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Meeting new people when you have visible difference

We explore why meeting new people can be challenging if you have a visible difference and what you can do to make it easier.

Most of us feel nervous when we meet people we don’t know. If you have a visible difference or disfigurement, you may feel more anxious, defensive or embarrassed when meeting new people.

On this page, we explore why meeting someone for the first time can be challenging when you have a visible difference, and how you can make it easier.

Meeting people when you have a visible difference

When we meet someone for the first time, most of us feel pressure to make a good impression. This is particularly the case if we are meeting that person in a professional context such as a business meeting or interview, or if we will have to work together in future.

If you have a visible difference or disfigurement, meeting someone for the first time can be particularly challenging. You may experience feelings of anxiety, awkwardness or embarrassment about your condition, mark or scar. You may wonder what thoughts the other person is having about you.

If you have experienced unwanted attention or negative reactions in the past, you may assume that people will behave negatively towards you before you have even met them. You may feel awkward or shy and try to cover this up by talking too much or being inappropriately humorous.

Understanding how you both feel

Trying to understand what is happening for both of you when you meet someone for the first time can help. This is because you can get a sense of what is going through their head and how that might be similar to what you are feeling.

At Changing Faces, we use the acronym “SCARED” to describe what might take place when two people first meet. It shows the range of feelings both people might have – and how this could make them act – creating a very difficult and uneasy situation for both people to handle.

Let’s start with the other person:

If they feelThey might behave in this way
Sorry / ShockedStaring / Speechless
Curious / ConfusedClumsy
AnxiousAsking / Awkward
RepelledRecoiling / Rude

Maybe you feel something like this:

If you feelYou might
Self-consciousAct shy
Conspicuous (standing out)Cover yourself up
Angry / Anxiousbe Angry / Anxious
Rejected – like people don’t want to know youRetreat – pull away or hide from people
Embarrassedbe Evasive – ignore people
Differentact Defensively – try to protect yourself

What happens next?

As being SCARED can create such a difficult situation, it’s natural to try to avoid each other or turn away from the conversation. As someone with a visible difference or disfigurement, you may find you contend with this over and over again. This can cause other problems. For example, you might:

  • Expect people to behave in ways that make you feel uncomfortable, which can make you even more worried.
  • Avoid meeting new people. This can make you even more nervous when you speak to people you don’t know.
  • Feel angry with the people giving you a hard time and shout or feel upset.
  • Take it out on the people around you, like your family.

What can I do about this?

There are a number of things you can do to make meeting people easier if you are living with a visible difference or disfigurement.

Recognising that the other person may feel SCARED too will help you understand their behaviour better instead of assuming that they are judging or thinking bad thoughts about you.

Here are some approaches you can take to make the interaction easier:

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