Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD)

Explains body dysmorphic disorder, including possible causes and how you can access treatment and support. Includes tips for helping yourself, and guidance for friends and family.

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How can friends and family help?

This page is for friends and family members who want to support someone with BDD.

It can be upsetting and frustrating to see a loved one's obsessive worries and compulsive behaviours impact their day-to-day life. But there are a number of things you can do to support them:

  • Accept their feelings. Friends and family can help a lot just by accepting the feelings of the person with BDD and recognising that they find it difficult to cope with them. While you may not understand their concerns about their appearance, it is important to recognise that these feelings are very real to them, and try to avoid judging them as 'vain' or 'self-obsessed'.
  • Offer space to talk. It can be particularly difficult for someone experiencing BDD to acknowledge and speak about their thoughts, especially if they find them embarrassing. But speaking can be a first step in seeking help.
  • Help them seek treatment and support. See our page on how to support someone to seek help for more information.
  • Offer support with self-help. If the person with BDD is working to a self-help programme, either on their own or with a therapist, you might be able to support them with this; for example, by going to treatment sessions with them.
  • Give practical support. Offering practical support, such as helping with childcare or household chores, can give them time to attend appointments or use self-help materials.
  • Celebrate their successes. Stopping compulsive behaviours can be very difficult and it will take time. Celebrating the small steps, such as spending less time grooming or carrying out fewer repetitions, can help keep your loved one motivated.

My friends and family are absolutely wonderful. Those closest have taken the time to understand the disorder and as a result they are incredibly mindful of the irrationality it can cause. They support me in every way.

  • Don't take it personally. It can be particularly difficult if your friend or family member’s BDD means that at times they don’t want to see you or they withdraw from social contact. Try to be aware that this is due to their negative feelings about their appearance rather than anything you are likely to have done.
  • Learn their triggers. Some people with BDD find certain situations difficult and find they can provoke more repetitive behaviour. Sometimes these situations cannot be avoided (for example, seeing mirrors in shops or public toilets) but taking steps to gradually build up to the situations with them may help.
  • Be consistent. People with BDD may seek reassurance about the way they look. Try not to get drawn into debates about their appearance and encourage others not to do the same.
  • Boost their confidence. Encourage them to do the things they enjoy. Offering praise that doesn't focus on the way they look can also help to raise their self-esteem.
  • Get support for yourself. It can be distressing to be close to someone experiencing BDD, particularly if you are caring for them. You might find it useful to talk to other people who are in the same situation as you, and to find out more about these complex problems. The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation provides information on BDD for friends and family, as well as support groups for carers.

This information was published in May 2016. We will revise it in 2019.


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