In today’s society, social media exposure and idealized body types set the standard for how many men and women see themselves. Comparing your own body against what’s considered the societal norm can lead to feelings of low self-esteem and dysmorphia. Unfortunately, dysmorphia can also lead to other issues, including withdrawing from activities, extreme dieting and exercise and eating disorders. Watching someone you love struggle with dysmorphia can be difficult, but there are ways you can help someone with body image issues. Continue reading to learn more.
To fully understand someone with body image issues, it’s important to educate yourself about the condition. Dysmorphia is also known as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). It affects about 2% of the population and is more common in adolescents and young adults. Individuals with this mental illness obsess over how certain parts of their body look and how they think others perceive them. This obsession can lead to discomfort and eventually impacts how a person reacts in certain situations. Individuals with dysmorphia often go to extremes to change their appearance, which may include surgery and eating disorders.
Dysmorphia can be hard to identify. Individuals struggling with this illness may try to hide their dissatisfaction if they feel ashamed or depressed over their appearance. There are a few common signs to look for.
- Making jokes at their own expense over their appearance
- Attempts to hide personal flaws with makeup or clothes
- Constantly checking the mirror
- Comparing themselves to others in a negative way
- Frequently asking you how they look
- Avoiding going out in public
Adequate support is crucial to someone who’s coping with body dysmorphia. Because they feel bad about themselves, they may turn to others for reassurance. For this reason, being there for someone can make a huge difference. Other ways you can offer support include:
- Providing open communication. Give your loved one a safe place to talk about their feelings without judgment. Opening up about dysmorphia can be embarrassing, so it’s important to let them talk about their self-image while feeling loved and accepted.
- Accepting how they feel. While you may disagree with how they view themselves, provide acceptance and try to understand their feelings. Dysmorphia can be difficult to deal with, so help them understand that nearly everyone compares themselves to others, and it can be a very normal reaction.
- Pointing out their positive attributes. Encourage your loved one to focus on qualities that set them apart from others. Ask them to identify at least one physical quality they love about themselves and encourage them to focus their attention on that.
- Helping identify personal triggers. Help them identify situations and feelings that lead to image obsession. If going to the beach or the public pool sends them into a cycle of self-hate, find private places to enjoy some swimming and sun.
- Giving practical support. Take care of chores and other responsibilities while they focus on recovery. You may also offer self-help materials to help them understand their condition. Because everyone is different, ask what you can do to help.
Encourage Professional Help
Like most obsessive-compulsive disorders, dysmorphia can be debilitating. Despite this, only 35% to 40% of individuals with this mental health issue seek treatment. When left untreated, dysmorphia may lead to other conditions, including anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
Encourage your loved one to seek professional help. Like most mental health issues, treatment usually involves a combination of prescription medications and talk therapy. Antidepressants, like fluvoxamine and fluoxetine, are often prescribed to help individuals manage their negative thoughts and behaviors. Medications may also make other forms of treatment more effective. In talk therapy, individuals with dysmorphia may have individual or family sessions. These sessions focus on current feelings and coping mechanisms. Psychiatrists may also recommend a body dysmorphia support group, which allows individuals with similar struggles to share experiences. You can further support their recovery by attending meetings with them or helping them locate an appropriate support group.
Promote a Positive Body Image
There are things you can say and do to promote a positive body image in someone you love. Help your loved one focus on their dietary needs. Many times, an individual with dysmorphia has a wrongful image of their weight. If they obsess over their weight and food, provide dietary support. Help create healthy meal plans, craft weekly grocery lists and incorporate new recipes into your meals. Make meal planning and meal times fun. Focus on overall health instead of weight.
Consistently provide praise. Make positive comments about their appearance. Take note when they wear something new or get a new haircut. Go shopping and help them pick out flattering wardrobe choices and schedule an appointment for a makeover. Help them experiment with new styles to help them feel better about themselves.
Encourage the individual to practice self-care, which can make recovery from mental illness more effective. A self-care plan includes getting daily exercise. Ask them to go for a walk or join a gym together. Other self-care tips include getting adequate sleep, spending time regularly on hobbies and interests and staying connected to family and friends.
Practice Patience to Help Someone With Body Image Issues
Like all mental illnesses, body dysmorphia can be a lifelong battle. Understand that even when the individual seeks professional help, recovery won’t happen overnight. Celebrate successes, such as spending less time grooming, with a night out, a dinner party with loved ones, a massage or spa treatment or a trip out of town. Focus on their continued progress instead of large changes.
At FHE Health, we provide a wide range of treatment options for those with dysmorphia and mental health issues, including inpatient and outpatient care. For more information on what we can offer you or someone you love, contact us 24/7 to speak to one of our staff. We can answer any questions you might have about treatment and help you choose the right path for recovery.