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October 04, 2018 Thursday 11:19:47 AM IST

“I Am Ugly!”


Lisa, a 25 year old post graduate, came in for counselling. Slim and good looking, she appeared worried and agitated. She revealed how upset and anxious she was and had apparently even contemplated ending her life. Following some gentle enquiry,Lisa disclosed how she was forced to give her consent to marry a young man whom she didn’t particularly like. For her parents, the boy was the perfect match for her. According to them, he was not only handsome and well-employed, but also of good character and hailed from a well-to-do and reputed family.

On further investigation,what was brought to light was Lisa’s deeper problems of self-doubt, lack of self-confidence and self-esteem, fear of men, and fear of marriage. Ever since her childhood, Lisa had internalised a feeling that she was not good looking oras smart as her siblings andcousins. Lisa painfully recounted how she was constantly made the object of comparison, resulting in humiliation and belittling. “I was not good enough,” recalled Lisa painfully.

Lisa’s fragile self-confidence and lowself-esteem would furthere rode, yet again, at the start of her menstrual cycle. It would typically bean exceptionally painful experience with crams and fatigue. What was more, she had developed pimples all over her face. So, at this critical time, whenever Lisa looked into the mirror, she repeated to herself with contempt and disdain, “I am ugly”! 

Lisa’s self-acceptance and self-esteem plunged so fast that she stopped socialising even with friends and extended family members. Thus, Lisa’s self-acceptance and self-esteem eroded steadily, and as a result, she became reclusive, silent, and withdrawn. For Lisa, life was ‘harsh’ and she had to traverse this arduous journey alone, timidly, with shame and diffidence.

Therapeutic intervention involved a two-pronged strategy:

I.Short-Term Actions:

a) The family was asked to stop entertaining marriage proposals, searches, and talks so that Lisa could be freed from the anxiety trap.

b) Healing of early traumatic memories, using Brain Wave Modulation Therapy, wascarried out.

c) Facilitating the restructuring of negative personality traits, using Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). 

II.Long-Term Goals:

a) Re-structuring the self-acceptance and self-esteem platform.

b) Developing positive strengths and attitudes.

c) Developing interpersonal skills.

It’s truly of great concern for psychologists, and others, as to how identities are formed in our fast forward, post-modern world. ‘Self’ is the key construct and it plays an integral part in human motivation, cognition, affect, and social identity.


Self-acceptance and self-esteem are the other basic constructs of a person. Self-acceptance refers to a global affirmation of who you are, whereas self-esteem refers to how you feel about yourself. Lack of self-acceptance is related to lack of self-esteem and the latter leads to lower levels of well being, and even mental illness.

Body image has gained significant role in defining and determining who you are in this digitised world. The ‘ideal body’ is constantly projected on to us by the visual media with proposals for quick-fixing any part that doesn’t fit the ‘modern standard’. Thus, body image and consequent self-acceptance are conditioned and shaped by the projected “ideal” by commercial interest. No wonder, body dissatisfaction is almost ‘normal’ in our digitised world where everyone fails the ideal body image that is projected on to us.

Constantly comparing with others can impact negatively on one’s self esteem and self-worth. A person’s self-worth cannot be measured by numbers on the scale or the numbers inside one’s dress. A body-centric culture that assigns more value to how we look than what we contribute to society, impedes integral development of individual and society. From early on, our children and adolescents must be taught how to be free from the tyranny of the dysfunctional body image. 

Dr. Jose Cletus Plackal

Licensed clinical psychologist, BET-MRT, Jeevas Centre, Aluva, Kerala.

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