Breaking Free from Body Dysmorphia Disorder

When you suffer from Body Dysmorphia Disorder, intrusive thoughts and beliefs bind you to a false self. Learning to be gentle, kind, and accepting of your appearance eases unneeded suffering and liberates your mind.  


Mirror, Mirror on the Wall 

Depending on how you grow up, your grooming, efforts regarding your physical appearance, and perception of yourself will vary. In large part,many families and cultures have significant expectations of girls and women to enhance their outward form. Likewise, boys and men are not immune to high standards regarding cultivating certain physical attributes. Body Dysmorphia Disorder disrupts the idea of balancing the desire to be liked for how we look with what else we bring to the table. That even though looks and attraction matter in romance, in healthy relationships we know the inside is the most important. Indeed, it is a beautiful gift to feel the peace and safety of being ourselves, centered in our authenticity.

When we understand that our worth has nothing to do with beauty- there is safety to explore, be open, and experience calm. But for individuals who develop Body Dysmorphia Disorder, living in their mind is often akin to mental torture. Sadly, the mirror is a weapon used to punish themselves each and every day.        


What Is BDD

Body Dysmorphia Disorder is a mental health condition characterized by an obsessive focus on perceived flaws or defects in one’s physical appearance, often which are minor or even nonexistent. Just as most mental health diagnoses are on a spectrum of severity, Body Dysmorphia Disorder symptoms range from an individual being consistently overly preoccupied and experiencing anxiety about the way they look, to completely debilitating symptoms that cause the person to never want to leave the house.

According to the Mayo Clinic symptoms of Body Dysmorphia Disorder will look like this: 

Being extremely preoccupied with a perceived flaw in appearance that to others can’t be seen or appears minor.

A strong belief that you have a defect in your appearance that makes you ugly or deformed.

The belief that others take special notice of your appearance in a negative way or mock you.

Engaging in behaviors aimed at fixing or hiding the perceived flaw that are difficult to resist or control, such as frequently checking the mirror, grooming, or skin picking.

Attempting to hide perceived flaws with styling, makeup, or clothes.

Constantly comparing your appearance with others.

Frequently seeking reassurance about your appearance from others.

Having perfectionist tendencies.

Seeking cosmetic procedures with little satisfaction.

Avoiding social situations.


More Than Just Anxiety

It is important to note the difference between having Body Dysmorphia Disorder and natural anxiety about your appearance. It is natural, and quite common to experience stress about the way you look. Most of us remember trying to “fit in” and dress similarly to our peers when we were teenagers. BDD, on the other hand, seriously impacts day-to-day mental health functioning and life satisfaction. If not treated, there are co-existing complications such as anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, agoraphobia, disassociation, skin picking, obsessive-compulsive disorder, substance abuse, and eating disorders. The distinction here is the amount of time and agony people with this disorder experience. 


What We Know and What We Don’t

There is no clear understanding of why Body Dysmorphia symptoms appear. We know having parents with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and obsessive-compulsive disorder is a risk factor. Together with, having one or more of the parents with a negative self-image about their own bodies. Other risk components include the person having a history of physical and sexual abuse, neglect, or bullying. Some researchers see temperament traits such as perfectionism being a possible cause. Finally, other studies attribute societal pressure as another possible reason. 


The Way Forward

In its simplest form, Body Dysmorphia Disorder is a horror story replaying negative messages in the mind of the sufferer over and over again. The narratives convince people they are not good enough to be seen, interacted with, or deserve to feel comfortable alongside others. When someone reaches the point where they desire relief from feeling unworthy, participating in treatment is a major step in developing radical self-love. Luckily, there are effective ways to treat BDD and its accompanying symptoms. The most common treatments include CBT, Exposure and Ritual Prevention Therapy, Re-Storying or Perceptual Retraining. With assistance, it is possible to change distorted thought patterns into more compassionate, curious, and loving ones.


Cognitive Behavioral Therapy 

The first, and most effective treatment,  for this disorder is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. So much of Body Dysmorphia Disorder is hearing and believing recurring negative thoughts. Talk therapy allows individuals to share, in a safe setting, the narrative of their inner critic. Many of these thoughts they may have never shared with anyone. When examined, they learn the insistence of the inner dialogue is information they have untrue beliefs about their real selves. In collaboration with a skilled clinician, they develop tools to understand where those thoughts came from. In addition, explore the meaning the individual places on them. Over time, they can gently challenge the skewed messages and cultivate space in their bodies for a more balanced and realistic perspective. 


Exposure and Ritual Prevention Therapy

There are similarities in behaviors of people with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Body Dysmorphia Disorder. Much of their life is made up of rituals, and rigid mindsets. For example, constantly checking mirrors, not leaving the house without makeup, and comparing themselves to others, are part of their day to day. They feel bound by the panic and distress threatening to overtake them. With Exposure and Ritual Prevention Therapy, a therapist slowly and systematically guides a patient through scenarios that are high-stress and triggering. Along the way, this exposure helps the individual build a tolerance for the discomfort. Most importantly, it helps identify accompanying ritualistic behaviors and offers alternatives to new and healthier ones.  Accordingly, when negative thoughts and obsessive patterns are in the light, it is much easier to tolerate and manage them.


Re-Storying or Perceptual Retraining

Another incredibly effective antidote to dealing with Body Dysmorphia Disorder is re-writing the stories that play on repeat in the brain. In conjunction with Cognitive Behavior Therapy, untrue and inaccurate thoughts are identified, and new ideas and representations presented. Done repeatedly, over time, this conditions the brain there are other options to marinate on. Likewise, in perceptual retraining, individuals experience exposure to images of themselves that are neutral or massively distorted. In comparing the differing perspectives, they can learn to see the discrepancies. Due to the intense emotional nature of treating this disorder, it is crucial for perceptual retraining commence under the guidance of a qualified mental health professional, typically someone experienced in the treatment of BDD.


Self-Love, the New Story

For those who deal with Body Dysmorphia Disorder, breaking free from the bonds of this condition will take time. However, with professional support and the recognition of their inherent worth, individuals with BDD can choose to transform their lives. Doing so will involve being the author of new, healthier, stories that cut through recrimination and shame. With treatment, and learning to self-love, the narratives will be drastically different and navigate toward a path of healing, discovery, and a more bliss-filled life.


Contact Form EN
Terms and conditions