Improving your self-image with plastic surgery…

Each of us has a “self-image,” a perception of how we believe we look to others. People who are happy with their self-image are more likely to be self-confident, effective in work and social situations, and comfortable in their relationships. Those who are dissatisfied tend to be self-conscious, inhibited, and less effective in activities.

Plastic surgery — whether cosmetic or reconstructive — encourages and promotes a strong, positive self-image. Even a small change on the outside can create an extraordinary change on the inside, allowing an individual’s self-confidence to flourish.

Because the changes resulting from plastic surgery are often dramatic and permanent, it’s important that you have a clear understanding of how surgery might make you feel– long before a procedure is scheduled.

This brochure will provide you with a basic understanding of the psychological issues involved with plastic surgery. It can’t answer all your questions, since your individual circumstances and your self-image must be considered. Ask your surgeon if there is anything you don’t understand about the possible psychological aspects and effects of your planned procedure.

Plastic Surgery For Children

Parents may face considerable confusion and anguish in making surgical choices for their children, or when their children show a desire to change or correct a physical characteristic.

For reconstructive procedures such as cleft lip and palate repair, or infant skull surgery, the benefits of early treatment are usually quite clear. Parents typically meet with surgeons, psychologists, and other specialists who provide abundant assurances that surgery is the best choice for their child.

However, in elective procedures like otoplasty (ear pinning), the choices may be more indefinite. If the child doesn’t seem to notice that he or she looks “different,” parents may be advised not to force the issue of surgery. However, if the child is being teased or feels he or she doesn’t belong, parents should probably consider surgery for the emotional health and self-esteem of the child. It’s important to follow the recommendation of a pediatrician and to consider the feelings of the child and the parents.

Certain cosmetic surgery procedures may also be of significant psychological benefit for some teenagers, provided that he or she is well-adjusted both socially and emotionally. Parents need to keep in mind that feelings about self-image tend to change with maturity, and that cosmetic surgery should never be forced on a teenager, nor should a teenager force an issue which a surgeon feels is not an appropriate cause for surgery.

Timing of Surgery

Plastic surgery procedures can impose stress in addition to that which we encounter on a daily basis, both on the body and mind. It’s important that surgery is timed at a point when you don’t feel exceptional stress, or physical or emotional burden.

To make sure you’re emotionally prepared for surgery, your plastic surgeon may ask some rather personal questions about your relationships, home life, work problems, and other private matters. Once again, honesty is essential. In general, surgery should not be scheduled during a time of high activity or emotional upheaval. Patients who go into surgery feeling preoccupied or pressured with other matters may face longer and more difficult recovery periods.

Adjusting to Change

It may take a while before you find you have emotionally recovered from surgery and have adjusted completely to change. This is particularly true if the procedure you’ve had has significantly changed your body image. If you’re planning a relatively straight forward cosmetic procedure like chemical peel or eyelid surgery, you’ll probably adjust easily to your new look. Your reflection in the mirror will be a familiar one–a refreshed, younger-looking you.

However, if you plan to have breast surgery, nose surgery, or another procedure that may involve a dramatic body change, the post-operative adjustment period may take longer. Until you learn to accept your redefined body image as your own, your reflection may seem somewhat unfamiliar.

Getting the Support You Need

It’s essential to have someone to help you, both physical and emotionally, during your recovery period. Even the most independent patient needs some emotional support after surgery. Remember, during the first week of recovery, you’ll have days when you’ll feel depressed and look swollen, bruised, and rather unpleasant.

Be sure to select a support person who will be just that–supportive. Graciously decline offers of help from those who may be critical of your decision to have surgery or may be overly troubled by your temporarily bruised and swollen appearance.

Also keep in mind that it’s not unusual for a well-meaning friend or relative to say “I liked the way you were before,” or “You didn’t really need surgery,” Comments such as these may cause or worsen feelings of regret or self-doubt, particularly during the early recovery period. Rely on your support person or your surgeon to help you though these difficult times–and try to focus on the reasons you decided to have surgery in the first place.

Coping with Post-Operative Depression

After surgery, most patients experience mild feelings of unhappiness. However, for an unlucky few, post-operative depression may be more severe.

Post-surgery let downs usually set in about three days after surgery-at a point when you may be regaining some of your physical stamina, but your post-operative appearance has not yet begun to improve. In fact, some plastic surgeons call this condition “the Third-Day Blues.” It may last anywhere from a few days to several weeks. This emotional let down may be caused by stress, exhaustion, metabolic changes, or the frustration of waiting for results to appear. Depression may be especially stressful for patients undergoing staged procedures, who must cope with an unfinished “interval image” until the final stage of surgery is complete. Patients who are most vulnerable to depression are those who have a history of depression, or who were already somewhat depressed before surgery.

Knowing what to expect in the post-operative period may help you cope better in the days following surgery. It’s helpful to remember that the depression usually lifts naturally within about a week. Brisk walks, light social activity, and small outings may help you shake the blues faster.

Handling the Critics

The results of your surgery are likely to elicit some comment from friends and family members–and usually, it’s not all positive. If you’ve had purely cosmetic surgery, you may be criticized for being foolish or frivolous. If your surgery involved changing an ethnic trait, you may be accused of trying to deny your cultural heritage. And, if you changed a family trait, prepare yourself for some surprised or disapproving glances. You may even get the cold shoulder from close friends who feel threatened by your improved appearance.

Some patients find it’s helpful to arm themselves with a standard reply to post-operative criticism, such as, “This is something I did for myself–and I’m very happy with my results.”

Remember, if you are content with how the results of plastic surgery make you look and feel, then the procedure was indeed a success.