What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder and How is it Treated?

body dysmorphic disorder

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder and How is it Treated?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental health condition that affects the way a person perceives their body. Oftentimes, people with BDD have extremely low self-esteem regarding a certain part of their body or their entire body in general. This may affect an individual’s ability to live normally, as their body makes them extremely upset.

Someone with body dysmorphic disorder may become obsessive about a perceived flaw in their body. Commonly, this flaw is an imagined one, meaning other people cannot recognize the flaw that the person is preoccupied with. These feelings can cause an individual to want to hide their bodies, sometimes interfering with their personal life, career, and daily activities.

What Causes Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)?

The cause of body dysmorphic disorder is often thought to be a combination of environmental, psychological, and biological factors. Sometimes this condition stems from bullying or teasing, which may lead to feelings of shame, inadequacy, or fear of ridicule surrounding the individual’s body.

BDD affects people of all genders and usually begins in the teen years or early adulthood. In other words, this condition starts around the same age that people begin comparing themselves to others.

Factors that may contribute to the development of this mental health issue include:

  • A family history of BDD or a similar mental health condition
  • Parents who are critical of appearance
  • Pressure from peers and society that equate worthiness to physical beauty
  • Societal views of beauty are centered on skinniness, clear skin, and having no imperfections
  • Low self-esteem
  • Abnormal levels of brain chemicals
  • Personality type
  • History of trauma
  • Personal experiences

While BDD is not an eating disorder, it does share some similarities with those conditions. Both conditions cause people to worry about the appearance of their bodies. The main difference is that while someone with an eating disorder focuses on their body weight and shape, people with BDD are preoccupied with a specific area of their body.

What are the Symptoms of BDD?

People with this condition have an inaccurate view of themselves. When they look in the mirror, they see imperfections that are often not even there. This can cause people to avoid others, wear clothes to cover up their perceived imperfections, or repeatedly get surgeries to correct the areas of their body they are concerned with.

Some of the warning signs that an individual has BDD include:

  • A preoccupation with one or more flaws of the body that others cannot see or that appear slight to others
  • Engaging in repetitive behaviors for extended amounts of time, such as looking in the mirror, picking at the skin, or trying to cover up the perceived defect
  • Constantly asking for reassurance about the perceived flaw
  • Having problems in work, school, or relationships because of the individual’s preoccupation with the flaw
  • Feeling self-conscious and not wanting to go out in public, or feeling anxious when in public and around other people who could possibly notice the flaw
  • Repeatedly consulting with plastic surgeons to see about fixing the perceived flaw
  • Suicidal thoughts as a result of their low self-esteem and poor body image

People with this condition usually suffer from an obsession with a perceived flaw in a specific area of the body. Some of the most common areas of concern include:

  • Skin imperfections (i.e. acne, wrinkles, blemishes)
  • Body hair and hair on the head (either lack of hair or having too much hair)
  • Facial features, often the nose
  • Stomach
  • Chest
  • Penis size
  • Muscle size
  • Thighs
  • Butt
  • Body odors

How Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder Diagnosed?

Sometimes, diagnosing this condition can be difficult due to the individual’s propensity for hiding their perceived flaws. This may cause a person to neglect to tell their mental health care provider about their body image issues and low self-esteem. Because of this, body dysmorphic disorder can go unnoticed for years.

However, there is a procedure for diagnosing BDD. During diagnosis, a mental health care provider will ask about a person’s personal and family medical history. If the individual works with a medical doctor instead of a mental health care provider, they will receive a referral for mental health services.

Once at a mental health care office, the provider will diagnose a person with BDD if they:

  • Are preoccupied with flaws in their appearance
  • Complete repetitive actions (i.e. grooming, checking appearance in a mirror, skin picking) because they are concerned about their appearance
  • Can’t function in their daily life due to their appearance

Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder

This condition is only treated through the help of mental health professionals. Most of the time, BDD is only treated through the use of therapy. However, some individuals may require medications for co-occurring mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, or eating disorders.

Body dysmorphic disorder is treated through a combination of therapeutic practices. Some of these therapies include:

  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) Individual counseling that focuses on the way a person thinks. CBT helps people overcome negative patterns of thinking and triggers for BDD by helping the individual engage in positive coping mechanisms and learning how to change negative behavior patterns into positive ones.
  • Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP)- uses thoughts and real-life situations to prove to the person that their thoughts and perceptions surrounding their body are not real.
  • Group and Family Therapy- Family support and peer interaction are extremely important to BDD treatment. Being able to identify with others who have the same condition can allow people to understand that their perceptions about their bodies are imagined. Additionally, family involvement can allow family members to recognize the signs of BDD.

Finding Help for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphia can significantly impact your ability to function in your daily life. Constantly worrying about how you look or viewing yourself as ugly or gross can really take a toll on your mental state, making it difficult to function and complete daily tasks. Because of this, professional treatment is necessary for the recovery of BDD.

Thankfully, mental health treatment programs like Florida Recovery Group can provide you with the tools you need to recover from this condition. Contact us today for more information on how to get started.