The Psychology of Acne

Acne can be a debilitating condition even with mild attacks. You feel as though you don’t fit in and that everyone is going to notice the blemishes straight away. You become so self conscious of them that you cover up what you can with clothes or makeup and anything that is still showing you cover with your hand or by looking away from whoever you are speaking to.

I studied Psychology for over 2 years and Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) for another year. NLP, to simplify, is the language of the brain. This has allowed me to understand how the human mind experiences the outside world.

The first thing that all acne sufferers need to realize is that blemishes do not attract attention. Yes, they are visible, but in actuality people are seen as packages. That is, the human brain views the world in groups. What this means is that when any person sees or thinks of anything, it is as a collaboration of many smaller things.

For example, if I say to you to think of a tree, you will most likely visualize the entire image of tree. You do not think of each individual leaf and strain of bark. You do not think of all the branches that come out. You do not think of all the dead leaves still hanging that are about to fall off or of the roots that are underground. You think of the tree as a whole. That is how you see a tree unless you stop and analyze it. And even then if you think of a leaf, you do not think of each individual vein or the slight spots of brown on it.

The same applies to people. If I was to show you a picture of your friend’s ear, unless you have spent hours staring at it you will not know who’s ear it is. Why? Because memories are made of millions of individual sensory inputs. When you see a person, you see all of them at once. Eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hair, body, skin colour, etc. These objects are combined together by the mind to create a ‘big picture’.

What does this mean for acne sufferers? This means that when any person sees you, unless you both sit down and they analyze your entire appearance, the acne blemishes are entirely secondary to your overall appearance.

The only reason they stand out to you is because you stand in front of the mirror and look for them, or you can feel them with your hand or you can feel the pain of the infection. Yes, I too have done this. And by doing this you focus your attention on them.

If there was a tiny red dot on a white cashmere jumper, you would only find it if you went over every square inch, bit by bit. But once you know where it is, you know exactly where to look the next time. This is the psychology of acne.

It only appears to stand out to you because you know exactly where to look and you focus on it. And by focusing on it, you attract attention to it, even if it is subconsciously. Covering it with your hands only attracts more attention to it. Just like when flirting people touch their most attractive feature to draw attention to it, putting your hand in the exact place your acne is only DRAWS attention TO it.

Here are 2 quick experiments you can try to demonstrate my point. Next time you look in a mirror I want you to focus on your eyes and get so close to the mirror that the rest of you is a blur. I guarantee you that if you stay focused on your eyes, the blemishes will be almost impossible to see. Because outside of your eyes, your face is one big object. If you don’t like that one then try standing at least 5 metres (about 20 feet will do) from the mirror. Again you have to see yourself as a whole.

That is the closest you can get to understanding how others see you and even then it isn’t even close. So the next time you find yourself thinking that you don’t want to go out because you think your acne defines you, I want you to think of this experiment (however stupid it may seem) and what it has shown you.

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