erin's picture
November 22, 2011
3
Psychological and Emotional Reactions to Hair Loss

Hair loss isn’t only about loss of hair.  When a person experiences hair loss, he or she suffers significant emotional pain and loss.  A number of physical, emotional, and social changes are likely to occur.  I will discuss some of the powerful psychological and emotional reactions one can expect.

 

1: Shock & Fear

Whether the individual is a child or adult, and the hair loss is areata or totalis, the individual may feel bewildered, frightened, and confused. There is likely to be a profound sense of shock and fear. Either the individual (or in the case of a child, the parents) will make frantic efforts to get information about what is happening and what to do.  Initial questions are likely centered around medical concerns and fears: why is the hair loss happening, what are the health implications, who do I consult? Finding appropriate medical help may be your first priority, but it is also crucial to get connected with the hair loss community. Hair loss organizations and support systems are available through the internet. Speaking with your physician and getting connected with hair loss websites and/or support groups can provide answers to your practical questions and concerns. Equally important, it may offer emotional support for you at a time when you may be feeling extremely vulnerable and alone. It is important for you to know that there are answers to your questions, and that you are not alone.

 

While feeling scared and shocked, you may also feel helpless. There are changes happening to your body, or the body of a loved one, and you are not able to prevent it.  As you see clumps of hair in your hairbrush, you may feel a sense of helplessness and lack of control.  It’s as though you are being betrayed by your own body.  Along with fear and confusion may be anger and frustration at your inability to control what is happening.

 

2: Identity & Self-Image

Loss of hair translates to a dramatic change in your appearance.  Without hair, your familiar and natural appearance is completely transformed. A defining aspect of your appearance is missing. Since identity is strongly shaped by physical appearance, it may be very hard to accept and make sense of this new image. Particularly difficult may be the loss of facial hair (eyebrows and eyelashes) since these features define the face and create a natural look. It may be painful to look in the mirror, and difficult to relate to the image staring back at you.  As you look at yourself you may be overtaken by profound feelings of shame and embarrassment. Who is this person? Because hair is such a prominent feature, without it, your appearance may feel almost alien. Your appearance is not only drastically different, but it seems unnatural. You feel incomplete. You have not only lost your hair; you have lost a comfortable sense of yourself.

 

You may also experience overwhelming feelings of inadequacy, of being less than. You are not only different from how you used to be, but you are now different from other people. Having no hair may make you feel flawed and deficient. What would other people think if they knew? You may feel there is something “wrong” with you. You might expect to feel anxious or depressed as you experience this devastating loss, imagining the loss may be permanent. You may be worried about other people finding out. You may feel separate and alone knowing you are hiding an important secret about yourself. You are caught between not wanting to be exposed and not feeling comfortable being dishonest.

 

 3: Social Identity & Image

You look different. You feel different. This sense of being different is strongly magnified by reactions from the outside world. Social interactions become another profound way in which you begin to feel there’s something wrong with you. Not just different, but wrong. Because we are social beings, our identity is strongly shaped by how we believe we are perceived by others. Similarly, our self-esteem is strongly influenced by how we feel about ourselves socially. Because you are very sensitive about your hair, you are prone to believe that other people are paying attention. You may catch people staring at you a few extra seconds and believe they can tell there is something different about the way you look. Whether they are in fact staring or not, you believe they are. Because you know there is something different. And this may further amplify the feeling you have that there is something wrong or bad about you… that you are different or flawed.

 

Unfortunately, it is often the case with children who have suffered hair loss that their peers will respond in a cruel and insensitive manner. It is not uncommon for children to be intolerant and mean. They may threaten to pull off the child’s wig or hurl such names as “baldy” or “freak.” It may be important in these situations to invoke the assistance of school personnel and for the child to be brought to counseling. It is urgent that parents and school officials watch closely for signs of depression, anxiety, and other behavioral problems.

 

 4: Loss of Freedom & Flexibility

Your sense of freedom and flexibility may be greatly compromised. You may find yourself preoccupied while out in public about whether people are noticing something different about you. You may worry a lot or feel anxious about being in a situation that could cause your hair to fall off. The last thing you want is to feel exposed.

 

There may be activities you have to give-up (e.g., swimming, gymnastics). This is another way in which you may feel different and compromised. Before going places you may need to do some extra planning and preparation to make sure you won’t be exposed and uncomfortable. You may need to take extra precautions to ensure your safety and security.

 

 5: Get Connected

The greatest piece of advice I can give is that you get connected with the hair loss community.  Connecting with others will:

1. Provide suggestions and answers to practical questions and problems

2. Provide the emotional support you need to cope with the psychological and emotional challenges you will face

3. Give you a sense of belonging and kinship. It is invaluable for you to know that you are not alone in this. And you are not!


Comments

VolumeProducts's picture
April 16, 2015
Calabasas, California
VolumeProducts's picture
April 16, 2015
Calabasas, California
October 01, 2014
Vallejo, California

Hair loss is a terrible condition especially for women. It can greatly affect our self-esteem and it's really difficult to overcome that kind of emotional state. I agree with what you said here that you need to establish a connection with a group of people with similar condition, that would help a lot in terms of communicating with others and comparing your experiences with others. It really provides a good and strong emotional support.


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