20 Jan Social Reentry for the Burn Survivor
After a burn injury, the survivor experiences a lot of loss on all levels of daily life he or she formerly took for granted. One of those is the loss of anonymity when going out in public to quickly run some routine errands such as grocery shopping, chauffeuring children, — those regular, everyday chores that keep you and your household going. Sometimes these once-mundane rituals can pose major social obstacles for burn survivors.
It is difficult to say the least, to step out of the familiar and supportive comfort zone of your home to resume your daily life. Changes in your appearance and fears about your perception by others can cause a range of feelings from anxiety to even depression. These feelings may make it easier for you to avoid even the most basic social encounters altogether. Unwanted staring/double takes, and careless questions or comments about the injury are just two of the challenges burn survivors might experience in public. But often negative reaction takes a more subtle form in body language — an exasperated sigh from someone behind you in line, or an impatient response to a routine question, for instance. As a result of his/her heightened sensitivity, the burn survivor notices all these insidious nuances, and must be prepared to understand and manage them.
The Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center, (MSKTC,) uses the acronym “SCARED” to show how reactions from a person with burn injury and someone meeting them for the first time can cause misperception and angst for both parties. The feelings of a burn survivor are S– Self-Conscious, C-Conspicuous, A-Angry or Anxious, R– Rejected, E– Embarrassed, and D– Different. These feelings create “SCARED” behavior in the burn survivor: S– Shy, C– Cowardly, A– Aggressive, R – Retreating, E – Evasive, and D – Defensive.
“SCARED” also applies to others you encounter, resulting in feelings that are: S – Sorry, Shocked, C – Curious, Confused, A – Anxious, R – Repelled, E – Embarrassed, D – Distressed. These feelings can result in behavior that is: S – Staring, Speechless, C – Clumsy, A – Asking, Awkward, R – Recoiling, Rude, E – Evasive, and D – Distracted. As you can see both parties are “SCARED” — the survivor from the encounter with the stranger, and the stranger from the encounter with a burn survivor. For more information, please visit the Model Systems Knowledge Translation System Center website at www.msktc.org
So, what are the best strategies for dealing with these social challenges? Professional help from your burn recovery team is always an option, but a basic common-sense approach to this issue is a good place to start. You can’t control the reactions and perceptions of others, but you can do a lot to influence others’ reactions to you with a courageous, confident and positive personal presentation.
Use your body language to communicate your strength to those you encounter. Begin by standing tall, flashing a simple smile and a warm greeting – always a good approach to greeting a stranger in any situation. By initiating conversation, you instantly put the other person at ease and refocus the attention on you as a person, rather than on any aspect of your appearance alone. Any unwanted and awkward comments may be diffused by redirecting topics to the speaker. Many burn survivors suggest forming and memorizing responses for the questions and comments they most often receive. This allows you to manage the direction of the conversation and put yourself and others at ease during random social encounters.
It feels like “it’s all about you,” after a burn injury, but thinking about others and making the first social overtures, however tentative, can only help you help you grow stronger, more confident, and in control of your recovery, both mentally and physically.
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