Do you worry a lot about the way you look and wish you could think about it less? If so, you may be experiencing symptoms of body dysmorphia.
Many people are negatively impacted by the unrealistic beauty standards that society, popular culture, and social media have set throughout the years. Such standards may even lead you to experience stress and anxiety about your appearance during daily life.
You may have asked yourself this question: Do I have body dysmorphia or am I just insecure?
When evaluating whether or not you’re experiencing body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), this is an important question to ask yourself, or ask on behalf of someone you care about, to get the help you need.
Please note that there’s an important difference between having insecurities and having BDD. It’s not uncommon to be unhappy about a certain physical feature and to feel self-conscious from time to time.
However, BDD isn’t just insecurity in this sense. BDD is a mental health condition that can be all-consuming and requires the proper tools and guidance to manage.
More specifically, body dysmorphic disorder can be
“A relatively common and disabling psychiatric disorder characterized by excessive and persistent preoccupation with perceived defects or flaws in one’s appearance, which are unnoticeable to others, and associated repetitive behaviors (e.g., mirror checking).”
If you’re experiencing BDD, you know what it’s like to think about your appearance excessively. You have recurring, intrusive — and unpleasant — thoughts about your physical imperfections that can last for hours or an entire day.
Because your BDD makes it challenging for you to think about things outside of your physical appearance, the condition can interfere with your daily life by leading to:
- feelings of low self-esteem
- avoidance of social situations
- challenges at work or school
If you have BDD, you also know what it’s like to perform some type of repetitive behavior to try to hide or improve the “flaws” that you’re regularly thinking about. These behaviors may include:
- camouflaging (with body position, clothing, makeup, hair, hats, etc.)
- comparing your body to someone else’s
- seeking surgery
- checking yourself in a mirror
- avoiding mirrors
- picking your skin
- grooming excessively
- exercising excessively
- changing clothes excessively
If you notice yourself or a loved one regularly engaging in these behaviors, recognize that these are common signs of BDD. Like with all other mental health conditions, the first step to coping with BDD is identifying its presence in yourself or someone you care about.
You can also take the BDD Questionnaire to become better equipped to know if this is the condition in your particular case. A diagnosis by a professional is still recommended, but answering these kinds of questions truthfully to yourself can be a good place to start exploring the nature of BDD and how it appears in daily life.
BDD is prevalent just about equally in men and women, but the condition doesn’t affect the whole population equally. This fact is important since conditions related to body image are usually attributed to women. This reality can be surprising and help us better understand the condition.
An example of body dysmorphic disorder
BDD manifests in different ways in real life, depending on compulsive thoughts you might be having.
In the case of 30-year-old Peggy, her life is overwhelmed by the fear of aging. Over the course of her life, Peggy has had over 20 accidents because she has been so distracted checking her face for wrinkles in her rearview mirror. She has also had 17 reconstructive surgeries and over 25 facial corrections.
This is just one of the many ways that BDD might present in real life.
Talking to your primary care physician about how you’re feeling may be the first step, so your doctor can rule out other possible medical conditions.
Once an evaluation by your primary care physician is made and they suspect that this is likely a mental health condition, they may refer you to see a mental health professional who is more qualified and suited to help you in treatment.
There’s absolutely no harm in going to your primary care physician first, if you’re not entirely certain that you’re experiencing BDD.
A qualified clinician can diagnose BDD. Typically, BDD diagnosis will involve an interview, but this can be a complicated process if you’re not completely transparent with the clinician who is trying to help you. It’s normal to feel nervous during the diagnostic process, but remember that honesty is in your best interest.
Try to remind yourself that health professionals aren’t there to judge you, but to help you. And there’s nothing to be ashamed about. You can learn about the different screening, diagnosis, and assessment tools for BDD here.
Again, the treatment that is right for you will be recommended by a healthcare professional. You can look at A Therapist’s Guide for the Treatment of Body Dysmorphic Disorder to learn what treatment might look like. You’ll be working as a team to alleviate your body dysmorphia symptoms and start living the life you deserve!
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)
Mental health professionals like therapists and psychiatrists can be very helpful in changing the way you see yourself and creating better thought patterns.
Specifically, cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can be very effective in treating BDD.
CBT usually involves efforts to change thinking patterns. These strategies might include:
- learning to recognize one’s distortions in thinking and reevaluate them in light of reality
- gaining a better understanding of the behavior and motivation of others
- using problem-solving skills to cope with difficult situations
- learning to develop a greater sense of confidence in one’s own abilities
CBT treatment also usually involves efforts to change behavioral patterns. These strategies might include:
- facing one’s fears instead of avoiding them
- using role-playing to prepare for potentially problematic interactions with others
- learning to calm one’s mind and relax one’s body
In addition to CBT, certain medications can help your symptoms of BDD. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) are recommended. To know exactly which drug will be right for you requires an open dialogue with a psychiatrist.
In severe cases, BDD may require in-patient psychiatric hospitalization.
If suicidal thoughts are surfacing
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, you’re not alone. Help is available right now:
- Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.
- Text “HOME” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
- Not in the United States? Find a helpline in your country with Befrienders Worldwide.
- For more support, find resources for suicide prevention here.
You may also find it comforting to confide in a person you trust. Consider asking a friend or family member to be with you until you find the help you need.
Though it may be underdiagnosed, body dysmorphic disorder is a mental health condition that affects a significant portion of the population. The symptoms of body dysmorphia can be challenging to deal with, as they can create negative thought patterns that interfere with your day-to-day life.
If after reading this article, you feel that you’re experiencing BDD, be sure to reach out to your primary care physician to further evaluate your treatment options. You should be proud of yourself for recognizing your condition and taking the steps to learn more about it.
Living with BDD can be very difficult, but remember that help is always available for you.