Body Dysmorphia & Social Media

Two nights ago I was in a bit of A Mood™️ and I decided to give a little air time to my frustrations on social media.  The responses to my post got me thinking about how we react to people’s bodies, and feelings about their bodies, on social media.  Fair warning: this is not your typical, predictable post about body image and Instagram models.

Understanding My Face

my profile, showing my retracted chin
Come thru, chin defect!

I was born with what’s clinically diagnosed as a “retracted chin”; instead of my chin extending out to match the shape of my forehead and nose, it retreats back under my lips.  It’s a genetic defect and it’s also a feature I share with my Narcissist-with-a-capital-N father.

For most of my young life I could not figure out what was wrong with my face.  I would stare at photos of myself with other friends with non-defected facial structure and I was absolutely stumped as to why my face looked so wrong.  My own dysmorphia and distorted perception of myself made it hard to view my face as “mine”, let alone to understand its individual features.  Discovering that my retracted chin is an actual, diagnosable, defect made me happy.

I wasn’t crazy.  My face was fixable.

In the years since pinning down my facial defect, I have researched doctors.  I am lucky to have a home base in Massachusetts — a state with some of the best medical facilities in the country, possibly the entire continent.  I came close to saving up the roughly $5k that corrective surgery will cost but unfortunately had to spend my savings when the startup company I was working for in NYC could no longer support my salary.

That setback has been devastatingly frustrating in many ways.

Controlling Perception

For the most part, I have kept my plans to get corrective surgery to myself.  We live in a culture that looks down upon people that choose to alter their bodies in many ways.  People who choose cosmetic surgery are seen as vain, people who pierce and tattoo their bodies are seen as freaks, and people who are born transgender and choose to take hormones and/or pursue surgery face discrimination.

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Habits of Self Abandonment

30 Rock: Season 3, Episode 10. “Generalissimo” Tracy Jordan accidentally roofies himself.

Healing from abuse is in many ways a grieving process.  There is grief for the loss of time, sense of safety, sureness of self, and trust in the abusive person.  Especially if the abuser is a parent or significant other who should have been trustworthy, there can be a lot of grief for what the person should have been.

When it comes to an abusive parent, such as a narcissistic one, some come to the conclusion that the abusive parent was never really a parent.  The grief then is less for the behavior of the abusive parent, but for the realization that the parent was never a real caretaker.  There is a growing internet forum on Reddit specifically aimed at children of narcissistic parents called /r/raisedbynarcissists, I mention it here because the forum’s name plays on the expression to be “raised by wolves” which seems an accurate comparison to me.  To be raised by an abusive parent (or parents) is in many ways to be abandoned by the people who are supposed to be a guaranteed support system.

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Coping Mechanisms Gone Wrong

Parks and Recreation: Season 2, Episode 23. “Freddie Spaghetti”

Coping with Flashbacks

Flashbacks related to trauma are evoked when sensory or emotional experiences in the present cause a past traumatic event to be evoked.  When this traumatic event is evoked it can be re-experienced in both emotions and senses.  Emotional flashbacks cause emotional responses appropriate to past trauma to be brought up in response present events.  Responses to trauma include the classic “fight-or-flight” and also “freeze” and “fawn” comprising what people call the “Four F” Responses.  While fight, flight, freeze, and fawn responses are normal in the context of trauma, when evoked in a present moment by an emotional flashback can appear very out of proportion in contrast to current events.

When confronted with a flashback, it sometimes possible to experience the entire flashback without realizing the cause of the emotions and the response.  Not realizing the cause of the emotional response means the emotions get incorrectly attributed to events in the current moment.  Long-term lack of recognition of flashback symptoms means repressed emotions and sometimes memories.  It also means habitual mis-alignment of past emotions and present experiences and consistently inappropriate emotions and actions can mimic traits of Personality Disorder as well as other disorders.

The healthiest course of action if you find yourself in a flashback is to work to identify the feelings coming from the flashback and the memories associated with them.  Identifying the true source of the emotions in an emotional flashback allows for healthy grief of the safety and happiness we were denied in childhood.  Overwhelming reactions to past trauma can be an opportunity for learning and healing, but if the reactions go unattributed to their original past source and instead are incorrectly accepted as appropriate in the present, can become a damaging pattern.

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