Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder, also known as BDD, is a somatoform disorder in which a person is entirely preoccupied with an imagined or exaggerated physical flaw to the point of depression and/or social withdrawal. People with body dysmorphic disorder obsess about certain features, most notably hair, skin, facial features and other parts of the body such as breasts, the penis, thighs, buttocks, et cetera. The disorder is sometimes referred to “imagined ugliness,” because other people do not see the flaw, but the affected person can’t seem to get over it.

Common Symptoms of BDD

  • Constantly examining the “flaw” by looking in the mirror, picking at the face or trying to conceal it
  • Needing consistent reassurance that their “flaw” isn’t noticeable or too obvious
  • bsessing by measuring, touching, or trying to alter their “flaw
  • Constant focus on their defect causes problems in school, work or relationships
  • Self-consciousness, being afraid to show their “flaw” in public
  • Resorting to plastic surgery, or at least investigating the possibility
  • Feelings of anxiety, depression, obsession and thoughts of suicide

Causes of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder is a somatoform disorder, which means that it has psychological origins. BDD usually occurs in younger people, from early adolescence to early adulthood, but can occur beyond this age bracket. This is a time when most of us are becoming more aware of our physical appearance, and the societal pressures of “perfection.” Adolescence is not usually a very easy time for anyone, but someone with BDD has a multiplied burden. The disorder doesn’t have clear origins, but has been seen in people who experienced traumatic events in childhood, were made to feel unworthy or not good enough by adults, and who experienced low self-esteem. BDD also can coexist with other psychological problems like depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety. Body dysmorphic disorder has also been linked to issues with neurotransmitters.

Treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Treatment for BDD certainly entails psychological assistance. The roots of BDD are found within psychological issues, and they must be treated for the BDD to go away. In other words, a person with body dysmorphic disorder could get all the plastic surgery and “flaw”-perfecting they could dream of, yet they would still feel ugly and unsatisfied. This is because the problem isn’t really the flaw; it’s their thinking process. Body dysmorphic disorder is treated effectively with one-on-one psychotherapy. A psychologist knows how to talk to their patient to get to the bottom of why they feel so ugly, and can help them to learn new thinking patterns. A great addition to therapy is family and group support. Because people with BDD tend to be younger, the extra support from family members can help them to feel more adequate. Sometimes medication such as antidepressants is an option.

What Should You Do?

If your child or loved one is suffering from body dysmorphic disorder, it’s vital to seek treatment for them. Often times, their suffering is a cry for help; and a dependable, trusted adult is the only one who can provide it. If you’re unsure of where to turn, try speaking with the school counselor or your regular health care provider. It’s never too early to seek help for a person with BDD. It’s important to treat it so that your loved one can live a regular, healthy life instead of being hindered by an imaginary flaw – sometimes to the point of total depression or even suicide. Remember, you can help.

View Resources

Wikipedia – Wikipedia article for BDD, including symptoms, causes, diagnosis and treatment.

Cleveland Clinic – Important information about BDD, including diagnosis, treatment, and outlook.

Mayo Clinic – Risk factors, complications, treatments and remedies for BDD.

KidsHealth.org – A great resource for young adults or adolescents and their parents dealing with BDD.

World Psychiatry – Journal article for recognizing and treating imagined ugliness – aka – BDD.


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