Body Dysmorphia

What is Body Dysmorphia?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a mental disorder characterised by the inability to stop thinking about perceived defects with your appearance.


It is safe to say that most people are not 100% happy with their appearance - maybe they think they should go to the gym more, take better care of their skin, or get a haircut. However, body dysmorphic disorder is almost an obsession with these perceived defects.


Body dysmorphic disorder can reach such extremes as multiple cosmetic surgeries, refusal to leave the house, fear of socialising, and so on.


Some of the signs and symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder include;

  • A strong belief that you have a defect in your appearance

  • A belief that others notice this perceived defect in a negative way or are mocking you

  • Engaging in behaviours aimed at fixing the perceived defect e.g. constantly checking the mirror, skin picking, grooming and so on

  • Constantly comparing your appearance with others

  • Perfectionist tendencies

  • Frequent cosmetic procedures with little satisfaction

  • Avoiding social situations

  • Being so preoccupied with appearance that it causes major distress or problems in your social life, work, school, or other areas of functioning.

For me, this last symptom is crucial. As I mentioned, lots of people have hang-ups about their appearance, some people spend a lot of money on trying to look their best [whether it's hiring make up artists for events, getting fake tans, paying for personal trainers, and so on], however what sets Body Dysmorphic Disorder aside as a mental health condition is the havoc that it can cause in your daily life.


Who is impacted?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) effects about 1 in 50 people - making it more common than disorders such as anorexia nervosa and schizophrenia, and as common as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder.


BDD normally develops during adolescence, as this is a time when people are generally more sensitive about their developing appearance. However, many people who suffer from BDD do not tell anyone about it for a long time, and it can often go undiagnosed for at least 15 years.


BDD is typically a bigger problem in cultures where importance is placed on physical appearance, and in this age of social media it is likely that the prevalence of BDD in young people will increase.


In western cultures, Body Dysmorphic Disorder is equally common in men and women.


What contributes to Body Dysmorphia?

There is not yet a definitive answer to what causes BDD, however there are many factors that might contribute to it.

Some people may have a genetic predisposition to body dysmorphia, making them more likely to develop it. However there is also a chance that growing up in an environment that is heavily focused on beauty and appearance would contribute to the development of BDD. For example, if you grow up in a family where value is placed on the way that people look, people are mocked for looking differently and so on, then body dysmorphia may be more likely to develop.


A case could also be made for certain career paths leading to body dysmorphia such as modelling, body building, acting, and so on. However, it could be that people who suffer from BDD are drawn to activities such as body building as it is a way of constantly working on their 'defect', in this case being too small [this is also known as muscle dysmorphia].


How do you treat Body Dysmorphia?

The two main treatment plans for Body Dysmorphic Disorder are Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) and/or medication.


CBT is a form of talking therapy that focuses on thoughts (cognition), behaviours, and emotions. It helps to identify irrational from rational thoughts, negative automatic thoughts, and how these all impact on your behaviour and emotions. A CBT therapist will likely give you homework to do which helps the therapy to translate into your everyday life much more readily.


The medications that might be prescribed for BDD include Selective Seretonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) which are a form of anti-depressant most commonly used to treat disorders of anxiety and high distress. SSRIs work by improving your brain's ability to communicate effectively, it does this by improving the chemical balance in the brain thereby impacting your emotions and mood.


If you would like to book an initial counselling session with me, please contact me on amylaunder.counselling@gmail.com


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