We’ve all days where we just didn’t like the person staring back at us in the mirror because we all have insecurities and doubts about the way we look. This can be bad for a person’s self esteem and confidence as the recurring thoughts of having a thinner nose or better skin can be upsetting.
However, for someone suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD, these fears can have a very dangerous side. According to the DSM 5, BDD is a sub type of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or OCD where the obsessions and compulsions lead individuals to focus on physical “flaws” and “defects” that they identify in themselves, usually in the facial region.
This translates to hours of obsessive tendencies where the individual does nothing but finding ways to conceal these flaws that are otherwise not visible to others. The most common symptoms are the fixation on a particular perceived flaw such as pimples, acne, facial hair, scars, body hair, size of body parts, facial symmetry among many others. This anxiety to hide, cover or “correct” their flaws lead to people with BDD to lead very secluded lives, with a huge impact on their quality of life as they are unable to sometimes leave the house for hours.
To “fix” these flaw, they engage in an array of corrective behaviours and procedures which include wearing lots of makeup, wearing clothes to cover the flaws, visiting many dermatologists and skin specialists, compulsive actions like skin picking and hair plucking, developing depression or emotional issues due to fear of being found out, strict diets and exercise regimes and even resorting to cosmetic or plastic surgery which usually never leaves them satisfied with the results.
There is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness as a whole, but for one like BDD, the stakes are even higher as the individual may even resort to practices and behaviours that cause self harm i.e. starving themselves, excessive skin picking, depression. Which is why it is imperative that they seek help from a medical professional immediately and engage in cognitive behavioural therapy which is one of the most successful treatment available at the moment.
CBT aims to reduce the recurring thoughts and compulsions in patients by recognizing the negative thoughts and replacing them with positive affirmations. In order to get better, the individual also has to face some of their fears such as telling others that they suffer from it or even going out in public with the perceived flaw untouched.
There is also, however, a lot of misconceptions surrounding BDD because it is thought of as a major taboo still even though it is not that uncommon a disorder. It is important to understand that there is a difference between being self obsessed and having a neurological disorder that forces you to fixate on flaws that might not even be there!
Other misconceptions include people actually acknowledging that BDD is a real and very serious disorder that affects a person’s social and psychological life immensely. It is a great source of stress and anxiety and has links to being bullied or body shamed for a certain physical defect or flaw. It can affect both men and women equally and can focus on real or imagined defects.