Dysmorphophobia, known in the modern day as body dysmorphic disorder or BDD, is a disorder in which a person becomes obsessed with one or more perceived flaws in their physical appearance that do not always match up with reality. People with BDD may find themselves struggling with low self esteem, anxiety, depression, and a high level of difficulty in making and maintaining social connections.
This article will discuss the potential causes of BDD, the symptoms associated with it, and how it can be treated.
Body Image and Anxiety?
Dysmorphophobia may not be considered an anxiety disorder anymore, but that doesn't mean that anxiety doesn't play a role. Learn to control your anxiety with my free 7 minute anxiety tes.t
Causes of Dysmorphophobia
Dysmorphophobia was once thought to be just a phobia - the fear that a part of one's own body is either repulsive or will become repulsive. This has clear roots in anxiety, which is why you should consider taking my anxiety test now.
It's also something that can be a symptom of anxiety, like social phobia. However, these are now considered separate conditions, and dysmorphophobia is not usually something that falls under the heading of anxiety. If anything, it may be considered a symptom of body dysmorphic disorder.
BDD can have a variety of causes, and often involves more than one. Frequently, BBD begins during adolescence, when focus on and criticism of the body by oneself and by others is most prevalent. Causes of and contributing factors to BDD are listed below.
- Preexisting Disorders Eating disorders can eventually lead to BBD, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be a contributing factor. People with these disorders tend to strive for perfection in an obsessive manner, constantly perceiving imperfection and, as a result, constantly feeling compelled to make changes. Eventually, their obsessions and compulsions may lead them to an unrealistic perception of reality in which particular features of the self are the focus.
- Personality Traits Personality traits such as perfectionism, shyness, high sensitivity to criticism or neuroticism can also sway people towards developing BDD. These types of people are likely to spend too much time concentrating on perceived imperfections in themselves, to the point where they have a hard time not thinking about them, or imagining that others are alluding to or making fun of them.
- Physical Attributes Physical traits that cause a person to stand out in any way from the crowd, whether it is freckles, red hair, severe acne, a mole, a scar, or other fairly common but not universal phenomena, can contribute to the likelihood of the person developing BDD. During teenage years they may be especially sensitive to other people pointing out their difference, and come to view it as a freakish or disfiguring.
- Teasing/Bullying Experiencing teasing and bullying as a teen greatly increases the likelihood of developing BDD. Teens that are singled out from their peers or by parental figures as an object of torment are likely to have some aspect of their appearance made fun of, and to look for flaws in themselves that may be to blame for their experiences. The fewer resources and tactics they have for dealing with bullying, the stronger their conviction that they are somehow flawed is allowed to become.
- Media Definitions of Beauty/Attractiveness In an age where so many people's lives are influenced on a daily basis by the media, it is easy to see how the media may be in part to blame for the development of BDD in some people. The media is known for its generally unrealistic portrayals of beauty and attractiveness, intended to encourage its audience to strive for the unreachable by becoming committed consumers of makeup, clothes, fad diets and so on. Some people take this message to heart, internalizing the ideas suggested by the media that body fat is unsightly, or that wrinkles or cellulite should never appear.
It can be extremely difficult to overcome perceptions about the self developed during adolescence, the time during which a person's future identity is being formed. Adolescence is a time when the judgment center of the brain is underdeveloped, which often means that a person will not see the irrationality of their negative beliefs and therefore internalize them as though they were true, which causes them to persist into adulthood.
Symptoms of BBD
The beliefs that one's own body is somehow drastically flawed that accompany BDD, like many beliefs, have a chance to become stronger and more ingrained over time. However, if BBD is addressed when it is developing, it is much less likely that the psychological pain and stress will persist into adulthood.
Whether you are an adolescent or an adult, the following signs can help you determine whether you should seek treatment for BDD:
- Unrealistic perception of self and compulsive compensatory behaviors
- Obsessions with body modification
- Intense self consciousness and shame
- Social withdrawal
- Inability to maintain relationships
- Low self esteem
- Suicidal thoughts
- Substance abuse
- Anxiety disorder symptoms
- Depressive disorder symptoms
Compulsive behaviors often associated with BDD may include:
- Constantly checking reflection, OR avoidance of reflective surfaces and refusal to look at photographs
- Comparing self to others
- Seeking assurance from others regarding self image
- Clothes worn to disguise or distract from the perceived flaw
- Hostility towards others
- Body modification and persistent dissatisfaction
Though many people feel self-consciousness and dissatisfaction regarding their body at some point in their lives, people with BDD feel it constantly and alter their behavior significantly to compensate for their negative beliefs. Fortunately, there are preventative measures and treatments that may help you regain a healthy perspective regarding your body.
Preventing and Treating BBD
- Put Down the Magazine, Pick Up a Book You would think that magazines would provide you with some light, fun reading that could take your mind off of your problems. If you are a person with BDD, they are much more likely to do the opposite by filling your head with photo-shopped images of perfect, visually appealing people who don't exist in reality. By reading books instead, you avoid being assaulted by unhealthy images and are allowed to focus on idols defined by their thoughts and actions rather than their appearances.
- Admire Yourself Even if you can't think of a single feature you like about yourself, choose a feature that maybe doesn't matter to you too much like your toenails and describe to yourself why you like them. You can make things up admire the moon-shape of the nail, their translucency, the fact that they shield your toes and don't mind being neatly clipped. As long as you focus on positivity, even if it's ridiculous, you will have an avenue of escape from obsessive negative thoughts. Soon you will have trained yourself to think, Well, at least feature X and fill in a positive aspect to accompany the negative one.
- Learn to Laugh About Yourself Look at caricatures of famous, perfect people rather than at photos of them, and remember that everyone, with no exception, is unique and odd in some way. Getting a caricature done with a friend can be a fun way to face your flaws with support from another person and realize that you are not alone in your weirdness.
- Look for Familial/Hereditary Traits Traits that cause you to stand out have a good likelihood of being traits that were passed down to you by a near or distant relative, like curly hair, a oddly-shaped nose, or freckles. Thinking about someone that you love or someone important to you being visibly a part of you in that way can make you feel a little better about seeing yourself. When you start to see reminders of love and family history in the place of others' or your own definitions of ugliness, it may help you to appreciate how arbitrary and meaningless the definition of ugly really is.
BBD is a disorder that prevents people from seeing the beauty and value that they possess, both inside and outside. Hating yourself is a much more serious defect than any physical defect could be, which is why identifying your BDD and learning to appreciate and be happy with yourself is far better than a facelift or beauty cream for showing your best side to the world.
I've helped many men and women overcome their dysmorphophobia by combatting the anxiety aspect through my free 7 minute anxiety test. If you've developed any eating disorders, always consult a professional. But if you simply have the anxiety, make sure you take the test now.
Author: Micah Abraham, BSc Psychology, last updated Sep 28, 2017.