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Limb Loss and Your Emotions

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August 7th, 2019

Limb loss is both a physical and emotional adjustment. Amputation is a life changing event, but not a life ending event. You will be able to get back to your normal life, just might change in the way you do things. Limb loss may change your emotions for a time, but you will come back stronger than ever. 

It is very common to feel a range of emotions after an amputation. If you understand the emotional trauma of an amputation before the surgery, you can better prepare for life without a limb. 

After limb loss, many people experience grief and sadness very similar to a loss of a family member or close friend. This is perfectly normal and justified. The amputee may even work through the stages of grief:

  1. Denial — Thoughts of “this can’t be happening”
  2. Anger — The anger could be at yourself, or at a specific person/group, or generalized anger.
  3. Bargaining — Thoughts of “make this situation go away and I promise I will….”
  4. Depression — Some experience an emptiness or numbness, withdraw from family and friends, or do not want to participate in therapy, work or other activities.
  5. Acceptance — Occurs when you accept the loss, have worked through the physical and emotional pain and have adjusted life as an amputee and is moving on with life.

Moving through stages of grief is not an easy process. You may not necessarily move through these stages in order; in fact, some people may skip entire stages. It is even possible to bounce back and forth between stages. 

But, it’s important not to lose hope. Not only can you move past grief, there is growing evidence that many individuals who have experienced a limb amputation experience psychological growth. You have likely overcome many obstacles throughout your life, emerging a little stronger each time. This new chapter in your life is no exception. Examples of psychological growth following an amputation can include

  • Greater resolve in pursuing personal goals
  • Stronger relationships with loved ones
  • Resilience and psychological adjustment beyond previous levels
  • Improved coping abilities
  • A more positive attitude towards life

Much like everyone experiences grief differently, there is no set amount of time that the feelings will last. For some, it will take weeks or months for the shock and sadness to subside. Others may take years. The duration will depend on many factors including past experiences, culture, personality, and physical and psychological health prior to the injury. The time it takes to grieve is not an indicator of strength. Taking longer to come to terms with your amputation than someone else does not mean they are stronger than you.

Amputation is an enormous loss and learning to adjust is a process that takes time — so be gentle with yourself. Try not to isolate yourself or withdraw from people; use your experiences to build new memories and start new traditions to reach your goals. Sure, there will be adjustments along the road to success–but it is still your path. Who you are has not changed. Always remember, you are much more than your physical experience.

Every prosthesis is unique just like our patients.

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