Body Image Issues Counseling and Treatment
Body image issues can impact anyone at any age. However, women, particularly young women, are more prone to having a negative body image. Additionally, members of the LGBTQ+ community are also at great risk of dealing with negative body image. Usually, it results from unrealistic expectations from society or stigma related to your own identity. There are many dangers of negative body image but developing health disorders is one of the major concerns. Identifying and addressing distortions can help with having improved body awareness. If body image issues go unchecked they can result in body dysmorphic disorder. You can work with a therapist or a counselor to improve your self-perception.
The Dangers of Negative Body Image
One of the major risks that come with a negative body image is the tendency to engage in disordered eating. Eating disorders are of a few kinds but they usually revolve around an obsession with eating less or more usually to look a certain way or reach a certain weight goal. Unlike healthy weight loss, they focus on restrictive methods of eating that can result in poor mental and physical health.
If you have a negative body image you are also at risk of developing low self-esteem. It is also possible to develop a negative body image from a lack of self-esteem. It can go either way but there is a relationship between them both. Additionally, it can create insecurities and make you feel unhappy with yourself. A person with a negative body image may also choose to isolate and avoid activities where they are at the center of attention. They may also avoid social eating opportunities to avoid feeling judged.
What is Distortion?
It is a wrong perception of something. In psychology, it refers to an irrational or exaggerated thought pattern. It is when you perceive something inaccurately. More specifically, it is called cognitive distortion. It can be seen as a lie from the brain. It is not a lie to the person experiencing the distortion because they believe it to be the truth. It feels very real and true but that does not mean that it is in fact the truth. For example, a lot of people with body image issues tend to think negatively about themselves. They may have a criticism about certain body parts or how they look etc but when a supportive friend or family member hears those concerns, they may not see the same flaws. Too often what we see as ‘flaws’ are beautiful aspects of our body and personality. But that cognitive distortion stops you from seeing the beauty.
When Do People Start Suffering from Body Awareness?
Body awareness refers to your connection with your body. The awareness is about your conscious connection to your body. Typically people with body image issues tend to struggle with body awareness from a very young age. It often starts in the teenage years but sometimes even younger children may experience a lack of awareness. Usually, external factors such as bullying, parents, siblings, or guardians struggle with body image issues. It is possible for younger children to develop a negative self-image if they see the adults around them consistently critique their own bodies. Nowadays social media is also contributing to body awareness issues as young people get subjected to unrealistic body standards that they feel like they don’t meet.
Signs of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
If negative self-image goes unchecked it is possible that the issue worsens and the person can develop body dysmorphic disorder. Someone who has the disorder may experience the following symptoms
Avoiding socialization: Someone struggling with their body image may avoid social interactions that bring attention to their body. It can also be to avoid eating especially if they have developed restrictive eating habits.
Excessive exercising: It is normal to exercise in moderation and is encouraged but if someone is obsessively exercising consistently then it is an issue. Exercising an hour a day is good but 3 or more hours a day each week can be excessive.
Wanting to change parts of your body: People who struggle with body dysmorphic disorder may not like specific features such as their nose or cheekbones and wish to alter them through exercises or even consider plastic surgery.
Avoiding mirrors: Affected people may try to avoid mirrors to avoid looking at themself. They may not want to be reminded of their flaws or feel like they are not good enough.
The above are just some of the signs. It is possible to have some signs but not have a body dysmorphic disorder. An expert such as a psychotherapist can help diagnose the disorder.
Dealing with Shame and Embarrassment
The feeling of shame and embarrassment can come with body image issues. People who struggle with body image issues tend to feel overly cautious about their appearance and any mistake they make. For example, you may feel ashamed if you have to wear a swimming suit. Some can feel embarrassed by the idea of eating in public. To most people these day-to-day activities are trivial but to the person who is struggling, it can be a major issue. The best way to manage the shame and embarrassment that is being experienced is to address the body image issues at the core and related symptoms will fade as the healing begins.
The Emotional and Physical Symptoms
There are many symptoms associated with body image issues. The emotional symptoms include an obsession with how one looks, fixation on what to eat or when to eat, and even a change in the social circle. The physical symptoms include but are not limited to changes in eating patterns, drastic changes in clothing style, excessive exercising, and wanting to change physical features. It is important to understand that body image issues can affect everyone differently. Your friend may struggle with one thing whilst you find something else overwhelming. No matter what your symptoms are, your emotions are valid.
What to Look Out For?
You can prevent body image issues from worsening and becoming an eating disorder or body dysmorphic disorder if you catch them early on. It is important to understand that our environment has a big impact on us and that we get influenced by what we feed our brain. Do an audit of your social media and remove any accounts that do not benefit you. Additionally, engage in body awareness exercises to help you honor and value yourself. Understand that your body has a lot of functions and how you look is a small part of the whole equation. Remove any negative influences from your friend's circle and develop a healthy support system.
Ways to Improve Self Perception
A negative self-perception usually comes from a lack of self-esteem. To improve your self-perception, you need to work on your self-esteem. You can do so by creating a support plan. You can read books on self-esteem and self-perception, you can even do growth path steps from relevant paths. It is also worth connecting with a listener to talk about your challenges and goals. If you are unsure where to start, it is worth considering counseling or psychotherapy. A counselor can help you understand your core issues and then come up with a treatment plan to address the same.
How to Help Someone Experiencing Poor Body Image
Understand that they are going through something very difficult. You may not always understand what they are feeling and why but you can learn more about body image issues. While it is tempting to force them to change their negative habits, it's important to resist that urge. Ask them what you can do to be helpful, offer emotional or financial support. Be a positive presence in their life and always encourage them to do the things they have set out to do as part of their support system. You can be an accountability partner and help them with their existing plan. It is important to be a facilitator rather than trying to control their healing journey.