It is common to experience insecurities and feel critical of our bodies at some point or another. Maybe there is one specific part that we dislike or wish was different. But for most of us, those thoughts pass and do not cause much disruption to our day.
But what about when thoughts about physical appearance become constant and obsessive, and interfere with daily life? This could indicate a mental health condition called Body Dysmorphic Disorder. In this article we will discuss the basics of Body Dysmorphic Disorder, the signs and symptoms, and what treatment looks like.
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What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (or BDD) is a mental disorder characterized by preoccupation with perceived flaws in one’s physical appearance. A person may become fixated on any part of their body, though common areas of concern are hair, skin, nose, chest and stomach.
While one’s perceived flaw is either non-existent or barely noticeable to others, individuals with BDD spend hours each day obsessing about their appearance. Ongoing intrusive thoughts typically cause extreme distress and impact an individual’s ability to carry out daily activities.
Someone with BDD may miss school or work, and avoid social gatherings due to fear that others will notice their flaws.
Often emerging in adolescent and teenage years, BDD affects around 2.4% of the American population. This condition is equally prevalent in males and females. Though there is no single cause for BDD, it is thought to occur as a result of a combination of genetic, psychological, and environmental factors.
Several risk factors for developing BDD include a family history of mental disorders (particularly obsessive compulsive disorder), brain differences, certain personality traits, and negative life experiences such as abuse, neglect, or bullying.
It is common for BDD to coexist with other mental health conditions such as obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, eating disorders, and depression. Due to the presence of obsessive thoughts and repetitive behaviors, BDD can present similarly to obsessive compulsive disorder.
It also shares symptoms with social anxiety disorder, such as the avoidance of social situations due to fear of judgment. What distinguishes BDD from other mental health conditions is that feelings of anxiety and distress revolve entirely around physical appearance.
For more information about various mental health disorders including Body Dysmorphic Disorder, visit BetterHelp.
Signs and Symptoms of BDD
The following signs and symptoms may indicate the presence of Body Dysmorphic Disorder:
- Engaging in repetitive behaviors (or compulsions) in response to obsessive thoughts about one’s appearance; this could look like hair pulling, skin picking, excessive grooming, repeatedly looking in the mirror, or seeking reassurance from others.
- Spending excessive time in front of the mirror or avoiding mirrors entirely
- Dissatisfaction with physical appearance or specific body parts
- Hiding certain body parts using hats, scarves, make-up, etc.
- Seeking unnecessary cosmetic procedures to ‘fix’ perceived flaws
- Repeatedly asking for reassurance from others about one’s appearance
- Avoiding social interactions and isolating oneself from others
- Increased anxiety, depression or feelings of hopelessness
The severity of these obsessive thoughts and behaviors can cause challenges in a person’s ability to attend school or work, and maintain relationships with others. They may also develop low self-esteem which can lead to anxiety or depression.
If you believe you are experiencing these signs and symptoms, reach out to a mental health professional who can determine if you have BDD and help you to develop a plan for treatment moving forward.
Treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Both psychotherapy and medications have been proven to be effective for reducing the symptoms associated with Body Dysmorphic Disorder. A type of talk therapy called Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can help an individual to identify how their thoughts influence their behaviors, and develop healthier patterns of thinking and behaving.
Medications such as anti-depressants may also be used in order to alleviate the intensity of obsessions and compulsions.
Many individuals with BDD attempt to seek out cosmetic surgery or other procedures to try to ‘fix’ their perceived flaws. However, research has revealed that receiving such treatment only increases symptoms of BDD or an individual becomes preoccupied with a different area of their body.
This goes to show that recovering from BDD involves doing the inner work of therapy and addressing one’s anxieties, deeper insecurities, and fear of judgment.
It is crucial to recognize that treatment from BDD is a process, and does not occur overnight. In many cases, symptoms do not vanish entirely, and it is a matter of learning to live with BDD and develop strategies for managing it. It is completely possible for an individual with BDD to live a productive, full life.
Living with Body Dysmorphic Disorder can be debilitating. However, recognizing the signs and symptoms of BDD is the first step towards being able to seek support to receive appropriate diagnosis and treatment.
If fixation on your appearance is causing significant distress and impacting your ability to function every day, reach out to a mental health professional. It is possible to recover from BDD, and break free from the chains of body obsession. You are not alone and there is always hope.
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About the Author
Marie Miguel has been a writing and research expert for nearly a decade, covering a variety of health- related topics. Currently, she is contributing to the expansion and growth of a free online mental health resource with BetterHelp.com. With an interest and dedication to addressing stigmas associated with mental health, she continues to specifically target subjects related to anxiety and depression.