Managing feelings of loss

If you are experiencing feelings of loss around your visible difference, the first thing to remember is that these feelings are normal, important and completely valid. It can take time to adjust to a condition, mark or scar which affects your appearance. Your feelings of loss might be because of changes in the way you look or feel, or because of changes in the things you can do, or all of these things.

You might not experience feelings of loss straight away. This may be because you are too young or not yet aware. Or you might be dealing with medical treatments and coming to terms with what has happened to you. It can be later on that you start to experience feelings of loss.

You might be familiar with, or have heard people talk about the ‘stages’ of grief. Some people find it useful to think of their visible difference as a loss in these terms – and feel that they need to face the stages of grief and move through them. Although it cannot take the sadness of loss away, it can help to understand these ‘stages’ and how they can affect you.

The five stages of grief

“This isn’t happening to me”

“Why is this happening to me” – resentment, looking for blame or fault

“If I do everything I can will the condition improve/ go away”

“I can’t cope with my life like this”

“This is me now”

Although these are often 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.

It is important to look after yourself and to be kind to yourself. If you feel shocked or angry or depressed, it is ok to feel this way – these feelings are understandable. Give yourself time and, if you feel like it, you may find it helps to talk to someone you trust. If you are having treatments or surgery, it may take longer to feel better emotionally. This is because treatments might feel difficult or painful, or you might not know what things will be like for you moving forward yet or things might keep changing. For example, for people recovering from burn injury, appearance can change over time, as can functioning of the body. Or if you have a genetic condition you might have surgery and this might change your appearance, meaning you have to adjust to this change. Scar tissue can take time to heal and may go through several stages. If you have experienced a serious illness, it can take time to adjust to your feelings about this.

You might find it hard to believe that you will ever feel okay about your looks or yourself, but as grief progresses, most people slowly adjust and accept what has happened. It is important to remember that acceptance does not mean you have to be happy about what has happened to you, or your visible difference – acceptance is an understanding that this is the way things are and about building a life for yourself taking this into account. This might mean accepting that you might not be able to play sports if you have difficulty with movement – but you might start to look at other hobbies and interests. You don’t have to be happy that you gave up sports – this might feel very difficult and sad, but, exploring a new hobby or interest can be exciting and fulfilling.

How to get further help

Dealing with feelings of loss because of your visible difference can be very difficult and you may understandably struggle at times. Do not feel you are alone. It can help to talk to someone trained to listen and who can help you to explore and think about your feelings, and how you might cope. You may like to contact your GP or speak to us at Changing Faces.

If you have difficulties sleeping, repeated flashbacks, struggle to concentrate and perhaps feel especially sensitive, it is important to speak to your GP and they can refer you to someone who can talk to you about this and help you find ways of managing these difficulties.

Feelings of loss and identity


Practicing self-care


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