An ostomy is a surgical opening created in the abdomen to help remove urine or feces from the body. The person then usually has to wear some type of ostomy bag to collect the waste removed from the body. This can cause self-esteem issues or concerns for many people. August is Ostomy Awareness Month. Learn what you can to improve self-esteem after an ostomy.
What Is an Ostomy?
An ostomy is an incision made in the abdomen for wastes to be removed from the body. An ostomy is performed for people who have problems with their intestines or their bladder. There are several types of ostomy, depending on where the new exit point for waste is made. The United Ostomy Association of America has more information on different types of ostomy1.
Impact of an Ostomy on Self-Esteem
Once a person has an ostomy, they will face a variety of issues that may affect self-esteem.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Issue #1. The person’s body no longer functions the way it used to. When a person’s body does not work “normally”, this can affect self-esteem. A person may no longer feel “whole”. They may even feel “defective” since they can no longer eliminate wastes as other people do.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Issue #2. There is the inconvenience of wearing an ostomy bag or pouching system. This may be embarrassing from some people. Body waste is no longer voided in private, but in a bag outside of the body. Living with consistent embarrassment from ostomy can damage self-esteem.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Issue #3. There is a concern over waste matter leaking out of the ostomy pouch. Self-esteem can be affected if someone is always worrying about the bag leaking while out in public.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Issue #4. When a person first gets an ostomy and begins wearing an ostomy bag, they may be concerned that other people will be able to tell when waste leaves the body due to possible odor. Self-esteem from an ostomy can be drastically reduced by constantly worrying that people will smell the discharge from the body.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Issue #5. A person may fear certain aspects of intimacy after an ostomy which may further reduce their self-esteem. It is hard to want to undress in front of someone with 1) the ostomy pouch being exposed and 2) the open hole from the surgery being seen.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Issue #6. Concern over activities is another self-esteem issue that can arise after an ostomy. A person may think their activities will be limited for the rest of their life. They may feel disabled which could result in a lower self-esteem.
Other Self-Esteem and Ostomy Issues. Every individual reacts differently to an ostomy. Each person may encounter unique self-esteem issues which must be addressed for the person to experience a full and secure life.
Dealing with Self-Esteem and Ostomy
When a person’s self-esteem is affected by an ostomy, it is better to try to remember that the ostomy was performed as a benefit to their health. This surgery may have even saved that person’s life. Although this may be the hardest thing a person has faced up to that point, there are many ways to boost self-esteem during the adjustment period.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Tip #1. There’s still a chance to live life. Ostomy surgery can be the difference between life and death for some. Rather than dwell on the loss, consider it a challenge. A person should not let ostomy control their self-esteem, but should learn the best ways to overcome the difficulties.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Tip #2. It is very hard for someone to know if a person has an ostomy by looking at them. Ostomy pouches are discreet. There are even fashionable products available to hide the ostomy pouch or secure it for activities. Ostomy with Confidence offers a “Love Belt”2 that is designed to be worn around the waist while securing the ostomy pouch. Self-esteem can be increased by knowing the pouch is unable to be seen.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Tip #3. Ostomy pouches are created to be leak-proof and odor-proof. Frequent checking of the ostomy bag will prevent a potential leak from becoming too full. Proper care of the ostomy and frequent pouch changes should prevent any potential self-esteem concerns from having an ostomy.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Tip #4. Intimacy can still be achieved with an ostomy. To improve self-esteem, empty the ostomy bag prior to intimate contact. Keeping the area clean will prevent odor and beginning with an empty bag reduces the risk of waste matter being seen. Different sexual positions can prevent irritation to the area and may actually increase a person’s self-esteem. Other things that increase self-esteem during intimacy is to focus more on touching. Touch can relax a person and make them more confident.
Self-Esteem and Ostomy Tip #5. Most people with an ostomy can resume normal activities such as going to work and even jogging. The doctor can recommend how to reintroduce the needed activities. Being able to do the things a person likes to do will go a long way toward improving self-esteem.
An ostomy can be a life-changing experience. August is Ostomy Awareness Month. Do what you can to improve self-esteem from having an ostomy. When a person finds ways to overcome these obstacles, self-esteem can bloom.
1) United Ostomy Association of America, Inc.; What Is an Ostomy?; www.uoaa.org
2) Ostomy with Confidence; Love Belt Intimate Apparel for Ostomy Patients; www.ostomyconfidence.com