My girlfriend has a bit of acne scarring on her face, and she is incredibly self-conscious. I think she’s beautiful. I was thinking about suggesting she see a dermatologist to learn about available treatment options, but I’m afraid it will crush her spirit if I do that. Do you have any tips on how to approach this subject?
Response by Sharon Fountain
It’s great to see that you want good things for your girlfriend. First off, I’d ask you to do a bit of objective analysis. Here are a couple of questions:
- What have you noticed that leaves you thinking that acne scarring is the source of her self-consciousness? If you’re concerned for her, I assume you’ve witnessed behavior that troubles you.
- Does she do things like “untagging” herself in Facebook pictures because she doesn’t like the way she looks?
- Does she say things in private that leave you with that impression, i.e., can she look in the mirror without making negative comments about her face?
- Has she sought out treatment options previously? If not, has it been due to a lack of awareness or a lack of resources?
The subject will be a lot easier to discuss with her if it’s supported by objective examples she can and will recognize. Supporting someone who is not sure about what steps they can take is easier than guiding someone who can’t or won’t acknowledge an issue.
Living consciously, self-acceptance, personal responsibility, assertiveness, living purposefully and living with integrity are “pillars” of healthy self-esteem. Self-acceptance is based, in part, on two aspects of self: our perceived self—who we think we really are—and our ideal self, who we think we ought to be. The images we have of our ideal self often develop from outside messages, or “shoulds” – from family, our community, the media – about what we need to do or be in order to be okay. A gap between our perceived self and our ideal self can lead us to inaccurately conclude that we’re not enough “as is.” Achieving our ideal self requires that we take steps to discover, and “claim” the beauty and greatness that is in us. This means exploring and expanding our vision of our perceived self. Each of us has unique potential and beauty like that of no one else in the world. You said you think your girlfriend is beautiful. What are some ways you can help her see and claim that beauty “from the inside out?”
Now let’s chat about how to invite your girlfriend to discuss her self-consciousness. Wait for her to bring up the subject of her appearance, the conversation will flow more naturally this way. Instead of making suggestions, let her guide the discussion. Ask open-ended questions (“What are your feelings/thoughts about…?”) rather than leading questions (“Have you thought about…?”). Her answers will guide you as to whether she simply wants to talk, or whether she’s open to a solution-seeking conversation. As her openness allows, reassure her that you think she is beautiful, that you care about her and want her to be happy with her unique and special “self.” If she’s willing to talk about ways to address her acne scarring, offer to explore available options together. Avoid pushing her to choose a particular solution or action, or you run the risk of alienating or offending her.
Other general tips to keep in mind include:
- Be sincere—if she asks you a question, answer it simply and truthfully. Use nonjudgmental words.
- Be aware of her feelings—she needs to know that you truly “hear” her; that you “get it.”
- Find out what she is truly struggling with—search for clues about the source of her self-consciousness
- Be careful what you say and how you say it—self-consciousness can make people sensitive and vulnerable. What may seem like a harmless comment has the potential to crush her spirit because it came from you.