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; feeling depressed or anxious; feeling suicidal; and 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, including 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 unless I look OK”; a cultural emphasis and fixation of the ideal body; or not being able to cope well with stress or feeling a lack of control in your life.
Other factors could include 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; and in some case genetics and body chemistry could be relevant.
What are some options for managing BDD or getting help?
Seeking Support - 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 some of your feelings down in a journal.
- Write down some positive affirmations. Put positive notes around the house or carry them with you e.g - ‘I am okay as I am ’ ‘I am worthwhile.’
- 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!
- Write a list of the things you like about your friends. How much emphasis do you put on the way your friends look or are there other characteristics about them that you really like? What do they like about you?
- Take the time to do nice things for your body. Go for a massage, take a bath, get your nails done.
- Make a list of things you can do to distract yourself from unhealthy behaviors. Take the dog for a walk, listen to some positive music or watch your favorite movie. Put these items in a box/container and when you feel upset pick one out and do it. Keep doing it until you feel okay again. If you finish your entire list - start again!
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 the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for someone who will listen. You might also find the Wanting to end your life fact sheet to be a helpful tool in helping you cope in a positive way with these feelings.