Advice Column: Response to Concerned Partner

Dear Hailey,

My boyfriend has body dysmorphia and will often message me negative comments about his body. I want to make him feel heard but also support him, and not play into what his dysmorphia may be saying. When he messages me things like, “my man boobs are huge” or “I look like a fat monster,” I just don’t know what to say.

In the past when I denied it (he doesn’t have man boobs, for example), he got mad at me and said I was lying. Yes, he is a little chubby, and he’s also really cute and funny and smart. How can I make him feel heard and support him during these moments, while not validating his negative body image?

Concerned Partner

Dear Concerned,

Body dysmorphia is an incredibly difficult disorder to live with. Your boyfriend is lucky to have such a supportive partner to support him through this battle.  

It’s important to remember that you can support someone, listen, and validate without agreeing with what they are saying. Something like, “I understand that you feel unattractive, but I think you are cute, funny, and smart”. He wants to feel heard, so do your best to make sure his feelings are acknowledged and recognized. 

I often encourage my counseling clients to do their best to avoid saying negative things to themselves or about themselves that they wouldn’t say to someone that they love. I’m sure that your boyfriend would never speak to you the way he speaks to himself. Encourage him to implement this technique.

Another helpful tool would be to encourage him to start his self-expression with “I feel”.  This adds a layer of separation, it makes his statement less factual. Help him realize that he is separate from his thoughts, and just because he thinks something, doesn’t make it true. This phenomenon of feeling that our thoughts are fact, that we are our thoughts, is called fusion. It’s untrue, and recognizing this is a huge step towards mental wellness. 

It’s important to remember that you can support him, and love him, but you are not responsible for his happiness. His mental wellness is his journey, and you need to remember that. 

Since your boyfriend has the diagnosis of body dysmorphia, it sounds like he has been to counseling at some point. It could be worth revisiting if things get worse. 

I wish you luck,

Hailey

Posted in Q&A

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