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Feeling Positive and Empowered

Jack_L_for_webWhile it’s challenging to adjust to a disfigurement, you may find that approaching situations with a positive frame of mind can help you feel more empowered. This is because our thoughts and beliefs often determine how we act, and our behavior usually has the greatest impact on other people.1 Hagedoorn M, Molleman E. Facial disfigurement in patients with head and neck cancer: the role of social self-efficacy. Health Psychol. 2006 Sep;25(5):643-647.

Consider your body language. By walking with your head up, making good eye contact, smiling and extending your hand when meeting others, people often react positively and feel at ease.1 Hagedoorn M, Molleman E. Facial disfigurement in patients with head and neck cancer: the role of social self-efficacy. Health Psychol. 2006 Sep;25(5):643-647. Experiencing this reaction from others can reinforce your self-confidence and help you think more positively. Bear in mind that the tone, speed and strength of your voice can convey your level of confidence, so you may want to practice how you handle introductions and other social situations. If you no longer have a voice or your voice is impaired, consider using a tablet or other device to help you communicate more effectively with others. Some people who can only whisper find that a whisper can be very powerful as well. It forces people to stay quiet and listen very carefully to what you have to say. In other words, there are ways to convey self-confidence and positivity, even if you have physical limitations in your ability to communicate.

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Influencing others’ reactions

Your belief in your ability to influence other people’s reactions and openness to you is called social self-efficacy. Social self-efficacy has been shown to improve the success of social interactions and in turn the patient’s sense of emotional well-being.2 Deno M, Tashiro M, Miyashita M, Asakage T, Takahashi K, Saito K, Busujima Y, Mori Y, Saito H, Ichikawa Y. The mediating effects of social support and self-efficacy on the relationship between social distress and emotional distress in head and neck cancer outpatients with facial disfigurement. Psycho-Oncology. 2010 Dec 20. To improve your social self-efficacy skills, try practicing interactions with family and friends with whom you are comfortable. Ask them to give you feedback about how relaxed, positive and self-confident you seem and point out any body language clues that reveal any discomfort or anxiety you may actually be feeling. You could even take a friend along with you to a social gathering to observe you and provide feedback about how you carry yourself and how that affects people’s reactions to you. It can be a fascinating social experiment and a very empowering experience to learn about yourself and others in this way. Even if people react negatively, you can consider their reactions objectively and change your behavior to see if you get more positive reactions the next time.

Adopting a positive attitude may seem like an overly simplistic solution to living with a disfigurement. In addition, it can be extraordinarily difficult to stay positive when others are rude or thoughtless in their reactions to you. Receiving unwanted attention or negative reactions from others may seem unfair and make you want to avoid situations that make you feel anxious. It’s completely understandable to feel this way. But by choosing to avoid challenging situations, you’ll likely only increase your anxiety about them and not allow for the possibility of disproving your fears and increasing your confidence. It is best to confront your new reality and learn to thrive within it rather than avoid or deny situations that make you uncomfortable. The sooner you begin to push yourself out of your comfort zone and rejoin society, the sooner you will find your “new normal” and begin to enjoy life more.3 Callahan C. Facial disfigurement and sense of self in head and neck cancer. Soc Work Health Care. 2004;40(2):73-87. [link to 4.3.2: Handling People’s Reactions]<


References

1 Hagedoorn M, Molleman E. Facial disfigurement in patients with head and neck cancer: the role of social self-efficacy. Health Psychol. 2006 Sep;25(5):643-647.

2 Deno M, Tashiro M, Miyashita M, Asakage T, Takahashi K, Saito K, Busujima Y, Mori Y, Saito H, Ichikawa Y. The mediating effects of social support and self-efficacy on the relationship between social distress and emotional distress in head and neck cancer outpatients with facial disfigurement. Psycho-Oncology. 2010 Dec 20.

3 Callahan C. Facial disfigurement and sense of self in head and neck cancer. Soc Work Health Care. 2004;40(2):73-87.