Body dysmorphic disorder is when a person cannot stop thinking about a perceived flaw in their appearance.
Ask most people and they can tell you that there are imperfections with their body. Whether it is someone who doesn’t like their nose or feels that they are carrying too much weight in their hips – this is normal. Yet for those with body dysmorphic disorder, these imperfections become an obsession.
Body dysmorphic disorder is also known as dysmorphophobia. It is probably more common than you might think. In this article we’ll answer a few questions about this mental health disorder. What it is, who gets it, why it happens, the symptoms, and the treatment options available to those with it.
Body dysmorphic disorder is when a person cannot stop thinking about a perceived flaw in their appearance. The person may become obsessed with these “flaws” and have multiple surgeries to try to fix it. For example, a person with this mental health disorder may feel that their nose is too large and then have it fixed by a plastic surgeon. That often does not satisfy them. Next, they may believe that their lips need plumping or their ears need fixing. These continues in a cycle that doesn’t end. No surgery fixes what they need fixed.
Body dysmorphic disorder somewhat mimics the symptoms or feelings of those with an eating disorder or being obsessive compulsive. The difference is that someone with an eating disorder is fixated on how their body looks. A person with body dysphoria fixates on a specific body part. It is interesting to note that a study found that in cases of people with body dysmorphic disorder, 24 percent of them also had obsessive compulsive disorder too. And in some cases, some of the people had a combination of body dysphoria as well as an eating disorder and depression.
According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America:
Body dysmorphic disorder most often develops in adolescents and teens, and research shows that it affects men and women almost equally. In the United States, Body dysmorphic disorder occurs in about 2.5 percent in males, and in 2.2 percent of females. Body dysmorphic disorder often begins to occur in adolescents 12-13 years of age.
In fact, it happens in about 1 in 50 people and some figures show that it affects up to almost 2.5 percent of the general population.
A study published in 2010 notes that people who identify as LGBTQ are more likely to report symptoms than people of heterosexual orientation. The National LGBT Health Education Center also note that bullying, rejection, and other stressors may increase the risk of body dysmorphia disorder in the LGBTQ youth community.
No one knows exactly why body dysmorphic disorders happen to some people. As with most mental health disorders though, there are risk factors as well as research pointing to some possibilities. These include the following:
Neurochemistry or brain abnormalities may be what causes body dysmorphic disorders. In simple terms, a person with a body dysmorphic disorder may simply have a different brain chemistry from others who do not have this mental health disorder.
Whether it is the culture you live in or life experiences you have, the outside environment is sometimes what may cause body dysmorphic disorders in some people. This is due to things like childhood abuse or even negative social norms about a person’s look or body type.
Like with many mental health disorders, sometimes it is in our genes. Some research shows that those who have body dysmorphic disorder is more likely to have a blood relative with the same disorder. This does not mean that a person must have a family member with this disorder or that if you do have a relative with it that you will get it too – but statistically speaking – it does seem to run in some families.
There are also risk factors as well. According to the Mayo Clinic, these may include:
Having blood relatives with body dysmorphic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder
Negative life experiences, such as childhood teasing and trauma
Certain personality traits, such as perfectionism
Societal pressure or expectations of beauty
Having another psychiatric disorder, such as anxiety or depression
Some of the symptoms include a person being obsessed with their appearance. This does not meant that the person is vain or stuck on themselves like some might think. Instead, this person may spend hours fixated on a particular part of their body. This obsession can make it hard to attend social settings or even leave the house.
According to Mental Health America:
Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder will focus on their appearance, but this does not mean that they are self-obsessed. Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder suffer from a serious mental illness that influences the way that they view themselves. Body dysmorphic disorder causes individuals to feel ashamed of their appearance, rather than love it.
There are some specific symptoms that are prevalent in those with body dysmorphic disorder.
People with body dysmorphic disorder may have obsessive, repetitive, and compulsive behavior when it comes to either trying to make their flaws better or to hide them.
Maybe you have seen shows or read articles about someone who gets many plastic surgeries and still never feels that they are done. Or perhaps the surgeries are excessive and extreme in nature. These are examples of body dysphoria.
There are also common body areas or parts that people with body dysphoria focus on, including:
A person with body dysphoria may make numerous trips to doctors while fixated on their perceived flaw(s). They may also seek constant reassurance that they look fine while never believing a positive answer.
There are a couple of main treatment components for those with body dysphoria. One is medication and the other is therapy. The most successful treatment has shown to be cognitive behavioral therapy. There are also specific antidepressants that help people cope with the symptoms of body dysphoria.
According to Psycom:
Cognitive behavioral therapy is a coping technique that teaches individuals suffering from body dysphoria how to recognize irrational thoughts and change negative thinking patterns. You then are instructed on how to take those negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones.
And when it comes to the antidepressants, these help minimize the compulsion and obsessive behavior. More specifically, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are prescribed because research points to brain chemical serotonin.
While body dysphoria disorder is not necessarily curable, treatment is available that helps make it easier to live with.
If you or a loved one is experiencing negative symptoms from body dysphoria, know that this disorder is treatable. We customize a treatment plan that is tailored for your needs. Not only are you treated like an individual but we know what it takes to help you change negative behaviors and thoughts. A combination of medications and cognitive behavioral therapy is the right path that can change how you think. Contact us and let us help you with body dysphoria disorder.