Body Dysmorphic Disorder

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder falls into a category of mental disorders that cause someone to perceive defects or flaws in their appearance that are not present. This flaw could either be completely absent or it could be a minor flaw that is not seen by or cannot be observed by others.  This perceived flaw may make the person feel ashamed and anxious to the point where they completely avoid social situations.

People with body dysmorphic disorder can cause them to be intensely obsessive over their appearance and physical image. This perceived flaw can cause repeated behaviors that cause extreme behaviors and significant stress and distress. People with body dysmorphic disorder may seek out multiple or irrational ways to correct what they see as an obvious imperfection.

What are the Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

The signs and symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder may start out as a minor problem and over time the problem grows out of control.

Symptoms include

  • Extreme preoccupation with a flaw that does not exist or others cannot see. Most of the time this flaw is minor or is non-existent.
  • A strong, uncontrollable belief that there is a defect in appearance that makes them ugly or appear deformed.
  • The believe that the “flaw” makes others see you in a negative way, or that others are mocking you due to the perceived flaw.
  • Taking action to fix or hide the perceived flaw. At times, the obsession can become so out of control these behaviors become dangerous.
  • Attempting to groom in a way that hides the perceived flaw.
  • Obsessively comparing their appearance with that of others.
  • Constantly seeking reassurance about their appearance.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Causes

It is not completely clear what causes body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), but it is thought there could be a range of factors at play. Firstly, it is believed that our genetics could be responsible since it appears to be more common in people whose close family members have the disorder. However, it’s unclear in these instances whether BDD symptoms are learned behaviors, or if inherited genes actually make a person more susceptible to the disorder.

Abuse and bullying can sometimes trigger BDD. An individual who has been bullied or abused, particularly in regards to aspects of their appearance, may develop obsessions about their bodies. Having low self-esteem, which could also come about as a result of bullying or abuse, is also strongly associated with BDD.

Another common cause of BDD is a fear of being isolated and being susceptible to peer pressure in an attempt to fit in or compete with others. Feeling a desire to look a certain way to maintain friends or partners might lead to BDD, and in some cases this can be exacerbated for people who work in a particular industry, such as sports, modeling or dancing.

Finally, it’s known that individuals with depression and anxiety are more susceptible to BDD.

How is Body Dysmorphic Disorder Treated?

Treatment for body dysmorphic disorder is not an exact science. This is because the symptoms are caused by a chemical imbalance or mental disorder.

Treatment includes

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy
  • Medications
  • And in severe cases, hospitalization

It seems that the best treatment for body dysmorphic disorder is to prescribe medication used to treat depression. However, in extreme cases where the person is attempting to utilize methods that are dangerous or caustic, hospitalization may be necessary.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Prevention

It is not always possible to prevent BDD, but individuals who are at risk of the disorder, for example due to low self-esteem, may benefit from undergoing therapy to help them develop a more positive relationship with their appearance.

Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) can help to change negative thought patterns. It can allow an individual to recognize irrational ways of thinking and harmful behaviors, and replace them with positive ones. Similarly, talking therapy might help someone with a history of bullying or abuse to come to terms with this trauma and develop healthy ways to cope with it.

Those who feel depressed and are therefore at risk of BDD may benefit from treatment with antidepressant medications. These can help to balance chemicals in the brain which are responsible for low mood.