by May Bleeker, 3 September 2009. Updated January 2020.
When bad things happen that hurt you physically, the focus of healing is first on getting your body back to health. Of course, this is the right focus.
But when accidents or surgery change the way you look, the effect on your emotions, thinking, and self esteem can linger long after the physical wounds have healed.
Your entire life changes in ways that other people (even the people who know you well) find difficult to understand. Very painful feelings can stop you from doing things you would have done before, or keep you from living your life fully and exploring your potential.
When doctors and specialists have finished saving your life and patching you up they send you home, knowing that they have done their job. And we are very grateful for their contribution.
The emotional healing comes afterwards. But even with help, a large part of the emotional healing you will have to do on your own, over the course of your life. It takes time.
Having people that understand and resources to hand can make a tremendous difference.
It took me years to deal with my own issues because most of my scars can be hidden under clothes. While this was helpful in one way, in another, trying to 'stay safe' kept me trapped in old emotional and behavioural patterns.
It was only when I found someone who really understood how this all works and who gave me crucial information about what I could do to change things, that I began to move on and grow out of old restrictions.
She told me that sharing even simple pieces of information on how to deal with these kinds of situations can make a difference to your confidence and self esteem. I found this to be true. Profound changes came about for me after she shared simple research and other information with me.
She also told me that 'going public' with my scars (i.e. to stop hiding them away) would be a necessary part of the healing process. Without this knowledge, I never would have taken the difficult, but necessary steps in that direction. The person who was so helpful to me, went on to develop a very useful tool which I've linked below.
An organisation called Changing Faces has an online support forum for people affected by visible difference. It is a peer support network made up of people who understand what it is like to be affected by these kinds of challenges. If you are over 16 yrs old you can join. Parents, families and friends can also join.
Changing Face also have an online programme for adults in the UK. This is a support tool that you can access from your own home.
If you have been affected or know of someone who's self esteem is affected by visible difference, I hope these resources will be useful.