How to develop self-discipline after childhood emotional neglect

If you have grown up in a dysfunctional home you have been usually emotionally neglected, that means when you were a child your parents or caretakers were not emotionally attuned to you and therefore did not understand and respond adequately to your emotional needs.

This is the case in households where parents

  • don’t have much time and energy for their child due to work or other duties,
  • suffer from some kind of addiction,
  • have mental health issues like depression, narcissism or borderline personality disorder,
  • are overly authoritarian, perfectionist or permissive.

According to author and psychotherapist Jonice Webb children who have been emotionally neglected are often struggling with self-discipline as adults.

The Collins Cobuild English language dictionary from 1987 defines self-discipline as “the ability to control yourself and to make yourself work hard or behave in a particular way without needing anyone else to tell you what to do.“

What are the areas in which a lack of self-discipline shows in adult life?

1. Health

Adults who suffer from a lack of self-discipline are often not getting adequate sleep, because they play on their electronic devices or watch TV until late in the night, they have a tendency to eat junk food because they are too lazy or disorganized to prepare healthy meals, and they live a sedentary lifestyle and don’t exercise much. All of this can lead to obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

2. Cleaning and Organization

Adults who suffer from a lack of self-discipline find it often difficult to keep their apartment clean and tidy, to wash and iron their clothes regularly and to groom themselves, which might result in an unkempt appearance.

3. Personal Finances

Adults who suffer from a lack of self-discipline often spend more than they earn, resulting in debt. They don’t have a budget and make spontaneous purchases. They fail to save adequately and therefore have no emergency fund or retirement savings.

4. Work

Adults who suffer from a lack of self-discipline are frequently late to work, have difficulties meeting deadlines and sometimes get themselves into trouble for using the internet for non-work-related purposes.

5. Higher Education

Adults who suffer from a lack of self-discipline find it difficult to do their homework and to learn for exams.

6. Relationships

Adults who suffer from a lack of self-discipline are often unreliable as friends and unable to select their aquaintances and partners carefully, resulting in toxic relationships.

What is the cure for a lack of self-discipline?

– Jonice Webb believes that adults who have problems with self-discipline, need to re-parent themselves since they were not taught adequate self-discipline skills in their childhood. According to her, they need to rewire their brain and form new habits.

In her book “Running On Empty” she suggests the so-called “Three Things Program”: Every single day, the person concerned must do either three things that she doesn’t want to do (e. g. taking a shower, cleaning the bathroom, filing taxes) or stop herself from doing three things she wants to do but shouldn’t (e. g. spending time on Social Media, eating cookies, calling best friend). To keep a record, these three things need to be written down on a sheet of paper, the „Self-Discipline Change Sheet“.

I have created my own version of this sheet for you to print out:

Three Things Sheet

According to Science, it takes around 66 days of continuous activity to form the neural pathways in your brain to make a new habit stick permanently.

– Another way to win the battle against procrastination and laziness is the establishment of routines in your day to day. The Ladies from HelloMornings have invented a 3-Minute Morning Routine, where you spend at least 1 Minute every morning on each of the following activities:

  • GodTime: Pray Psalm 143:8
  • PlanTime: Review your calendar
  • MoveTime: Drink a glass of water

You can expand these activities to your liking, you might want to add an hour of exercise for example. I personally use this time to swallow all my meds and supplements I need for the day. The 3-Minute Morning Routine is a great basis for a successful start of the day.

Marla Cilley, the founder of the Flylady Community, has helped women since the early days of the internet to conquer chaos in their homes and to establish sustainable routines.

An essential part of the basic Flylady routine is getting fully dressed to shoes every morning, including finished hair (and makeup). Marla is convinced that this will help especially those women who work from home, like stay at home moms or freelancers, to be more productive as though staying in a pyjama or bathrobe all day.

Question: Are you, too, struggling with a lack of self-discipline? What are your methods to overcome it? Please tell me in the comments!

Until next time,

[Photo by Timothy Eberly on]

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