What is Body Dysmorphia?

What is Body Dysmorphia?

By Dr. Teri McCann, PhD, CEDS

Every day, most of us look in the mirror several times to check our appearance. Most probably struggle with some negative self-talk when looking in the mirror – thinking various thoughts that chip away at self-confidence. But those thoughts typically last for a few minutes, and then drift away as focus shifts to the activities of the day.

People with body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) think about their real or perceived flaws for hours each day, causing them severe emotional distress and interfering with their daily lives. Research shows it affects men and women almost equally and occurs in approximately 1 in 50 people in the general population of the United States.

BDD often begins to occur in adolescents 12-13 years of age (American Psychiatric Association, 2013). It typically surfaces during adolescence and is characterized by obsessive thinking about a flaw that is imagined or, if real, hardly noticeable. Those with BDD compulsively check their perceived flaw and take excessive precautions to hide from others so it will go unnoticed.
BDD is preoccupation with one specific body part. The perceived flaw can happen anywhere on the body, but the most common places are hair, skin, stomach, nose, chin and chest.
BDD is not self-obsession. Self-obsession is the state of being interested in oneself, one’s happiness, motivations and interests to the exclusion of other things and is characterized by an exaggerated love of self. Those with BDD feel ashamed of their appearance and suffer from a serious mental illness that affects how they view themselves.
The thoughts caused by BDD are difficult to control and disrupt daily life.
Individuals with BDD spend an average of 3-8 hours per day thinking about their perceived flaw and doing what they can to hide or change it. It’s difficult to focus on important tasks, affects performance at work or school, and causes social isolation.
Body Dysmorphia may accompany an eating disorder, but it’s important to note that they are two separate disorders. BDD focus on a specific body part, whereas an eating disorder is more generalized to shape and weight concerns. To be diagnosed with an eating disorder eating must be impaired. A diagnosis for BDD states that the individual is overly concerned or convinced that they are misshapen or deformed even though the physician finds either no abnormality at all or, if one is present, a trivial abnormality that would typically go unnoticed.
If you’d like to talk to someone about BDD or an eating disorder, contact a specialist or a counselor at Fairhaven Treatment Center today.

The goal of the treatment team at Fairhaven is to help clients realize they have the strength within themselves to achieve healthy connectedness, both personally and with others. This process of self-discovery helps our clients reclaim the joy in their lives. We use proven evidence-based therapy for eating disorder symptoms and co-occurring problems such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), trauma and attachment disorder, a history of addiction or substance use disorder, as well as other challenges that contribute to and perpetuate the disorder.


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