It’s easy to get caught up in the perfectionism psyche when things are changing so quickly after bariatric surgery. You imagined yourself thin, fit and svelte, but really, you did not comprehend what it would be like to have hanging flesh on your body after you worked so hard for that body. Have you caught yourself thinking, “I just don’t like the way I look in the mirror,” while naked. Today’s blog is about how to have a healthy mentality about your body after weight loss surgery, considerations for a reasonable time frame to pursue plastic surgery, recognizing unreasonable body image issues, understanding self harm, and working through those issues with a therapist, and stopping unproductive negative self talk.
In the case of the bariatric surgery patient, self acceptance has its limitations, but we must live with the understanding that a model perfect body isn’t going to happen. Where does the line get drawn in the sand between trying to achieve a figure that you can be happy with and living with an obsession with the knife? It’s certainly possible for anyone to become addicted to ANYTHING. However, in the bariatric transformation from obese to healthy, thin, or slim, if money is no object: is there a such thing as an addiction to plastic surgery? Better yet, is there room for concern about those members of the community who begin the journey of going under the knife? Should professional psychologist and mental health professionals look at case history in order to determine if that person will be stable enough to withstand the psychological impacts of plastic surgery, or will it become obsessive?
There’s no way to screen for risk in this regard. However, the question has been posed that maybe those with personality disorders with a history of cutting might take this journey to extremes. Like I said, anything is possible with anyone, at any point in time. Having unlimited resources to indulge in plastics, self harm in pursuit of perfection is certainly obvious with many mega-stars. Michael Jackson certainly too it to an extreme if you think in terms of his numerous plastic surgeries and history of mental and psychological abuse, albeit extraordinarily talents, he brought it to the max.
Influenced by media, society’s expectations of a perfect body are skewed. We have to love ourselves, and under no uncertain terms should be not love our body, imperfections and all. An otherwise successful, yet dissatisfied bariatric patient’s excess skin removal, coupled with destructive behavior patterns are indicative of a more severe diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder diagnosis, or even, pronounces issues of self harm included, going under the knife that could be indicative of a borderline personality disorder. How do can we tell the difference?
To identify behaviors as unhealthy and unproductive as a chronic mental illness, one must look at the client’s ability to control the obsessive negative thoughts, (i.e. you can't stop thinking about a flaw in your appearance — a flaw that is either minor or imagined) when your appearance seems so shameful that you don't want to be seen by anyone. Body dysmorphic disorder is intensely obsessive, image and appearance are often thought about for many hours a day. The perception of your flaws causes you significant distress and has an impact on your ability to function in your daily life. If one seeks out numerous cosmetic procedures or excessively exercise to try to "fix" the perceived flaw but is never satisfied.
The three essential factors I would use to determine an unhealthy obsession with appearance (occupies more than 90 minutes a day, of persistent negative thoughts about self) body image issues, overanalyzes the perception of others on the individual (implied or stated), personality disorder, and GAF (Global Assessment of Functioning) Score. Any client with a score below 65 on the scale would be of concern to me, as a clinician.
So, how do we define an unhealthy obsession with your body, perfectionism and surgical methods to alter one’s appearance? Where do self harm/self injury, perfectionism, and personality disorder come into play here? There’s a certain level of desperation that is a driving motivator to change, but when does it become a disorder? That’s subjective. However, there are some issues to consider when moving forward to the transformative body reconstructive surgeries. A healthy cognition about when that should be done is essential.
In my former journey with the Lapband, my mother pestered about my bat wings. I always said, “Let me get to my maintenance weight for two years, and then we’ll talk plastics.” Good thing I never got to that point, else when the band came out I and the slow path of my body fighting back with regain set in, I would have been a helluva messy rubber-banded skin. If nothing, I am logical, methodical and grounded in my decision making—after 6 months, I knew that the Lapband had been a HUGE mistake. (That’s another post, I have been meaning to write out my Lapband trauma during hurricane Isaac for 10 months now, I owe the public that story. I want to tell it. It’s just tough to tell it through the therapeutic lens while I’m still working out the details on revision, and I still don’t know when that can or will happen.)
My intentions with blog are to discuss the perfecta of concerns I have for the WLS community. All of us are crazy, varying degrees of crazy, yes, but some have had more severe mental illness histories than others. Analysis of previous history of self harm should not preclude patient disqualification, however certain support services should be available to those patients who find themselves forming harmful habits and/or destructive thinking patterns as the transformation of an obese body becomes slimmer.
Signs are inclusive but not limited to negative feelings or thoughts, depression, anxiety, tension, anger, generalized distress, self criticism, self injury, low mood, poor self confidence, preoccupation with dangerous behaviors, purposefully engaging in harmful acts, urges that cannot be distracted from or satisfied, negative/harm act results in pleasure, spending endless time alone in a room avoiding others, and/or
disruptive influence on interpersonal, academic or other areas of life functioning.
If you find yourself constantly thinking about these issues, you have options and alternatives. While I it is important to work with a trained professional, keep in mind that developing hobbies and interesting that help to take the focus off of your dissatisfaction help to low your risk:
- Paint, draw, or scribble on a big piece of paper with red ink or paint
- Express your feelings in a journal
- Compose a poem or song to say what you feel
- Write down any negative feelings and then rip the paper up
- Listen to music that expresses what you’re feeling
- If you cut to calm and soothe yourself
- Take a bath or hot shower
- Pet or cuddle with a dog or cat
- Wrap yourself in a warm blanket
- Massage your neck, hands, and feet
- Listen to calming music
- Call a friend (you don’t have to talk about self-harm)
- Take a cold shower
- Hold an ice cube in the crook of your arm or leg
- Chew something with a very strong taste, like chili peppers, peppermint, or a grapefruit peel.
- Go online to a self-help website, chat room, or message board
- Exercise vigorously—run, dance, jump rope, or hit a punching bag
- Punch a cushion or mattress or scream into your pillow
- Squeeze a stress ball or squish Play-Doh or clay
- Rip something up (sheets of paper, a magazine)
- Make some noise (play an instrument, bang on pots and pans)
- Substitutes for the cutting sensation
- Use a red felt tip pen to mark where you might usually cut
- Rub ice across your skin where you might usually cut
- Put rubber bands on wrists, arms, or legs and snap them instead of cutting or hitting
If your concern is for a loved one because you’ve noticed suspicious injuries or that person has confided to you that he or she is cutting, pulling, scraping or harming themselves in this way, whatever the case maybe, intervention is essential. Speak respectfully, without blame, and in a calm tone. Address the matter with an open mind and loving heart. You are extending a hand to someone who is hurting on the inside.
Deal with your own feelings on the matter prior to the discussion, the shocked, confused, or even disgusted by self-harming behaviors—and guilty for your loved one’s distress can be helped by acknowledging how you feel about this person’s emotional distress. Make the first step by learning about the problem and overcome any discomfort by understanding why your friend or family member is self-injuring. This will help you to see the world from his or her eyes. Avoid judgment and criticisms it is likely the route of the problem, the person is coping with society’s judgment and expectations. Find your loved one support and make your conversation productive. Availability to listen and find help is a key to recovery. Communicate with them as they seek support and intervention. Above all, be kind to yourself and others when you speak about sensitive subjects.