We all feel insecure about our appearance from time to time, but when you’re struggling with body dysmorphic disorder, you battle obsessive and unending thoughts about your appearance that are more than just little insecurities.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental disorder where the sufferer can’t stop fixating on their appearance ― either one body part or their overall appearance in general ― often leading to intense anxiety, shame, and even withdrawal from social situations for fear of others fixating on the same perceived “flaws.”
Body dysmorphia is so much more than simply wishing you could magically drop a few pounds or were a little bit taller.
It’s a full-fledged anxiety disorder that causes serious stress for those who suffer from it.
When you’re suffering from body dysmorphia, you will often obsessively think about your perceived “flaw,” no matter how minor (or even non-existent) it may appear to others. It can make you think constantly about your body, engage in repetitive grooming behaviors to try and minimize it, or seek out medical or cosmetic treatments to try and “fix” yourself. It’s a disorder swathed in shame and embarrassment, which makes it that much harder to talk about with loved ones, for fear that they, too, will zoom in on your imperfections or judge your obsession with them.
Body dysmorphia can be treated (most often with therapy and/or medication), but it’s still something that is difficult for sufferers to discuss and often more difficult for loved ones to understand. Here are a few things you can say to someone with body dysmorphia that will actually help them, instead of making them feel worse.
1“You can talk to me.”
Like so many mental illnesses, body dysmorphia can be incredibly painful to talk about, especially because the sufferer will fear seeming shallow or vain or calling more attention to the perceived imperfection. Make your relationship with them a judgment-free zone, allowing them to openly discuss how they feel with you. Don’t counter with compliments like “you’re so skinny,” “I’d kill to look like you,” or “but you’re so gorgeous!” ― this will only minimize their concerns and demean how they feel, and that’s the opposite of what you want to be doing.
2“You are not alone.”
Even if you don’t suffer from a body image disorder like body dysmorphia, you should do everything in your power to try and understand how your loved one thinks and feels when she or he looks in the mirror. Sure, they may be totally perfect in your eyes, but this disorder probably causes them intense mental anguish, and simply letting them know that they don’t have to suffer alone can help bring them peace of mind.
3“That sounds really awful.”
When someone with body dysmorphia feels safe enough to open up to you about what they experience every day, it might be easy to brush their concerns off by lamenting about your own insecurities or saying that it doesn’t really sound that bad, but these are the worst things you can do. Simply having empathy for what they are telling you is so, so powerful.
4“I’m here for you.”
If your loved one doesn’t want to open up about what they’re going through, don’t force them to talk about it. Instead, just let them know that you’re there anytime they might want to talk about it can offer them much-needed comfort.
5“How can I help?”
If you’re unsure of how you can help someone with body dysmorphia, simply ask them! They may prefer for you to distract them by doing fun activities that can help take their mind off their disordered thoughts. Some good ideas: a movie marathon, a comedy show or concert, or even adult coloring books. Potentially triggering activities can include exercise, clothes shopping, or eating out, since they can all trigger negative thoughts or worries about their body.
It might sound counterproductive, but sometimes if you don’t know what to say, you really can say nothing at all. If they’re willing to open up to you, sometimes it’s merely better to offer a hug and an ear to listen. A little compassion goes a long way, even when you’re unsure of how to handle the situation.
If you think you or a loved one is struggling with body dysmorphia, there are many valuable resources available to help better understand BDD and the many ways it can manifest itself. You are definitely not alone.