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What Is Body Dysmorphia and What Can You Do About It?

body dysmorphia

Body Dysmorphia (aka Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD) is a mental condition wherein a person obsesses about minor or imaginary physical flaws. Although it can affect anyone regardless of age and gender, teenagers and young adults usually have it. Those who belong to that age bracket are most preoccupied with their appearance. For instance, thirteen-year-old girls who are just starting to be self-conscious are more likely to develop the disorder. Far from vanity, Body Dysmorphic Disorder does damage by interfering with your ability to live a normal life. Find out if you have this condition and what you should do about it:

Overview

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder? Body dysmorphic disorder is a mental disturbance characterized by obsessive notions that one’s body is flawed in some way. BDD is classified as a somatoform disorder. The DSM-5 places BDD in the obsessive disorder spectrum. The disorders occur between 0.7% and 2.4% of the population.

How Common Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

According to research, 5 million to 10 million Americans now have this condition. There may be more considering most people with BDD are reluctant to discuss their symptoms.

Causes

BDD may result from a combination of issues including certain biological and environmental factors. Genetic predisposition (family history), abnormalities in the brain, personality traits, and life experiences (e.g. abuse, trauma, bullying, and negative self-image). People with other mental health problems such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder, are also more likely to have BDD. Likewise, having body dysmorphic disorder may lead to developing psychological conditions similar to those previously mentioned.

Signs

Whether you suspect you have BDD or simply don’t know at all, the following will tell you:

  • Exaggerating a small flaw – for example, thinking that the dot-sized mole on your chin makes your face look ugly and everyone thinks the same.
  • Comparing – judging your appearance based on others’ (believing you should be as slim as your petite neighbor).
  • Repeatedly touching and/or checking your ‘flaw’ – including looking at mirrors for long periods of time and skin picking.
  • Excessive grooming – doing more than you need to like too much hair-combing, outfit changing, shaving, exercising, or dieting.
  • Undergoing unnecessary medical procedure – you either keep thinking of or keep doing it to fix your perceived imperfections.
  • Avoiding social situations – you stay away from places or events where you can expose your flaws; you tend to wear a hat, put on heavy make-up, or go out only at night.

Preoccupation with your appearance, overzealous thoughts and repetitive habits in general can be very difficult to control and can cause substantial distress. You may focus to excessive extent on certain parts of the body, but the area you focus on can change with time. Some most common symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder include a preoccupation of one’s body not being strong or sufficient. This has almost exclusively occurred in men. On the whole, the more you believe, the more disruption you’ll experience in your life.

Body Dysmorphia

Who Has Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Both men and women can suffer from it. Body dysmorphic disorder is a long lasting chronic disorder. It tends to begin during teenage years to early adulthood. Without treatment, there can be more problems as you grow older. Moreover, people become unsatisfied with physical changes that come with age (such as wrinkles).

How Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder Diagnosed?

Often the secrecy and the stigma regarding body dysmorphic disorder makes its diagnosis difficult. People who develop the condition are frequently embarrassed when it comes to telling doctors about it. A usual red flag for professionals is when patients repeatedly seek plastic surgery for a perceived physical defect. Whenever a doctor suspects that someone has body dysmorphic disorder, the patient may be referred to a psychiatrist. When diagnosed, a psychiatrist or psychologist assesses the person by using his attitude, behavior, and symptoms. Doctors may begin an assessment with a complete history and physical examination.

Is body dysmorphic disorder the same as eating disorder?

Eating disorders focus on weight and form. When you’re battling an eating disorder, you are concerned about how you can be in shape. Body dysmorphic disorder is a disorder that’s focused on an imaginary physical flaw.

BDD is similar to obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). A person diagnosed with OCD has intrusive, negative thoughts they can’t control.

Most body dysmorphic disorder cases are considered to be obsessive-compulsive. Obsession with perceived flaws causes unhealthy actions (e.g. ritualistic skin picking). Most mental health disorder symptoms overlap with one another. The anxiety you feel leads you to perform rituals or routines that release tension.

Why is body dysmorphic disorder difficult to diagnose?

Many people with body dysmorphic disorder don’t get a diagnosis. They often feel shame and secretive about their condition. It can go unchecked for many years. One sign they can look for could be that the individual was always sought medical procedure for a physical defect they believe he/she had. People may be embarrassed about their illness.

Treatment

Acceptance is essential. Once you’ve accepted your situation, you can start moving towards recovery. Next, find the right doctor. A psychiatrist can give you a proper diagnosis and provide the therapy you need. Because symptoms may be misdiagnosed, you must clearly share your exact concerns. Be honest about your thoughts, behavior, and emotions. On the whole, using both Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (involves coping techniques that manage irrational thoughts and negative thinking patterns) and antidepressant medication is the most common treatment plan for BDD.

Can body dysmorphic disorder be prevented?

Being surrounded by family members or friends is important. Someone with body dysmorphic disorder is prone to anxiety and depression. They can develop low self-esteem because of their faulty body image. All these can take a toll on their mental health. They need to know that their perceived flaw is nothing but that–a perceived flaw. There’s no reason to hide. People who truly care for them can help them find a way to prevent body dysmorphic disorder. Therapy is very effective. All in all, the slightest of signs and symptoms should never be ignored.

Like other psychological conditions, Body dysmorphia requires immediate attention. You must seek professional help before it does any harm to you and your life. In the same way, you have to act at once if a loved one or someone you know is suffering from this disorder. Let them know that they need intervention. Support is very important. Moreover, you must make sure you have people who can be with you as you go through the healing process–those who accept and understand you no matter what. When you receive love, it’s easier to love yourself enough not to give in to self-pity or any negative emotions you might be experiencing. Remember that you’re human and that you deserve to be well. Believe you can overcome because you will.

Body Dysmorphia

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Written by Hannah Grace

A B.S. Psychology graduate who fights both real and imaginary shadows every day with music and words.

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