favorite foods), eating large portions at meal time, eating when full/satisfied (ignoring body’s signals). The reason why people over eat is to numb pain and other difficult emotions, by “stuffing it down” with food, avoiding to deal with it altogether. This can become an addiction if the habit perpetuates and is frequent and prolonged.

Why is it so damaging to overindulge in food? Naturally we eat to sustain ourselves, to maintain bodily functions. It is fuel, for the car that is our body. When this function is abused it creates obesity, other health problems; high blood pressure/sugar, diabetes, heart attack, etc. It can significantly reduce your quality of life when your health declines.

Over exercising  is a strange indulgence, as exercising is known as a healthy and good activity that we can participate in. Of course, exercising is a healthy and necessary in practicing good health and emotional wellness. For someone to engage in extreme, frequent and strenuous workouts, they are putting themselves at a health risk, and  it tells of obsession with the body image (low self esteem, inadequacy). While this is true in most cases, sometimes exercising is an outlet for stress and anxiety that can be taken too far.

Why is it so damaging? When exercising is done in excess it becomes dangerous, unhealthy, as the body wears down, it’s functions become unbalanced, and hyper. During a workout, the body releases cortisol (a stress hormone), with constant exercise, too much of this hormone is released, resulting in breakdown of bodily tissues, weakened immune system (undernourishment of body), heart problems (heart attack).

Body modification, is to alter or modify the body through artificial means, in an unhealthy and excessive way. What I mean is to possibly  have procedures done (plastic surgery); put foreign objects in the body (implants and injections), use dangerous chemicals or substances in or on the body to alter the appearance of the body (pills, bleaching, artificial tanning), anything that interferes or goes against the natural rhythm of the body, of it’s natural functioning.

Why is so damaging to engage in unnatural and excessive body modification? While you may be able to get away with engaging in various practices and procedures once or twice, the more you do it, the more you are putting yourself at a health risk. This is not to say that you cannot experience an adverse effect to your health the first time (especially with the use of artificial and dangerous substances), it does happen, not everyone is that lucky.


Substance Abuse, with use of alcohol and drugs, they are a very damaging and sabotaging practice, which I will now explore.

 Alcohol, I pretty sure we know what that is. While it is ok to consume this fermented drink for relaxation in social gatherings once in awhile, it is unhealthy to be consumed in large amounts, frequently. Sometimes it is used as an escape from reality; the issues, pain, and stress, of life; and  for those who use it in this manner frequently, it can become a habit, and/or can turn into a full-blown addiction,(alcoholism), which needs to be treated by a professional.

Why is so damaging to over indulge in alcohol? Alcohol is considered to be poison to the body, so you can be sure it is dangerous in large amounts. It kills brains cells, cause liver  damage, weakens immune system, etc. Also, when we in a state of inebriation, we don’t have much control over choices/decisions, behaviors; life cannot be conducted from a clear, and concise perspective. If you are always under the influence of alcohol, how many good, wise, decisions do you think you are making?

Drugs, are taken for the same reason one take an alcoholic drink; to relax, to escape from reality, “take the pressure off”. The kind of drugs I am specifying are recreational drugs, which are almost always illegal, full of harmful chemicals. Although this is not to say that that prescription drugs cannot be abused for the same reason. A lot of these drugs, still contain harmful chemicals that do negatively effect the body overtime.

Why are indulging in drugs so damaging? Serious health problems like liver/kidney damage,heart attack, lung diseases, cancers, etc. And death is the ultimate risk of all. Depending what drugs are being used, it can effect different parts of the body uniquely. Also aside from the physical consequences, consuming recreational drugs (that are illegal), if caught can be disadvantageous and cause legal issues, not to mention, you can end up in jail for usage and possession of drugs. You’re relationships, and life in general may be negatively affected.

And for the last behavior, that is  ultimate physically abuse/sabotage the self,  is Self-inflicted punishment. Well this pretty much self-explanatory. This can be cutting, burning, punching, slapping, piercing, stabbing, etc themselves as punishment. Anything that is done in a very direct, aggressive, and violent manner. I don’t need to explain how this is damaging, as it can cause serious harm and injury, and even death.

Read part 2 of this article, Developing Self: Healing Physical Sabotage of how to reverse these damaging habits and patterns