No one wants to see a friend suffer. When you have a loved one who is challenged by body dysmorphic disorder, you may feel helpless watching him or her struggle to overcome damaging thoughts and have trouble managing daily life.
Body dysmorphia is a mental health disorder where an individual who is affected focuses on a perceived flaw in appearance. These supposed flaws cause severe stress and anxiety to the point that living a normal life becomes unbearable. Seeing a friend suffer from body dysmorphia is not easy.
Knowing your role
The first thing to note is that healing or “fixing” body dysmorphia is not up to you. While you can surely offer support, know that recovery is not in your control, nor should you feel guilty if your friend experiences setbacks in treatment.
While your role is limited, you still have the power to make a difference. Having social support is a protective factor against negative outcomes, so the best thing you can do is be a friend and follow these tips for how to help someone with body dysmorphia.
Know the signs and symptoms
One of the first tools you can equip yourself with is knowledge. When you understand the signs and symptoms of the disorder, you can both understand your friend’s struggles in day-to-day living, and keep an eye out for a worsening condition.
Read up on the Mayo Clinic’s signs and symptoms. Having an understanding of body dysmorphia can clue you in to when behaviors are abnormal versus pathological. You can help your friend break these patterns only when you’re aware of them.
Ask about treatment
Asking a stranger about mental health treatment would seem intrusive, but asking your close friend how recovery is going is a positive way you can support his or her journey. Being interested in treatment shows that you affirm their choice to seek help and that you are a safe space to unload.
Allow your friend the space to choose whether to disclose that information or keep it private. Don’t press if your friend is hesitant to share, but reassure him or her that you will be willing to listen later, too.
Just keep in mind, it can be tempting to try to offer therapeutic conversations, but your role as a friend is limited. Don’t offer advice (it may conflict with professional and evidence-based treatment). It’s OK to say you don’t have answers, either.
Offer compliments about personality rather than appearance
Because body dysmorphia is characterized by a keen focus on a specific area of the body, it seems like it would be a no-brainer to offer compliments about that perceived flaw. While compliments about appearance have their place, someone in recovery for body dysmorphia needs something else.
Instead, offer compliments about your friend’s personality, interests and talents. Even affirmations about a physical trait add value to someone’s appearance, and when that value placed on looks is already distorted, it can instigate an emotional reaction.
If you’ve done this in the past, don’t fret. The important thing is that both you and your friend refocus on interior qualities in the future.
Find some ways to set aside unrealistic and tiresome standards you may have for yourself. Forgo makeup for a week, spend less time comparing yourself on social media or limit your time getting ready to 20 minutes a day.
Encourage professional help
As a friend, the words you say matter. Your trust and confidence have been earned, and can be a valuable asset to your friend. Using the leverage you have, it can be critical to encourage getting professional services, whether they be inpatient treatment or therapy.
There’s no doubt your friend will have ups and downs in treatment. You can be by their side offering hopeful sentiments and emotional support when the hard work of recovery feels like it’s too much. Offer reassurance, drive your friend to treatment or pick up a movie for some fun bonding afterwards.
Being a good friend
Using the tips above, you can learn how to help someone with body dysmorphia in no time. Following these suggestions and offering your unwavering companionship are all you need to make a significant impact on your friend’s self-image and mental health.
If you need help supporting your friend in this difficult time, Tapestry can help. Tapestry is an Asheville mental health and eating disorder treatment center committed to treating individuals with dignity and compassion as they find healing. Call 828-490-4032 today to get you or your friend the best services available.