I recall the story of a teenage girl who suffered terribly because of the ramifications associated with her physical identity. She described her disfigurement (a missing facial feature since birth) as a whole in the middle of her face. All social settings were places of extreme emotional discomfort. What made her feel so out-of-place she felt, was being around people who were unprepared to cope with her appearance. As a result of her hypersensitivity to the reactions of others, her awareness of their nervousness for many years was very deep and psychologically scarring. For instance, when someone was anxious upon meeting her for the first time, she detected it right away, in their tone and in their mannerisms. She would pick up on these countless clues which made it nearly impossible to be herself in any given social situation.
Since this adolescent had congenital disfigurement and, no knowledge of what it was to get around without being the center of everyone’s attention, over the years, she has found ways to endure the stares and questions that are constantly being directed at her. One of the things she says she does is to remind herself constantly that anyone can be the victim of a social stigma for many other reasons other than disfigurement.
Someone who suffers from inferiority because they do not fit in, for example; feels unsure about whether or not they will be accepted, and, almost certainly, thinks they will be rebuffed or avoided socially because of their self-consciousness regardless, of how they present themselves physically. Persons who perceive that others are judging them, or ridiculing them, feel emotionally naked and vulnerable when in the company of others despite the normality of their appearance. They find it nearly impossible to make direct eye contact because they are practically convinced that they are totally inferior due to their poor self-concept.
People with life long disfigurements know that when they go out in public what they most likely will have to face, and, in some cases, confront, observer’s reactions. Even though the young girl who I previously mentioned, came into this world without a nose, she has learned the “wiseness” that has come from so many similar encounters. She knows there are a variety of people who she will be surrounded by and some will be more curious than compassionate. She uses her intuitiveness like a compass. It helps her to detect and deflect the negative reactions of others that would otherwise impair her socially. This is not to say, that she rises above the taunts and the teasing from kids who view her physical identity as odd. She still has to tolerate some of their bullying at school. There is no doubt that her public life is also filled with an uneasiness associated with the lack of full acceptance, but this young lady has come to expect people to be somewhat shocked when they first glance at her. She is less affected by her appearance than someone who is unprepared for the social stigma encountered after their image has been unexpectedly altered by an accident or by a disease.
All persons who sustain changes in their appearance very quickly learn that imperfections invite rude behaviors and are the basis for serious social violations. Disfigurements interfere with the harmonious flow of social interaction until the person with the imperfection is perceived as a normal by the characteristics of their pleasing personality and by their confident actions, which can, in some situations, override the obvious – that they are disfigured. If the individual has finely tuned social skills and uses them to his or her advantage, it is possible to interface with others and not be chastised for differences in his or her appearance.
Copyright©2010 All right reserved – Victoria L. Rayner
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