What are people thinking about you when they look at you?
OMG how ugly
She looks dirty
I don’t want to go anywhere near him in case I catch it
It’s tough to live with those thoughts going around your head and little wonder we try to hide our skin and cover up.
People with psoriasis often rate other people’s reactions to their skin as the main difficulty with the condition.
But are you sure you’re always right about what people are thinking?
A psychology experiment carried out in 1980 took a group of women and made them up with fake scars. The women, who thought they were ‘disfigured’, then had a conversation with a stranger who knew nothing about the experiment. After the conversation, the disfigured women felt stigmatised. They were more aware of the stranger’s behaviours like staring and related this to their appearance. They thought the stranger was reacting negatively to the scar and this affected how favourably they rated the stranger. What women didn’t know was the experimenters had actually removed the scar before the conversation took place so any negative reaction to the (non-existent) scar was imagined. This study tells us that believing you look different heightens your awareness of other people’s behaviour and you are more likely to interpretate their behaviour as negatively related to your appearance – whether or not that is actually the case. Because of this, you are less likely to warm to strangers.
There’s no doubt some people are rude, unpleasant and insensitive. I’ve met a fair few of them. I’ve written about one particularly upsetting encounter here. But perhaps it’s not quite as bad as you think. Try some CBT and see if there is a different way of thinking?
Kleck RE and Strenta A (1980). Perceptions of the impact of negatively valued physical characteristics on social interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 39 (5), 861-873.