Ugly Hands and Wedding Bands
A patient told me today that she doesn’t wear her wedding ring. I expected her to say it was because of the chronic pain and hypersensitivity in her hands but no, it’s because her hands are so ugly that she doesn’t want to draw attention to them. She said “they look so weird, my arms are “normal” color and my hands are purple with streaks on them.” It’s her 25th wedding anniversary and she was disappointed about not wearing her rings.
She has RSD of her upper extremities (yes, I know they call it CRPS now, but they didn’t when I started in pain management).
Here’s the thing. Her hands aren’t ugly. They are just hands.
Yes, if you are observant, they are a slightly different color than her arms. Yes, they can turn bright red due to her condition.
And as a nurse you may notice them since we are always looking at people’s hands to assess for IV access (even if we are just in line at the grocery store).
But most people wouldn’t think anything about her hands.
What struck me about this patient is that she is generally very accepting of her chronic pain condition. She doesn’t ruminate on it. She really lives her life to her full capacity, so I was somewhat surprised to hear this moment of vulnerability on how the appearance of her hands, and not her chronic pain, affected her.
Within the course of 3 minutes, she must have used the words “they are just so ugly” five times. She shifted from the joy of telling me about her 25th anniversary beach trip to the disappointment in her appearance and subsequent inability to wear her rings.
I guess you could say she has hand dysmorphia, and no, I’m not being flippant. She was legitimately upset.
It made me think. What are the things in our lives that we believe so passionately, that we glue to ourselves with emotions, that hold us back unnecessarily?
The truth is, it wouldn’t matter what she thought about her hands if it wasn’t making her so unhappy.
The truth is, there isn’t an objective measure of what makes hands ugly.
The truth is, when we continue telling ourselves something is horrible, our experience of it will continue to be horrible.
And I don’t want to have horrible experiences. I don’t want my patients to have horrible experiences, and I don’t want you to have horrible experiences.
Verbally repeating the horribleness of something over and over and over shuts down the possibility for any alternative to be true.
I asked myself, what things do I keep telling myself that make me feel terrible and stop me from looking for other viewpoints? It was a question that revealed some surprising things to me, especially since I pride myself on not succumbing to societies dictates of what is possible for me or anyone else.
Even I am limiting myself by the narration I unintentionally speak.
So, I ask you take a minute and ask yourself the same question. Is there something that you believe to be true (or ugly) in your life? Do you ever consider that maybe you could be wrong about it? Wouldn’t it be amazing if your WERE wrong about it? Wouldn’t that be such a relief?
Of course, I didn’t straight out tell my patient she was wrong, but we did talk about self-perception. I told her about something I had read once that always stuck with me. If someone shows you a picture from a wedding that you attended, what would you focus on first when looking at the picture? The bride? Your friends?
Nope, most people would first look at how they themselves appear in the picture. They focus on themselves.
This isn’t right or wrong, it’s just human nature.
I pointed this out to her to show that maybe she pays more attention to her hands than other people would. I offered the perspective that perhaps her hands weren’t so hideous that someone would be repelled if they were looking at her ring.
I offered the possibility of another truth.
Then, I told her she was never ever allowed to say that her hands were ugly ever again. Yes, in those exact words. I may have even thrown in an extra “ever” for good measure. Admittedly most coaches would refrain from dictating things like this to our clients, but I have known her a long time. 😊
And she got the point. Maybe her hands are ugly, maybe they aren’t, but saying over and over definitely makes her feel worse.
I invite you to feel a little better. Stop saying mean or limiting things to yourself. EVEN IF you are pretty sure they are true, because once you stop saying these things, the narration of your life has a chance to take new (and more pleasant) avenues.
These avenues may allow you to enjoy things you couldn’t before, like wearing a wedding ring or trying a new skill or getting through a tough day at work.
Sounds good, doesn’t it?
P.S. It’s ok if you can’t find your way out of your negative thoughts about your life. That’s what I am here for. Schedule a free consult call today.