TAMING THE HOARD
Society’s unrealistic beauty ideals can make feeling free in our own skin seem like an insurmountable challenge. But the key to that freedom lies just below the surface—we need only have the courage to take it.
Is your beauty stash taking over your living space? If you're collection is causing more anxiety than joy, it's time to take a step back and reassess what it really means to you.
What is it like to feel trapped in your own skin? Feelings of isolation, helplessness, depression, frustration, low self-worth, and sometimes even suicidal thoughts, are commonly reported by individuals suffering from chronic skin conditions like cystic acne, eczema, alopecia, seborrheic dermatitis, rosacea, adult acne and psoriasis. According to Harvard Medical School clinical psychologist Dr. Bart Grossbart, our body image constitutes about one quarter to one third of our self-esteem, and self-esteem has a monumental influence on our overall psychological health. So it makes sense that dealing with a skin disorder would take a hit on one’s self-esteem and psychological wellbeing.
There are individuals who end up putting their life on hold until their skin gets better. And if things don’t seem to improve, it only reinforces their feelings of low selfworth. Skin conditions affect people from all walks of life, and can cause them to isolate themselves both physically and emotionally. Making matters worse are family, friends or strangers who highlight their insecurities by making
ignorant or cruel remarks about their appearance. “They (the patients) often create intense feelings of shame and guilt that slowly diminish self-esteem, building a negative emotional snowball that gradually grows until it limits their lives,” inferred Californiabased clinical psychotherapist, Matt Traube. There is a wide variety of skin ailments such as eczema, rosacea and acne that manifest themselves differently on the outside, but the emotional impact and internal anguish are very similar.
THE SNOWBALL EFFECT
The “snowball” thought process often involves individuals looking at themselves and feeling bad about how they look, that there’s something wrong with them, that they’re unlovable, and they may battle with hopelessness of ever having good skin and resentment towards others with seemingly flawless complexions. Such internal turmoil and self-loathing creates a great deal of stress, which aggravates existing skin conditions and triggers flare-ups, which in turn, induces more stress. Thus, a vicious cycle is formed. A contributor on acne.org who suffered from cystic acne shared that she couldn’t even go anywhere without hating herself and her face, and feeling inferior to those around her. Many replied that they felt the same way and some even went out of their way to avoid mirrors, brightly-lit rooms, social situations and having their pictures taken because they hated the way their skin looked.
Acne alone is one of the most common skin concerns, and is frustrating to deal with at any age. However, Traube noted that adults who deal with acne report feeling less secure about their social lives, relationships and careers. In a world where looks matter and people with beautiful skin are placed on a pedestal, these adults feel compelled to base crucial life decisions on how they feel about their acne. The condition of their skin in the morning would dictate the outcome of their entire day. The acne acts as a social barrier that ends up dominating almost every aspect of their lives. Eventually, the issue becomes more than an underlying skin condition—it becomes a deepseated (and totally untrue) belief
Body image constitutes about one quarter to one third of our self-esteem, and selfesteem has a monumental influence on our overall psychological health.
that they themselves are not good enough, and that as long as they have acne, they wouldn’t be able to succeed in life. “Clients often tell me that everything in their lives would be fine if their acne was gone,” said Traube. These feelings of vulnerability and inadequacy trigger a negative inner dialogue that becomes their way of life. An individual with relatively milder symptoms may suffer worse psychologically than others with more severe conditions. “It all depends on an individual’s perception,” Dr. Grossbart explained. “I see patients who suffer from a kind of skin post-traumatic stress disorder – their skin looks better but they don’t feel better. The dermatological scars are gone, but the psychological ones remain.” If left unchecked, feelings of not being good enough become routine thinking patterns, and will eventually take an immense toll on their self-esteem.
BREAKING THE CYCLE A MORE HOLISTIC APPROACH
In all her years of treating hundreds of patients with skin conditions like eczema, acne and psoriasis, Dr. Flor A Mayoral from the American Academy of Dermatology has seen firsthand how stress can exacerbate underlying conditions and trigger unexpected flare-ups. Studies have shown that the activation of our sympathetic nervous system brought about by intense emotions (like stress, anger and fear) can trigger inflammatory pathways in the skin. “Learning how to manage the effects of stress on your skin can help alleviate some of the anxiety and symptoms”, she said. That’s where psychodermatology comes into play. It incorporates both clinical and psychological aspects into an individual’s overall skin treatment plan, by learning how skin responds to internal and external stressors and moderating these responses. Together with medical treatment, therapy can help us understand and devise better emotional coping mechanisms to help managing skin conditions a less stressful endeavour.
BE KIND TO YOURSELF
Cruel and invalidating comments from family members, friends and strangers can hurt an already damaged sense of self-worth. But no one can make you feel inferior without your consent – not even yourself. Focus instead on turning your validation inwards and by practising self-care. Never doubt the validity of your own emotions – what you experience and feel is very real and unique to you. Set aside time just for yourself, indulge in a little pampering skincare ritual, read up on your skin condition and determine ingredients to avoid, or share your stories with people who have had similar skin experiences. Any step taken towards taking care of yourself and strengthening your selfesteem is an act of love and kindness to yourself.
TAKE BACK YOUR POWER
The anxiety and frustration of having to deal with temperamental skin issues that are difficult to manage, let alone understand, can often cause individuals to withdraw into themselves. The cycle of low self-worth and shame can be broken by changing distorted thinking patterns that perpetuated the cycle in the first place. Deep-seated feelings of shame and self-loathing can distort the way we perceive ourselves, and in turn, the way we think the world perceives us. Distorted thinking triggers intense emotional chaos, and when we believe these false thoughts of being ugly and unworthy to be true, they eventually become our reality. By being self-aware and mindful of the way we speak to ourselves, we are taking responsibility for our own thoughts. It’s easier said than done, but although skin conditions are beyond our control at times, knowing that we are in control of how we view and speak to ourselves will give us power over our own self-esteem. It involves unlearning a lot of old cognitive processes and replacing them with new and selfassuring ones. By constantly checking in with yourself daily and applying positive daily affirmations, a healthier self-image will begin to surface.