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What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder? - Treatment, Symptoms, Causes & Definition

Instructor: Vidhi Desai
How many times have you thought about that one characteristic that you don't like about yourself? For those with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), thinking about imperfections is a daily obsession. It can turn into the focus of each day, and if ignored, even their whole lives.

body image

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is an obsession with one's own physical flaws, when in reality the imperfections are either minor or imagined. Some refer to BDD as 'imagined ugliness.' It is a mental illness that causes body image concerns. Those with BDD think that their flaws are the focus of their appearance, not just to themselves, but to everyone who sees them. They spend many hours daily obsessing over the imperfection or imperfections, depending on how many flawed areas they perceive they have.

Common Areas of Perceived Imperfection

People with BDD tend to focus on things like:

  • Nose shape
  • Skin/acne
  • Hair (type or thickness)
  • Breast size (women)
  • Penis size (men)
  • Muscle size (men)

Although this is not an all-encompassing list, research suggests that these are popular areas of focus for those with BDD.

Symptoms of BDD

There are plenty of possible symptoms for BDD. Here is a list:

  1. Trying to blend in by modifying clothing and make-up: they try to make themselves look as 'normal' as possible, so make-up and clothing may cover the perceived imperfections
  2. Comparing their body to others' bodies: they are harder on themselves than they are on others; an example of this may be looking at a model in a magazine and comparing the model's perfections to their own 'imperfections'
  3. Checking mirrors repeatedly or avoiding mirrors and photo opportunities completely
  4. Skin-picking
  5. Excessive grooming, such as shaving, hair-plucking, and hair-combing
  6. Excessive exercising
  7. Needing constant compliments about physical appearance
  8. Avoiding public places and social situations: some who suffer from BDD don't leave the house, which can be destructive to work and social life
  9. Delusions about their imperfections: delusions related to perceived flaws refer to believing something negative about one's body even if it's imagined and loved ones try to make a case supporting the truth (for example, if Donna believes that she is fat when she is 15 pounds underweight, she is delusional about her weight; even when doctors and family members suggest that she try to gain a few pounds, she refuses to stop her excessive exercising)
  10. Suicidal thoughts

Treatments

Luckily, there are a number of treatments for someone with a disorder like BDD.

  1. Counseling or support groups: having a mental health professional or a group of people experiencing similar issues can help the patient cope with the disorder
  2. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT): CBT is a way to help the patient understand thoughts and feelings and how they influence behaviors; it teaches healthy behaviors instead of destructive behaviors, like skin-picking or avoiding food
  3. Medication: antidepressants and antianxiety medicines may help people with BDD due to the similarities that BDD has with other anxiety disorders, while avoiding drugs and nonprescription drugs can help decrease negative interactions with prescribed drugs
  4. Hospitalization: in extreme cases, when patients are unable to care for themselves or are at risk of self-harm, hospitalization may be required

Causes

Although there is no sure cause of BDD, the following factors should be taken into consideration:

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