Social challenges of visible scarring after severe burn: A qualitative analysis

Lisa Martin, Michelle Byrnes, Sarah McGarry, Suzanne Rea, Fiona Wood

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

30 Citations (Scopus)


Introduction Visible scarring after burn causes social challenges which impact on interpersonal connection. These have health impacts which may worsen outcomes for burn patients and reduce the potential for posttraumatic growth (PTG). Aim The aim of the study was to investigate adult burn survivors’ experiences of interpersonal relationships as potential barriers to posttraumatic recovery following hand or face burns. Method This qualitative study explored patient experiences of interpersonal situations. A purposive sample (n = 16) who had visible burn scarring were interviewed more than two years after their burn. Results Emotional barriers included the fear of rejection, feelings of self-consciousness, embarrassment and humiliation. Situational barriers included inquisitive questions, comments and behaviours of others. Responses depended on the relationship with the person, how they were asked and the social situation. Active coping strategies included positive reframing, humour, changing the self, and pre-empting questions. Avoidant coping strategies included avoidance of eye contact, closed body language, hiding scars, and learning to shut down conversations. Conclusion Emotional and situational barriers reduced social connection and avoidant coping strategies reduced the interaction of people with burns with others. Active coping strategies need to be taught to assist with social reintegration. This highlights the need for peer support, family support and education, and social skills training.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)76-83
Number of pages8
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2017


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