Tools to help you cope with other people’s reactions

Comments, questions or staring from others can feel intrusive and be difficult to cope with. Here are two tools to help you handle unwanted attention.

Comments, questions or staring from others can feel intrusive and be difficult to cope with. Having some simple strategies at your fingertips can really help you handle unwanted attention.

On this page, we introduce the explain, reassure, divert and 3-2-1 go tools to help you cope better when people comment, question or stare.

Explain, reassure, divert

You can use the explain, reassure, divert tool to prepare your response to other people’s unwanted attention and also to keep any difficult thoughts or feelings under control. You can use these exercises together or as stand-alone practices.

1. Explain

Explain to the other person that you have a visible difference and why. You can say as much or as little as you wish and this might vary depending on your mood or the situation.

For example:

  • “I see that you noticed my appearance. I have psoriasis and that’s why my skin looks a bit different.”
  • “These scars are because I was in a car accident when I was 21. I don’t like to talk about it much.”
  • “I have noticed you looking at my face – I have a condition called…”

Explain to yourself: This gives you the opportunity to sit back and reflect on the situation and qualify your feelings about it.

For example:

  • “This person is not being deliberately hurtful. Most of the time, people stare because they are curious.”
  • “People often look longer than usual without realising that they are doing this.”
  • “People might stare, double-take or turn away because they are surprised, uncomfortable or unsure how to act.”
  • “People ask questions to try to understand. Even people who make comments may be trying to find a way to deal with the situation, just not in a very sensitive way.”
  • “I feel this way because this has happened many times before, but it is OK – I can handle this.”

2. Reassure

Reassure the other person. Sometimes, people are worried, confused or feel sorry for you. Providing some reassurance can both educate them about visible differences and also help them understand how you might feel.

For example:

  • “I have Treacher Collins, but it doesn’t hurt, I am not in pain. It’s really not a problem for me.”
  • “My hair loss is due to alopecia. It’s fine – I’m happy with how I look and actually prefer not to wear a wig.”
  • “I lost my fingers in an accident five years ago, but it’s fine now. It doesn’t hurt and I’ve adapted to using them in different ways.”

Reassure yourself: It can help to reassure yourself that you are able to manage any difficult situations or feelings.

For example:

  • “It’s upsetting when someone is unkind about how I look, but I know that others don’t feel that way and that I am OK.”
  • “I don’t need approval about my appearance from others.”
  • “Most people are curious and that’s OK. They aren’t trying to be unkind and probably don’t understand how it makes me feel.”
  • “I’ve handled situations like this many times before – and I can handle this one.”

3. Divert

Divert the other person’s attention away from you and your visible difference or from talking about things that you’re not comfortable with. Often, this is best delivered as a short acknowledgement of your condition before moving on to another topic. Questions are often useful in this scenario.

For example:

  • “That’s my psoriasis. Do you like this place? I think the food here is great.”
  • “I’m not that keen on talking about it. Isn’t the weather great today?”
  • “It’s a condition that affects my face. Have you seen that new film…?”
  • “Enough about me. How are your family doing?”

Divert yourself: This involves finding other things to focus your mind on in a difficult situation, as a way of keeping control of your thoughts and feelings.

Here are some ways you can distract yourself:

  • Focus on a question. For example: how many people are wearing glasses in the café you are in? How many days until your birthday? Who do you still need to buy Christmas presents for?
  • Focus on an activity. This could include reading, playing a game on your phone, watching Netflix, listening to music.
  • Recite the lyrics of your favourite song or poem.
  • Think about the qualities of some of the people in your life.
  • Practise saying a positive phrase to yourself. For example, say, “I am great at…” and then list the things you are good at doing.
  • Focus your senses on the things around you, such as the smells, sounds and colours.
A woman smiles as she speaks with a colleague on their tea break

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The 3-2-1 go tool

3-2-1 go is a quick and simple way to help you cope with unwanted attention:

Use the following prompts and write down your answers in a notebook or on your device:

  • Three things to do if someone stares at you.
  • Two things to say if someone asks what happened.
  • One thing to think if someone turns away.

If you’re struggling, here are some example answers.

If someone stares at you:

  • Make eye contact and hold their gaze for a moment.
  • Meet their gaze and briefly raise your eyebrows in a neutral way.
  • Walk away, if possible.

If someone asks what happened (your answer may depend on the tone of the question):

  • Say that you prefer not to discuss it before moving on to a new topic.
  • Give a brief direct answer then change the subject.
  • Provide a full answer, making it clear that questions or further discussion is OK.

If someone turns away (this might depend on the nature of their reaction):

  • Acknowledge that they are the one with the problem: “I can see that my appearance bothers you. I’m sorry about that as I don’t have a problem with it”.
  • Ask them what they find troubling: “Is there something you find difficult about my appearance?”
  • Talk about your condition: for example, “I have a condition called… It can be inconvenient but it doesn’t hurt or cause me discomfort”.

If other people’s reactions affect your self-esteem, you might like to try our positive-thinking techniques or confidence-building tools.

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