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Whether you were born with a visible difference or disfigurement, have had it from early life or acquired it later in life, you may experience feelings of loss – particularly loss of identity – related to your appearance.
On this page, we explore why we feel loss and how you can manage these feelings.
We experience feelings of loss when something important and valuable disappears from our lives. Loss comes in many forms. You could experience the death of someone close, the end of a close relationship, or lose something you value, like your job or your home. Having or acquiring a visible difference or disfigurement can also lead to a sense of loss.
Loss is closely connected to grief, and many people go through the five stages of grief when they experience a loss of any kind. Although it cannot take the sadness of loss away, it can help to understand these “stages” and how they can affect you.
- Denial: “This isn’t happening to me”.
- Anger: “Why is this happening to me?” – resentment, looking for blame or fault.
- Bargaining: “If I do everything I can, the condition will improve / go away”.
- Depression: “I can’t cope with my life like this”.
- Acceptance: “This is me now”.
Although these feelings are referred to as “stages”, the reality is that people can experience one or more of these feelings at different times and may go back and forth between them.
If you have a visible difference, it is common to experience a sense of loss connected to your looks and body image. You may experience a feeling of loss of identity. Although it may seem less obvious to you or others, it is valid and normal to feel this way. There are many studies exploring the feelings of loss experienced by people with a visible difference or disfigurement.
Your experience of this might vary, depending on whether you have had your visible difference from birth or childhood, or acquired it later in life.
You can feel a sense of loss if you were born with a visible difference or disfigurement, or acquired it in early life. This is likely to be a loss of how you imagine life might have been if you didn’t look different to others.
Some people feel that their lives would have been easier, more successful or happier if they didn’t have a visible difference. You may find yourself blaming your condition, mark or scar for things that go wrong in your life or which you are unhappy about. You may feel this more intensely in periods of change or difficulty.
If you acquire your visible difference or disfigurement later in life, this can shake your internal body image and you may experience a strong loss of identity. This can have a big impact on your health, affect your feelings of femininity or masculinity and make you feel as if you have lost control over your life, your relationships or your work.
You may also be dealing with the loss of function in parts of your body and may not be able to do things you used to do. You could also be dealing with the trauma of an accident or of surgery. It is common for people to be shocked by their new image when they see themselves for the first time, and for some time after.