Positive-thinking techniques for people with a visible difference

We share two positive-thinking techniques to help you identify positive qualities and manage negative thoughts.

Sometimes, living with visible difference or disfigurement can lead to low confidence and self-esteem. When we are feeling low in confidence, it is easy to dwell on negative thoughts or focus on our weaknesses.

Positive-thinking techniques can be a simple way to control negative thoughts and focus on the good things.

On this page, we explore the value of positive-thinking and how it works – and introduce two techniques to help you:

  • Identify your positive qualities.
  • Manage negative thoughts.

Why we need positive-thinking techniques

How we think, feel and act is influenced by the world around us. When we are born, we are like a blank canvas and we learn who we are by how people respond to us. If people respond positively, we might think we are a good person, and if people respond negatively, we might think we are a bad person.

If you live with a mark, scar or condition which affects your appearance, you may have faced many tough challenges. If you have experienced a lot of negativity, you might start to feel like bad things will always happen to you. Positive-thinking techniques can help you overcome the expectation that things will always be bad.

How positive-thinking works

You might have heard about the power of positive thinking. Maybe your response was, “Easier said than done” or, “So many bad things have happened to me, how can I possibly be positive?” But actually, positive thinking isn’t about flicking a switch.

Positive thinking is about recognising negative thoughts and approaching them in a more balanced way which takes into account the good things that have happened as well. That might sound tricky, so we have pulled together two techniques which will help you approach your thoughts in a systematic way.

Recognising positive qualities and achievements

In the first of our positive-thinking techniques, we want you to take some time to think about the things you like about yourself. This may seem alien to you, but we want you to recognise the “whole you”, not just the parts you don’t like. For example, you may have overcome physical and mental challenges relating to your visible difference and this brings its own strength and achievements.

“I have found remaining positive challenging at times but can honestly say it is the best path to take. My disfigurement has made me feel inferior, unloved, inadequate at times and it is difficult to replace these feelings with positive ones, particularly if you’ve had negative experiences. Over the years I have also learnt that my disfigurement is a small physical part of me so I make sure that when I go out I take care with the rest of my appearance. I make sure my hair looks nice, that my clothes are presentable and I wear accessories. I find a pretty scarf or a chunky necklace distracts attention from my face”.

Alison

Exercise #1: Identify your positive qualities

For the first step of this positive-thinking technique, think about your positive qualities and list at least five of them. Then reaffirm each of these qualities by writing down examples of your positive quality “in action”.

For instance, you may write down, “I am kind”. To demonstrate this, you could say, “Last week, I listened to a friend who was having a difficult time”. Or, “I am good at my job – I recently wrote an important document on time, which was well received”.

Often, we find it challenging to be positive about ourselves, but others will come up with things straight away. If you find this task difficult, ask a friend or family member what they think. You don’t have to think of everything at once. Keep adding to it as you think of things.

Exercise #2: Identify your achievements

What have you done that you have been really pleased with? Focus on your personal achievements – these can be anything, such as:

  • I volunteered for a good cause.
  • I have eaten healthily this week.
  • I have stuck to my exercise plan this week.
  • I met my deadline at work even though I was tired.
  • I went to the supermarket even though I felt anxious about going.
  • I helped my kids with their homework even though I wasn’t feeling my best.

Again, you might want to ask others what they think you have achieved. You can come back to this list and keep adding to it.

Revisit these lists so you can focus on your positive personal qualities and achievements. You could even put some of them on post-it notes and stick them up around the house so you are reminded that you are so much more than those nagging negative thoughts!

A young woman with psoriasis against a pale background

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Managing negative thoughts

The thing about negative thoughts is that they are just that – thoughts, not facts. Although they can sometimes take over, thinking something does not actually make it true. Our thoughts and feelings and the way we act or behave are all closely linked together.

Here are some examples that might be familiar to you as someone living with a visible difference:

  • If you are preoccupied by thoughts of someone having been unkind to you because of your visible difference, you might feel upset and not go out in public.
  • If you are worrying about how you look, you may feel very anxious – and avoid seeing your friends or going to work.
  • Having negative thoughts about your visible difference might make you feel angry and upset – and you may become irritable and less approachable.

The second of our positive-thinking techniques is designed to help you control your negative thoughts.

Where do our thoughts come from?

Our thoughts are often based on past experiences and how we feel about ourselves. This means they can be very biased. When we look at building confidence, it is helpful to try to leave these biases behind and try to see yourself as a blank canvas – not to judge yourself in terms of the negative things that have happened before, or the negative thoughts you have about yourself.

My whole life was turned upside down after my accident. To have my appearance altered so dramatically by burns made me realise that there is no ‘perfect’ way to look. A scar is just as beautiful as any other part; it is the confidence with which you wear your scars that shows your beauty.

Catrin

This technique is made up of two exercises to help with your negative thoughts:

Exercise #1: I am not my thoughts

Being aware of your unhelpful thoughts can help you to see them for what they are – negative, automatic and just thoughts, not facts! Once you can do this, the thoughts may become less powerful and have less influence over you.

As negative thoughts come into your mind, acknowledge them as thoughts. To help you feel even stronger and more confident, try coming up with a more balanced thought instead. For example, you may think:

  • “I am worried about what people think about me”. Try to replace this with something like, “People are interested in me for who I am” or, “People are happy to have me in their lives.”
  • “I can’t do this”. Try reminding yourself of specific things you have coped with in the past and tell yourself, “I am strong. I can do this”.
  • “People will stare at me”. Respond with, “People who stare may be curious and that’s OK. I’m sometimes curious too. It doesn’t mean they are thinking bad thoughts about me.”

It will take practice, but try to get into the habit of replacing a negative thought with a more balanced one. Start by reflecting on the day and where you could have done this, then try it in the moment. Eventually, it will become easier and more natural to do this.

The more you practise this positive-thinking technique, the more you will anchor your thoughts in the here and now, instead of letting your thoughts run away with you.

Exercise #2: What would I say to a friend?

We tend to be critical of ourselves and are often better at being kind to others. Imagine what you would say to a friend who was having the same negative thoughts.

How would you respond if your friend said…?

  • “I can’t seem to do anything right”. You would say something like, “You do lots of things right, it’s just hard to see that right now because you are feeling down”.
  • “I don’t want to go to the restaurant for this birthday dinner – I’m worried people will stare”. You would say something like, “You can handle this – you’ve dealt with it many times before. Your friends really want you to be there. Please come – it will be fun and we will support you.”

We hope you found these positive-thinking techniques useful. If you did, try exploring some of our other self-help tools for those living with a visible difference.

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