Amputation: A Conversation About Improving Your Body Image and Sexual Well-Being

129Amputated limbs often cause feelings of revulsion in the patient, doctors, family members, and society.  This is a common and normal reaction to seeing the residual limb (there are people who have a sexual orientation towards amputation).  When someone has suffered from limb loss it does not change the deepest, strongest most valuable part of a person.   A concern about sexuality arises from a fear that the residual limb will not be accepted by a partner.  Some people have difficulty seeing themselves as adequate sexually and have concerns about keeping or finding someone to love them.  It is important to understand that you are still a whole person who just happens to have a missing body part.  It will help to talk to your partner, family, or friends about how your changed body looks, feels, and works.

Body image affects how we feel, think and react to our self-perceived physical appearance and how we respond to life determines the quality of our relationships.  Our physical attributes, our successes and mistakes, along with our inner sense of adequacy and value form self-image.  A negative or positive belief about how important we are affects our emotional well-being.

Consequences of amputation can include feelings of hopelessness, low self-esteem, fatigue, and even suicidal ideation.  Rates of clinical depression range from 21% to 35% with individuals experiencing significant levels of anxiety, grief, and social isolation. Sometimes individual, couple, or family therapies may be needed.

People who recover psychologically from body image change accept the amputation.  They often express a desire to live and make the loss into something good.  He or she derives meaning from the amputation and often have a perspective that things could be worse.  Recovering people do not define themselves by their amputation.

People who do not recover psychologically feel depressed and bad about their appearance, have a negative outlook on life and describe themselves as feeling abnormal.  He or she is often disconnected from friends, family, and could remain isolated.  These individuals often experience delayed social and economic adjustment.

Social interactions after an amputation are an understandable challenge for people with limb loss; especially for someone who is shy.   People will look at us because we are different.  Factors that promote positive body image adjustment and well-being are finding positive meaning in our disabling experience.  Amputation does not always cause negative outcomes.  Coping with body image change provides an opportunity to thrive or change in beneficial ways.  Shifting our priorities and view of self changes our interactions with others.

I lost my forearm over a decade ago; it was crushed in an automobile accident.  I came to in the intensive care unit and looked at my arm in horror and said to the doctors, “Oh my god, you cut my arm off.”  The emotional pain from my changed body image was so intense; that I believe my ego was shattered.  I locked eyes with my husband and knew that this was a big life test.  My views about life commenced to change profoundly.  My compulsive drive for perfectionism was crushed along with my forearm.  As a result, I have had an extraordinary life as a woman with limb loss.

Tips For Improving Body Image:

● Smile at people when they look at you.

● Don’t limit yourself with the label of “disabled.” The focus is no longer on what is gone.

● Remember how far you have come.

● Confront your thoughts related to your body

● Talk to your partner about how your changed body looks, feels, and works.

● Focus on learning new ways to do things you enjoyed before the amputation. Be extra clever or creative.

● Have positive experiences with your body.

● Be optimistic by believing that something good has arisen from your amputation.

● Learn to accept and love yourself.

● Learn to develop a healthier more accurate view of yourself.

● Join organizations that support people with limb loss.

● Read articles on body image after amputation.

Remind yourself often that you are so much more than your appearance.

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FOR INDIVIDUALS WITH LIMB LOSS, PLEASE CLICK ON  THIS LINK FOR RESOURCES AND SUPPORT FROM THE AMPUTEE COALITION http://www.amputee-coalition.org/

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Thank you for reading this article.  My learning journey with body image challenges is a result of my experience with limb loss.  Before my limb loss, I sacrificed my emotional and spiritual well-being for perfectionism and looked to others for approval at the cost of trusting my intuition and developing my self-worth.  As a result I have learned a lot about what it takes to put an end to self-created emotional pain.  And, as I learn and grow, I teach self-compassion and give advice I use myself, in the hopes that it helps you to improve your own life.

Roberta

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