It can be challenging to talk with a loved one about breast implant illness (BII). BII is a sensitive topic with conflicting viewpoints. It’s a diagnosis of exclusion which means there is no definitive test for it. And BII’s only known treatment comes with the social stakes of removing and not replacing the breast implants (explant).
As a survivor, you may be fired up about raising awareness and protecting your loved one, but if you come in hot to these conversations, it may not go so well. She may respond with dismissiveness, defensiveness, or gaslighting. And if you push too far, you may close the door on future conversations.
Given these things, you may wonder how to handle the potential pitfalls of discussing BII with someone you love who’s symptomatic but unaware her body may be losing its battle against the bags. This article provides you with tips to navigate the conversation in ways that help keep the lines of communication open.
6 tips for talking with a loved one about breast implant illness
Be a farmer, not a puppeteer: It helps to approach the conversation with the mindset of a farmer, where you plant seeds and hope for growth. If you’re trying to control your loved one’s course of action, gently remind yourself that she is not your marionette. She is her own person, and you are not responsible for her choices.
Recognize that change is a process: Most women spend a considerable amount of time considering what to do about their aging or problematic breast implants. (You can learn more about this time of reasoning in Chapter 4 of Busting Free.) Bottom line: Don’t expect your loved one to be ready to take any actions based on your conversation. Instead, point them in the direction of reliable resources and let them know you’re always willing to talk further. Let her know you’re going to leave the proverbial ball in her court so that you don’t come across as nagging, lecturing, or parenting, or ask if it’s okay for you to loop back with her about this in the future.
Resist the urge to fearmonger: Scaring or overwhelming her is not helpful. Instead, it can lead to overwhelm, shutdown, or defensiveness. If you want to inform and empower your loved one, stick with facts like the FDA’s What To Know About Breast Implants and note her lived experience (for example, “You’ve seen 3 specialists this year and have no diagnosis”) rather than describe worst-case scenarios.
Check your emotions: When you’re caught in Emotion Mind, it’s hard to thoughtfully engage in conversation. It also puts you at risk of saying something you might regret. Ensure that you’re centered and grounded before approaching the topic. If you feel yourself getting heated during the conversation, take a pause and recenter yourself.
Read the room:
If you sense her pulling away or shutting down, honor that she may not be ready to listen to what you’re saying. Validate what you see (e.g., “I can tell you’re uncomfortable”) and that it’s a hard topic (e.g., “This possibility can feel daunting and disappointing). Ask her if it’s okay to say more. Remind yourself that there’s no point in talking with someone who is unwilling to listen.
If you sense that she’s feeling afraid: Provide her with genuine validation (e.g., “Considering BII as a possibility can feel daunting and disappointing). Ask her how she’s feeling or what she’s thinking. Listen to what she says without any judgment so that you can respond more helpfully.
See the bigger picture: Consider what having breast implants means to your loved one. You can learn MUCH more about this in Chapter 1 of Busting Free.) Reflect on her potential medical trauma from past negative experiences. If you don’t know these things about her, ask if she wants to talk about them. Remind her that you’ve been there too and that there is no shame in caring about her breasts’ appearance. Validate how frustrating it can feel to have unexplained declining health. Remember you’re not there to talk her out of her feelings; you’re there to compassionately listen and support.
Speak from your values
When it feels intimidating AND important to talk about BII with a loved one, let your words, tone, and body language be guided by your values of love, compassion, and care. By combining these tips with a values-guided approach, you may learn more about your loved one’s emotional needs and mindset and keep the lines of communication open. Even if she’s not ready to act, talking with her may be an important part of her change process.
For help navigating the mental, emotional, and social concerns of breast implants or their removal, read Busting Free-the first self-help book written specifically for women whose life journeys include breast implants. Its readers emerge from these journeys with a long overdue self-acceptance practice they can use for the rest of their life no matter how their body changes or ages.