Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a psychiatric condition which is characterised by an excessive obsession with either a real or imagined defect in your physical appearance.
Sufferers will either have a completely distorted or exaggerated opinion about a perceived flaw in their appearance which can range from anything such as a skin blemish or the size of a facial feature, e.g. a mole or a person’s nose or ears to perhaps a scar or the perceived size and/or shape of breasts (for a woman) or penis (for a man).
Signs & Symptoms
There are several signs and symptoms which may indicate that you might be suffering from body dysmorphic disorder. These can include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Repeatedly checking your body or area of concern in mirrors and in shop windows and other places you can see your reflection
- Wearing baggy or excessive clothing to try to conceal the perceived flaw
- Always making negative comments about your own body image and creating unfavourable impressions about yourself compared to others
- Avoiding situations where the perceived flaw could be noticed and feeling self-conscious and anxious in social settings
- Refusing to have your photograph taken
- Constantly seeking medical treatment for the flaw in spite of being told there’s nothing wrong with you and forever researching the area of your body which you feel is affected
There is no straightforward answer as to what causes a person to suffer from body dysmorphic disorder. However, factors can include having an obsessive-compulsive disorder, an eating disorder, a chemical imbalance in the brain and there can be other psychological and behavioural factors too.
Diagnosis & Treatment
In order to correctly diagnose body dysmorphic disorder, the process involves you being asked questions by a psychologist or psychiatrist which will cover areas such as any compulsions, obsessions or disappointing feelings you have over your body image or appearance and about your overall emotional state.
You’ll be questioned about things such as any excessive grooming habits, avoidance tactics you might use in relation to social situations as well as your overall perception about how you feel about yourself as a person from a physical perspective.
Treatment for people who are suffering from body dysmorphic disorder might initially come in the form of anti-depressant medication but, ultimately, it will take some kind of cognitive behaviour therapy or psychotherapy to get to the root of the problem. In these ‘talk therapy’ sessions you might be taught how to channel your negative thoughts about your image and how to replace them with positive ones.
You’ll often also be asked to carry out certain behavioural assignments with the aim of enabling you to break patterns of negative behaviour. For example, you might be encouraged and taught how to reduce the number of times you look in the mirror each day to start with. Then, as your perceptions become less distorted, you’ll be given help in learning how to feel more comfortable in social settings and around other people, for example, without feeling so self-conscious.
To overcome body dysmorphic disorder, it’s crucial that you follow the advice of the experts, take the medication if prescribed and follow through with all the therapy offered to you and it’s often useful to get family and friends whom you trust involved in helping you achieve your goals. There are also specialist counsellors who can help you over the longer-term.