Understanding the Body Dysmorphic Disorder

By | January 11, 2020

Please Note: This article is presented for informational purposes only and is not meant to diagnose or treat any illness. If you have any health concern, see a licensed healthcare professional in person.

It’s normal to have something that you don’t like about your physical appearance. It could be an uneven smile, or big eyes or a crooked nose. While we may dislike our imperfections, most of us don’t let them interfere with our daily lives. But this is different for people with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). They spend hours of their day thinking about their real or perceived flaws. They have a difficult time controlling their negative thoughts and won’t believe compliments from people. As a result, this interferes with their daily functioning. Patients tend to isolate themselves from family or friends as they are afraid that others might notice their imperfections.

If you have BDD or you know someone who’s suffering from it, educating yourself on the causes, symptoms, as well as treatment, will help you understand how to assist them. Keep reading this guide to learn more about BDD.

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Also called body dysmorphia is a mental disorder where one cannot stop thinking about their physical flaw, whether real or perceived. A minor flaw that other people don’t notice can make patients feel embarrassed, anxious, and ashamed and they may avoid social situations.

People with BDD put intense focus on their appearance and body image. They spend much time grooming themselves, checking the mirror, or seeking reassurance for hours daily. As a result, this leads to stress and significantly affects their quality of life.

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BDD can affect anyone, but this condition is common in teenagers and young adults. It affects all genders. Although reassurance can work for a short time, it is not a long-term treatment. Therefore, people with this condition should seek accurate diagnosis, treatment, as well as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Signs and Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Patients often suffer from obsessions about their appearance, which lasts for hours or the whole day. These obsessions make it hard for people with the condition to focus on anything else other than their imperfections. This can thus cause low self-esteem, unproductiveness in school and at work, as well as isolation. Symptoms of this condition include:

Believing that you have a defect in your appearance, which makes you look deformed or ugly.

Comparing yourself to other people and seeking reassurance.

Trying cosmetic procedures without satisfaction.

A patient can also exercise some form of repetitive behavior to hide or improve their imperfections. These behaviors include changing clothes repeatedly, skin picking, checking or avoiding mirrors, excessive exercising, and grooming, etc.

Causes of BDD

The exact cause of BDD is not known. But doctors believe several reasons could lead to this disease, including:

  • Genetic factors
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Low levels of serotonin
  • Body shaming or teasing
  • Mental disorders such as depression or anxiety
  • Societal pressure

Getting Help for BDD

If you have BDD, you should see a doctor. You’ll be asked several questions about the symptoms you feel and how they’re impacting your life. The doctor can also ask whether you’ve thought about harming yourself. Note that although seeking help for BDD can be difficult, remember that you have nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed about. Seeking help is essential as the symptoms may not go away without treatment.

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BDD Treatment

Treatment for BDD includes individual and group therapy combined with certain medications. Mild symptoms may improve with either treatment alone. However, a combination of the two treatments will work faster, especially if the patient has suicidal thoughts. Individuals are referred to a therapy called cognitive behavior therapy or prescribed an antidepressant medication called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. Specialist hypnotherapy such as RTT offered by Cindy Galvin can also help.

Cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

This treatment focuses on changing the behavior patterns and thoughts in patients suffering from BDD. Therapists usually help patients to identify instances that cause anxiety and develop a coping mechanism. Through this therapy, individuals learn to step outside themselves and view their bodies through a forgiving lens.

Doctors also use an exposure and response prevention technique (ERP), which exposes one to situations that make them think obsessively about their appearance and feel anxious. Your therapists will assist you in finding ways of dealing with these situations. With time, you’ll be able to deal with them without fear or self-consciousness. Depending on your symptoms, your CBT may involve group work.

Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs)

These antidepressants are available in different types. However, the most commonly prescribed type for treating BDD is fluoxetine. SSRIs may take up to 12 weeks to start showing effects. And treatment can go on for several months if they work for you.

Note that SSRIs have some side effects, but they only last for a short while. Your doctor also monitors you over the first weeks of taking these medications. You should inform them if you are feeling emotional, anxious, or have thoughts of injuring yourself.

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Final Thoughts

Shame and embarrassment about your physical appearance can keep one from seeking help for body dysmorphic disorder. But, remember that the symptoms don’t fade away on their own. Thus, if not treated, it can get worse with time, and can cause anxiety, severe depression, and worse, suicidal thoughts. If you are suffering or know someone with this condition, ensure that they get immediate medical help. You may also try joining support groups for information, advice, and tips on coping with this disorder. Lastly, don’t forget to practice mindfulness exercises as they help, especially when you feel anxious or low.

This content is brought to you by Mac McCarthy.

Photo: Shutterstock

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