Making the decision to undergo a procedure to alter your physical appearance is not to be taken lightly. The financial cost, physically discomfort or pain, health risks (i.e. infections, mortality), and complications (i.e. unforeseen necessary further operations) are some of the reasons why you should think very carefully before having cosmetic surgery. When considering going under the knife, we often think about the concerns highlighted by cosmetic surgeons, beauty experts, and television shows on cosmetic surgery. However the psychological and emotional impact that results from the intentional alteration of one’s appearance is often overlooked. Here we examine the possible negative psychological impact of cosmetic surgery.
Many individuals consider cosmetic surgery because they live with an emotional distress that results from how they feel about their physical appearance. The mirror over the bathroom sink can become the site of an emotional battleground, where they feel defeated by their reflection. As cosmetic procedures gain social acceptance, it is not surprising that many individuals think that relief from their troubling emotions will be found via the scalpel in a surgeon’s hand.
Some people considering cosmetic procedures are misguided by inaccurate beliefs, or other psychological issues that therapy could resolve. For example, negative thought patterns, low self-worth, unhealthy relationships where a partner pressures the other to have a procedure, and psychological disorders—such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder—are often reported as motivations for having cosmetic procedures; but these can and are regularly effectively addressed via psychotherapy. Therapy can provide assistance in examining whether the desire for cosmetic surgery is valid, or a misjudged solution to an issue that therapy can help resolve; furthermore it can save an individual a great amount of physical pain, time, and money.
Unfortunately, many individuals who are driven by unhealthy motivations to undergo an operation do not speak to a therapist beforehand. Once the recovery process has finished these individuals often soon discover that their operation has not resolved the original issue for which they had the procedure in the first place. In some cases they actually find that the procedure has created further issues. Depression, increased stress, feelings of disappointment, shame, or embarrassment can become issues when a cosmetic procedure fails to resolve the issues that motivated the individual to have the procedure. At times, forming a healthy connection with the new physical image proves to be a challenge, especially when the procedure yields poor or undesired results. Making a positive connection with the body’s new image can be especially challenging for individuals who had negative feelings about their body in the first place.
If you are considering cosmetic surgery, it can be advantageous to speak to a therapist beforehand. Examining your motivation for undergoing cosmetic surgery may help you discover whether or not considering plastic surgery is being pursued because of other issues that therapy can address or resolve. Besides having to endure the financial costs and physical pain that come with cosmetic procedures, when done for the wrong reasons, these procedures can foster complicated feelings, such as disappointment or embarrassment.
By Justin Duwe, Psychotherapist, MBACP
Harley Therapy Psychotherapy and Counselling have therapists who can help provide emotional support you may need as you reflect upon your motivations for cosmetic surgery and who can help you adjust to your new body after a cosmetic procedure.
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