Living with a medical disfigurement can be extremely challenging. It intrudes on all aspects of the affected person’s life, including their willingness to work, socialize, or start a family.
As someone who is close to that person, it’s not always clear what you should do. Relatively few people go through similar circumstances, and there isn’t a great deal of help on the internet.
Many people claim that disfigurements are “purely cosmetic.” Doctors and other medical professionals may even use that sort of language. But these approaches are unhelpful. Anyone living with a disfigurement knows it has tremendous implications for the rest of their lives.
What Is A Medical Disfigurement?
A medical disfigurement is any condition that affects the appearance of a person’s body or face, such as burns, scars, birthmarks, amputations, or facial paralysis. These conditions can have a huge impact on a person’s self-esteem, mental health, and social relationships. In some cases, they may also cause physical discomfort, though this is rarer.
How To Help A Loved One Living With Medical Disfigurements
If you have a loved one who is living with a medical disfigurement, you might wonder how you can support them and make them feel loved and accepted.
Fortunately, this post is here to help. We share our insights learned from experience from people who’ve been through similarly challenging situations.
Listen To Their Feelings First Before Acting
The first thing to do is take a step back and listen to your loved one’s feelings. Avoid the temptation to fix their problems like Gordon Ramsey in Kitchen Nightmares, or tell them how they should feel. Just be there for them as much as you can and let them express their emotions without judgment or criticism.
Sometimes, it can be hard to overcome your intrinsic desire to help. You want to assist the other person and make them feel better about their situation. However, that approach doesn’t usually work and can put more pressure on them.
These situations usually work out best when the affected person has the opportunity to discover the best path forward. Usually, they will want to laugh, vent, rant, or cry. Just let them do what they need to do and offer options to help steer them in the right direction.
Respect Their Choices And Boundaries
When someone you love has a disfigurement, avoid the temptation to pressure them to do things that they are not comfortable with or ready for. For example, don’t force them to show their disfigurement to others if they don’t want to.
Also, don’t make any decisions about their treatment. Let them figure out what they need for themselves.
Moreover, don’t assume that they require advice or help. Some people with disfigurements might be perfectly happy with their situation.
Consult With A Professional
Whenever a person has a medical disfigurement, they should consult with a professional to learn more about it. This approach lets them learn more about their situation and how to manage it.
Cosmetic surgeon Dr. Ewings recommends that patients speak to their doctor about possible solutions to their medical disfigurement. Many operations, procedures, and treatments exist to correct issues entirely.
Celebrate Their Achievements And Strengths
Even if a full cure isn’t possible, it’s still a good idea not to focus on their flaws or limitations. Instead, acknowledge their accomplishments and talents. Point them toward the positive aspects of their life, including their courage and resilience.
If the disfigurement is relatively recent, remind them of all the things that they can do and enjoy. Work with them to find hobbies and activities that make them happy and fulfilled.
Include Them In Your Social Circle
Another great way to help people with medical disfigurements is to include them in your social circle. Many people with disfigurements can self-exclude from social gatherings because they worry about how they appear.
Introduce them to new people and places. Get them used to presenting themselves to acquaintances and friends. If someone says something they don’t like, support them afterward and help them get through it.
Don’t let others bully or discriminate against them. Fight their corner for them.
Be Yourself And Have Fun With Them
It’s easy to treat someone with medical disfigurement differently from everyone else. However, it’s a bad idea to pity them or feel awkward around them. Internally, most people with medical disfigurements are identical to those without. Their physical bodies are a different shape, but they have the same emotions as anyone else.
Also, be honest, respectful, and kind. Share your own feelings and experiences with them. Make jokes, play games, watch movies, or do whatever you both enjoy doing together. It should be a normal, healthy relationship.
Because physical disfigurements can also affect a person’s mental well-being, counseling may also help. Therapists can assist people living with medical disfigurements by helping them manage any negative emotions and relate to the experience more healthily.
Many therapists focus on feelings of shame or disgust that individuals may have. These approaches can help reduce the negative emotion associated with a feeling and bring it to the fore.
Educate Yourself And Others About Your Loved One’s Condition
Finally, some people will be ignorant about your loved one’s condition. They may not understand what’s wrong with them or how they wound up with their disfigurement. Often, there is considerable stigma around the subject that prevents people from understanding it fully or reacting to it sensitively.
Therefore, if you are caring for someone with a disfigurement, it can help to learn as much as you can about it. Don’t believe the myths or stereotypes that you might hear on the internet. Also, stick up for the person if you notice others teasing them or being rude. Explain why they have a disfigurement and how it can happen.
In summary, helping someone struggling with a disfigurement is something anyone can do. Strangely, it often requires taking a back seat and allowing the affected individual to work out a plan that’s best for them. Immediately jumping into treatment or intense conversations might not be the best strategy.