The "De-selfing" Phenomenon

Published on May 10, 2015

In a group therapy session, a woman was asked what she enjoyed doing. Her name was Maria, who shared: "There is not anything I enjoyed doing. My whole life was taking care of my husband. I wanted to do what he desired. I was always there for him no matter how I felt. I listened for hours on end to his problems. I really lived for him. And now I have no life."

"De-selfing." It's a term coined by author Harriet Lerner in The Dance of Anger, which is eventually adopted as a clinical concept in mental health. It refers to a state of under-functioning or over-functioning because too much of one's self or basic integrity - thoughts, feelings, behaviors, ambitions etc - are compromised or harmed under pressure from a relationship. A common result of "de-selfing" is a host of mental and emotional disorders or symptoms, such as depression, addiction, personality disorder, obsessive compulsion, suicidal ideation, among others.

Maria, based on her story, had a long-standing habit of "de-selfing." She lived through her husband and failed to care for her self. She ignored, neglected, or minimized her own needs in order to be what she misperceived a good wife is. She missed essential self-nurturing that's vital to her own physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. When she suffered a loss from her husband, she found her self empty, having "no life."

If you are like that group therapy member Maria, who had completely replaced her own well-being with that of her husband, taking care of your self must now become a priority for you. It's your way of rebuilding your self-esteem ... your whole life as a matter of fact. You may feel discomfort at first while you're changing this life-damaging "de-selfing" habit, but it should gradually lessen over time.

Treating your self well is not selfish, as you may have been taught or conditioned to believe. Rather it is basic self-respect - a nurturance of life that is so foundational to your total health, well being, and relationships.


Category(s):Relationships & Marriage, Self-Care / Self Compassion, Self-Confidence

Written by:

Dr. Angelo Subida, Psychotherapist

Dr. Angelo Subida is a clinical psychotherapist, author, and speaker. He is author of books "Inner Healing," "Secrets Of Your Self," "Chess and Life," among others, blogs, and articles. He has appeared frequently as an expert on psychotherapy/life recovery issues on national television, radio broadcasts, print media, and webcasts, including GMA 7, TV 5, ABS CBN 2, Q-11, 700 Club, Radyo Veritas, Inquirer Radio, Smart Parenting Magazine, Business Mirror, among others, and has served as resident therapist/counselor for parents and kid-artists in the highly popular ABS-CBN 2 Voice Kids TV singing reality show. Dr. Subida is an eclectic, multidisciplinary therapist and originator of his own revolutionary high-tech, high-touch counseling plus model. His areas of specialization include parent-child therapy, clinical infidelity treatment, relationship/marital counseling, separation/divorce therapy, anger management, depression, addictions, psychotherapy-spirituality integration, and innovative chess therapy. For more of Dr. Subida, you can find him at www.drsubida.com.

Dr. Angelo Subida, Psychotherapist belongs to Dr. Angelo Subida Psychotherapy Clinic in Philippines

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