Updated 19 October 2017

Psychological reactions to acne

Having acne can make you feel a million things, mostly terrible. The good news is that you are not alone – there are many others in your position.

Having acne can make you feel a million things, mostly terrible. The good news is that you are not alone – there are many others in your position. Below are the most common emotional reactions.

Negative self-image and self-hatred
Being a teenager is hard and confusing enough. Just when you thought you were starting to build a sense of who you were and started to enjoy greater independence, you were faced with another problem: acne. Many teens with acne feel terrible about themselves, somehow blame themselves for what is happening to them and feel that others only judge them on their appearance. They lose self-confidence and feel that they have nothing valuable to offer others.

If you also feel this way, it is important to do “reality checks” regularly: are you to blame for what is happening to you? What are your strengths and weaknesses? Do you really think your face is all there is to you and all people see?

Remember that we can be our own worst enemy and often only see our negative points and ignore the positive ones. You have so many different aspects to your personality and most of them are a lot more important than your physical appearance. Even if you find it difficult to love your appearance right now, there are many other aspects of yourself, which you can cherish. Learn to focus on your abilities, talents and positive qualities.

Withdrawal from others
You may feel so ugly and self-conscious that you want to hide away in your bedroom and never come out. You feel like hiding your face and always wear clothes to cover your skin. “No one would want to be my friend or date me, I will always be alone”, you think. Does this sound familiar?

Most teens with acne feel very self-conscious about the way they look. It seems very unfair that such a condition strikes people who are in the time of their life when physical appearance becomes very important. But by withdrawing from the world, you are isolating yourself and robbing yourself of many valuable opportunities to meet people, grow and learn things.

Do you really think your face is all there is to you and all that people see? Not looking your best doesn’t mean that you cannot be a good friend and that you don’t have anything to offer others. It is also a good test for friendships – if a friend rejects you all of a sudden just because you are not looking your best, you need to question how valuable this kind of friendship is to you.

Remember that always having love or approval from every person in our lives is an unattainable goal. Also remind yourself that if you are being treated, your acne will improve. A temporary condition is not worth giving up friends, favourite hobbies and interests for. Also learn to take risks – approach new experiences as opportunities to learn rather than occasions to win or lose.

Yes, acne is unfair. Nothing you did or didn’t do caused your acne. It is something that can happen to anyone. Of course you will feel angry at times, but it is important not to be consumed by anger to the point that you blame everything that goes wrong on the fact that you have acne.

Despondency and out-of-control feelings
You have tried various products but your acne continues to get worse. Your doctor has put you on a course of medication but it didn’t help. Of course, you feel helpless and despondent.

The one thing you need to remind yourself of constantly is that although acne cannot be cured, it is highly treatable. Unfortunately there isn’t one miracle drug, which works 100% for everyone. You and your doctor will have to see what works best for you and this could take time. By sticking to your treatment programme, your skin will improve and you will start to feel more in control.

Focus on what you can control. Although you cannot control your acne, you can control the way in which you feel about and react to it.

It is very normal for people with acne to feel down and despondent. However, if you are worried that you are feeling depressed more often than not and that you don’t seem to enjoy anything anymore, you need to consider the possibility that you may be suffering from depression.

Read more about depression and the signs you need to look out for. If they sound familiar, it is important to seek help, especially if you are feeling so despondent and down that you feel suicidal and that life doesn’t seem to be worth living anymore.

The good news is that the vast majority of people suffering from depression can be treated successfully. The best form of treatment is a combination of medication and therapy. Speak to your doctor about the way you are feeling and ask him or her to refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist.

We all feel anxious at times, especially in new circumstances or in social situations. Typical anxiety symptoms include nausea, dizziness, breathlessness, heart palpitations, feeling worried and fearful, being tremulous or shaky, feeling sweaty, experiencing pins and needles in the hands and around the mouth or frequently having a runny tummy and passing urine often.

If anxiety is starting to overwhelm you, or interferes with the way you work, socialise or function in general, you need to discuss it with your doctor.

Where to go for help
Depression and anxiety support group of South Africa: phone (011) 783 1474 for the numbers of a branch near you.
The Mental Health Information Centre: (021) 938 9229.

(Health24, updated April 2011)


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