Dys #1: Dysmorphia
If your friend is struggling with body dysmorphia, you probably notice they often obsess about perceived flaws in their appearance. Their targets may correlate with body parts scrutinized by (and photoshopped by) the media, for example, the shape of their nose or the overall size of their body. They might imagine their muscles are too small, their wrinkles too glaring, or their skin is too…something.
Typically, these flaws are unremarkable to the people around them, but the sufferer can be so distracted by their perceived flaws that it keeps them from fully living their lives. No matter how minor their complaints seem to us, it’s important to remember that their flaws are very real to them and make up their reality…but it’s not the ultimate reality. We know this, but they have trouble believing it.
What’s a friend to do?
If you can, hear them out, be reassuring, and move on to other things. You can remind them that what they perceive isn’t what you see. You can reiterate that your fondness for them goes much deeper than what’s on the outside. You can develop a shorthand phrase to remind them that their mind in sending distorted information to them when they experience themselves and their body parts this way.
There is an old Victorian phrase that was once a common way to describe being in a low mood. Someone who was feeling down was said to be “having the morbs” (taken from the word morbid). I might suggest the use of the word dysmorphia in the same way.
For example saying to your friend, “Hmmm. It sounds to me like you’ve got a case of the “morphs” today.”
It’s a nice way to validate their reality, without making it the reality.
Over time individuals struggling with dysmorphia can shift their thoughts and beliefs about their appearance to a more accurate and positive viewpoint. They will be fortunate to have an understanding friend by their side as they grow and change.
Dys #2: Dysphoria
Despite the same “dys” start, dysphoria is altogether different. Dysphoria (the opposite of the better-known euphoria) is marked by significant discomfort with life and the way one exists within it. One common type of dysphoria is gender dysphoria.
If your friend is experiencing gender dysphoria, they likely don’t feel connected to, or at home in, their body. Aspects of their physical self may not match who they feel they are based on established gender norms. They are faced with living in a kind of dystopian society that doesn’t support them, facing obstacles and being “dissed” at every turn.
What’s a friend to do?
Again, this is the reality your friend is living in. The best thing you can offer them is an attempt at understanding what they are going through and some unconditional acceptance of who they are, such as:
- Hear them and listen with an open mind when they share their experience.
- Stand by them when they face judgement and hostility out in the greater world.
- Understand that for many, the way out of gender dysphoria is to receive gender-affirming care, including medical procedures. Try to be supportive as they navigate their choices.
Above all, what your friend needs is a compassionate and steadfast friend. Friends also don’t let friends’ “dyses” mental health symptoms go unchecked. If you suspect that your friend might hurt themselves or someone else, please help them get appropriate medical treatment. Eating disorders and other conditions common in individuals who struggle with dysmorphia and dysphoria can be fatal.
And at Walden, we know finding care can be tough. That’s why we are here for you. If you are concerned that you, or a loved one, may have an eating disorder, please reach out by completing the form on this page or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stephanie Haines, M.Ed., CHES (she/her/hers) has been providing school communities with specialized addiction prevention education since 1999 and has taught students of all ages in most U.S. states and more than 25 countries across five continents. After completing her graduate work at Plymouth State University’s Eating Disorders Institute in 2013, Stephanie joined Walden Behavioral Care as their Prevention Education Specialist, creating an eating disorders prevention curriculum designed for use in school communities. Stephanie takes great joy in raising awareness about the prevention and treatment of eating disorders and substance use disorders as a private consultant, and helping families get the care and support they need and deserve as a member of the Walden team.
*This blog post does not necessarily represent the views of Walden Behavioral Care and its management. The Walden Blog is meant to represent a broad variety of opinions relating to eating disorders and their treatment.