Focussing on Appearance
Most of us spend time in front of the mirror checking
our appearance. Some people spend more time than others, but taking care of our bodies and being interested in our appearance is natural.
How we feel about our appearance is part of our body
image and self-image. Many people have some kind of
dissatisfaction with their bodies. This can be especially true during the teen years when our bodies and appearance go through lots of changes.
Although many people feel dissatisfied with some aspect of their appearance, these concerns usually don't constantly occupy their thoughts or cause them to feel tormented.
But for some people, concerns about appearance become quite extreme and upsetting.
Some people become so focused on imagined or minor imperfections in their looks that they can't seem to stop checking or obsessing about their appearance. Being constantly preoccupied and upset about body imperfections or appearance flaws is called body dysmorphic disorder.
What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a condition that involves
obsessions, which are distressing thoughts that repeatedly
intrude into a person's awareness. With BDD, the distressing
thoughts are about perceived appearance flaws.
People with BDD might focus on what they think is a facial
flaw, but they can also worry about other body parts, such
as short legs, breast size, or body shape. Just as people with
eating disorders obsess about their weight, those with BDD
become obsessed over an aspect of their appearance.
They may worry their hair is thin, their face is scarred, their
eyes aren't exactly the same size, their nose is too big, or their
lips are too thin.
BDD has been called "imagined ugliness" because the appearance
issues the person is obsessing about usually are so small that others don't even notice them. Or, if others do notice them, they consider them minor. But for someone with BDD, the concerns feel very real, because the obsessive thoughts distort and magnify any tiny imperfection.
Because of the distorted body image caused by BDD, a person might believe that he or she is too horribly ugly or disfigured to be seen.
Getting help for BDD
If you or someone you know has BDD, the first step is recognizing what might be causing the distress. Many times, people with BDD are so focused on their appearance that they believe the answer lies in correcting how they look, not with their thoughts.
The real problem with BDD lies in the obsessions and compulsions, which distort body image, making someone feel ugly. Because people with BDD believe what they're perceiving is true and accurate, sometimes the most challenging part of overcoming the disorder is being open to new ideas about what might help.
BDD can be treated by an experienced mental health professional. Usually, the treatment involves a type of talk therapy called cognitive-behavioral therapy. This approach helps to correct the pattern that's causing the body image distortion and the extreme distress.
In cognitive behavioral therapy, a therapist helps a person to examine and change faulty beliefs, resist compulsive behaviors, and face stressful situations that trigger appearance concerns. Sometimes doctors prescribe medication along with the talk therapy.
Treatment for BDD takes time, hard work, and patience. It helps if a person has the support of a friend or loved one. If someone with BDD is also dealing with Depression, Anxiety, feeling isolated or alone, or other life situations, the therapy can address those issues, too.
Body dysmorphic disorder, like other obsessions, can interfere with a person's life, robbing it of pleasure and draining energy. An experienced psychologist or psychiatrist who is knowledgeable about BDD can help break the grip of the disorder so that a person can fully enjoy life.