Posted by fxckfeelings on May 4, 2016Share This Post
Maybe it’s an extension of normal perfectionism, but obsessing over perceived physical imperfections is an affliction that sometimes happens to very good people. Unfortunately, doctors have neither been able to find the reason behind nor the cure for these obsessive thoughts, but if you’re one of those unfortunate people, you aren’t totally without hope. Though feelings of ugliness are painful and hard to bear, there are ways to remind yourself that they aren’t the truth, and that your future never need be as ugly as the thoughts in your head.
My concern has to do with feeling ugly. I often feel quite not-OK with how I look, specifically my face, and it causes me unease and unhappiness. I also feel I was very unhealthy and underweight in my late teens (from eating very little and working way too hard at school), and that I could/should look better/like my handsome brother, and often just feel kind of this general malaise and shittiness when it comes to my appearance. I can’t imagine ever even wanting to date somebody given how almost guilty and unhappy my looks make me feel. Every mention of attractiveness and even the sight of a pretty girl quickly triggers a twinge of sadness and a kind of sigh and a drive to ruminate, which I’m finding it hard to deal with now and I’m and worried about coping with it in the future when life gets much harder. Right now I live with my parents and am quite comfortable, but I don’t know how I’m going to function when I’m on my own struggling in the real world. I can’t imagine happily meeting friends for brunch and not getting weighed down by the whole, “I look gross as hell and it’s probably my fault and things might very well suck forever and I might be screwed” train of thought. My goal is to be less affected by my feelings about how I look and have some sense of hope about the future.
We often ask readers to consider whether they’d judge their friends the way they’d judge themselves, especially when they’re depressed and their thoughts are unrelentingly negative, judgmental, and unfair. You may be convinced that your appearance is objectively ugly, but in this case, don’t think about whether you’d judge a friend this way, but whether you’d even judge a stranger as harshly. Odds are, you’ve never seen a random person whom you’d describe with such cruelty, so you have no excuse for coming down so hard on the person in the mirror and punishing him accordingly.
Fortunately, you haven’t allowed your negative thoughts to damage your life or relationships. You describe positive actions and a loving social world—working hard at school, strong family ties and friendships—that are much more important in the long run than what your face looks like. It’s too bad your thoughts about ugliness are so powerful, however, that they make all those more important things feel inconsequential.
While your obsessive thoughts may be very hard to change, particularly if they are utterly irrational and don’t jibe with what other people tell you about your appearance, you can nevertheless try to strengthen your perspective on facial ugliness as compared with what you really respect people for.
After all, your main way of rating other people is not by how they look, and you know that, without superior genes or a skilled surgeon (and a superior bank account), people don’t have much control over their facial symmetry. You probably respect people for what they do in spite of their looks, or don’t assume someone who’s unattractive is useless or evil. The problem isn’t your looks, whatever they are, but the irrational way your thoughts and feelings attack and blame you for ugliness and totally contradict your values or even your observations.
If you share your negative thoughts with positive friends and family or a cognitive therapist, they may help you develop tools for fighting them. They probably can’t make your thoughts about ugliness go away or become less painful, but they can encourage you to root them out of your belief system and use a more positive set of values to fight what they’re saying to you, so they can’t control your actions. Instead of passively listening to the voices, you can argue with them and call them out on their exaggerations, distortions, and general bullshit.
If you’re lucky, medication might reduce the intensity of your negative thoughts. Although antidepressant trials take a long time (each one takes at least a month and has a 50/50 success rate), they sometimes reduce negative thoughts, particularly ones that are obsessive, repetitive, and irrational. The risk of such trials is low and there is a substantial chance they could give you relief. It’s too bad some good people are plagued with negative thoughts about their appearance, but know that you’re not alone and you don’t have to let those thoughts control you.
If you work hard to develop a better-grounded perspective, drawing on close family relationships and possibly treatment, you can maintain control of your life, learn to appreciate your inner beauty over the ugly voice of your inner mind, and be the friend to yourself that you deserve.
“I may not be able to stop feeling that I hate my face, but I can learn how to live with that hate without letting it affect the way I value my actions or the way I live my life.”
More advice from Dr. Lastname