Overreaction to my "disfigurement"  

Gender: Woman
Age: 30
Name: Nadine


This spring, while travelling overseas, I was in a car accident and lost two fingers of my left hand -- pinkie and ring. (I also broke my arm, but that's healed and irrelevant.) The loss doesn't bother me... honestly. What bothers me is my parents' reaction. They both seem to feel that this is a terrible tragedy, that I am "disfigured" and "disabled", and that my taking the accident in stride is a sign of psychological denial. Of course I'm not thrilled about the injury, but aside from annoyances like learning how to type and "phantom pain" (in my case it feels like I have hangnails, but there's nothing there to fuss with), it just isn't that big a deal. No, it's not pretty, but it's not like I was a hand model before the accident. The thing is that the constant daily expressions of sympathy and sadness from my parents are beginning to depress me -- and confuse me a little. Should I feel worse about this than I do? Am I exhibiting an abnormal reaction, as my mother says? I keep telling her I feel lucky not to have been seriously injured, and she keeps telling me I'm rationalizing and that it's okay to get in touch with my real feelings.



What do you think?


Andy's answer:


Dear Nadine,

As long as you can honestly say you're not avoiding, side-stepping, or suppressing anything, I'm inclined to believe that you're handling the loss of your fingers just fine. This is not to say that grieving won't show up later. Just be open and honest as you go. Your responses may vary from day to day.

You don't need any psychobabble from your family or anyone to talk you into something inauthentic. Do your best to take their comments as well-intentioned, do your soul-searching in the matter, and then just proceed with what comes natural. You may want to tell your parents that their comments to you are making you feel depressed and confused. My guess is they're experiencing and grieving their own sense of loss of the intact image they had of you, and projecting all sorts of doomsday implications into it. That's their stuff, and doesn't have to be yours. Ask them to support you in more affirming ways, as in asking you rather than telling you how you feel.

It is not uncommon for people to grieve the loss of organs or any body parts as a result of surgery or an injury. The loss not only includes the loss of regular functioning, but alters appearance and everything that goes with that. Don't rule out going to a counselor to help yourself be sensitive to your own responses.

You get to investigate just how much your physical appearance plays into your life, and how this injury affects that. You get to cultivate real empathy for disabled, scarred and marred, and generally any person outside the norm. My own daughter, who suffered with psoriasis all through her teenage years, came out of it a much more humble, compassionate, tolerant person. Again, don't rule out the help of a professional counselor to make navigating new waters a conscious, enriching act.

Good luck!