Body Dysmorphic Disorder
A closer look at body dysmorphic disorder and its symptoms, causes, and ways to cope with it
What Is It?
Let’s face it - at one time or another you’ve wished a part of your body looked a little differently. It might be that you think your thighs are too big, your skin is not perfect, or your nose has a little bump in the middle that EVERYONE can notice.
This kind of thinking is pretty common and relatively normal, whether it’s true or not. However, these thoughts become a problem when they start to rule your life. You become preoccupied with the part of your body that you think is not okay, and these beliefs can interfere with the quality of your life. This kind of obsessing over a part of your body is known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (or BDD).
How BDD might affect you
There are many different types of behaviors and symptoms that you might experience if you have BDD, however you don’t necessarily have to experience all of them.
Some common symptoms include:
Frequently checking out how you look in mirrors
Picking at your skin
Constantly making sure you look clean and well groomed
Frequently touching the part of your body that you don’t like
Trying to hide or disguise the body part or yourself
Avoiding going out or being with others because you feel so self-conscious about an aspect of your appearance
Trying to ‘fix’ the body part through exercise, medication, surgery, and other sorts of treatment
If you are concerned that these behaviors and feelings sound familiar, it is important that you speak to a doctor or psychologist, counselor or other mental health professional to find out more.
Why does it happen?
BDD does not have a single cause. It is often due to a variety of different physical and mental health issues.
Some causes might be:
Having low self-esteem and negative beliefs about yourself
Thinking negative thoughts such as “everybody hates me because I’m ugly” or “I’ll never be anything if I don’t look ‘perfect’”
A cultural emphasis and fixation of the ideal body
Not being able to cope well with stress
Feeling a lack of control in your life
Feeling as though you cannot manage difficult emotions any other way
Having relationship problems with family members or peers
Having been sexually abused or traumatized
Genetics and body chemistry could be relevant in some cases
If you are concerned that you might have BDD, it is important that you see a doctor or a mental health professional to talk about and find out more about the best treatment options. Getting the right assistance can help you enjoy your life again.
Some treatment options may include:
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) can be really helpful when dealing with BDD. It can give you a feeling of power and control over your thoughts, enabling you to learn ways of overcoming the tendency to think negatively
Response prevention is a type of treatment that helps you develop other ways of coping with the urges to participate in the behaviors that result from your BDD;
Medication from your doctor can sometimes be useful in reducing the intensity of your negative thoughts and behaviors.
BDD can sometimes exist with other psychological problems such as depression, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and social anxiety. Therapy for these problems may also help your BDD.
Other things that might be helpful
Expand your ideas of beauty. Take a look at your local art gallery or in books at the library or bookstore. What do the people look like in these pictures? What makes them beautiful? What makes you want to look at them?
Join a support group. It may be helpful to share your experiences with people who are going through similar situations.
Write in your journal. Physically writing out your feelings can slow down your thought process and help you understand why you’re feeling the way you are. It can also be a relief to let those feelings out, so you no longer feel like you have to carry them around. Not only can you use pen and paper, but there’s lots of apps and websites that allow you to vent and post about your feelings anonymously.
Write down some positive affirmations. Put positive notes around the house or carry them with you. Writing them in dry erase marker or eyeliner on the mirror also works great. Some examples might include: “I am beautiful just as I am”, “I am good enough”, or “My body is strong, just like me”.
Write a list about the things that you like about yourself. It can be anything from being a good friend to liking your big toe! This can be particularly hard when suffering from BDD and low self-esteem. Be gentle with yourself. If you really can’t think of much, ask your friends why they like you.
Write a list of the things you like about your friends. You probably wouldn’t think the same things of your friends as you might about yourself. What are some things you admire about your friends? Are those things deeper than just looks?
Take the time to do nice things for your body. Give yourself a massage, take a bath, or go on a long walk. Find ways to bring self-care into your life, however that looks for you!
Make a list of things you can do to distract yourself from unhealthy behaviors. Imagine all the things you like to do or take a fair amount of your attention to accomplish and write them down. When you’re upset, turn to this list and start trying out some of these coping strategies.
For more information:
For more details about BDD, check out the Mayo Clinic website.
If you are feeling suicidal, it is important for you to share these feelings with your doctor or a mental health professional. You can also reach out to Lines for Life’s Suicide Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for someone who will listen. You might also find the Wanting To End Your Life article to be a helpful tool in helping you cope in a positive way with these feelings.
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com