Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a chronic psychological condition caused by a preoccupation with an imagined physical defect.  It may also involve actual physical defects that are so minor that other people don’t notice them.  People who suffer from this disorder see themselves as unattractive.  This perception affects their social interactions and can cause anxiety that requires clinical treatment.  Some people who are suffering from this disorder seek plastic surgery in an attempt to correct their perceived physical flaw.

BDD is similar to eating disorders since it focuses on body image.  The obsession exhibited by many people with BDD resembles Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD).   The most common body features that are targeted by BDD are facial features (especially the nose) and breasts.  Other features that people suffering from BDD focus on include hair, skin, baldness, muscle size and genitalia.

Symptoms of BDD

The symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder include:

  • A strong belief that a defect in your appearance makes you ugly
  • A preoccupation with your appearance and with your perceived physical defect
  • A belief that other people focus on your perceived defect
  • Avoidance of mirrors, or a preoccupation with examining yourself in mirrors
  • Extreme self-consciousness that may include a refusal to be photographed
  • A strong attachment to hair or clothing that you think will hide your defect
  • Seeking multiple cosmetic procedures to correct the perceived defect

Cosmetic Surgery is Not the Solution

Studies published in the Annals of Plastic Surgery report that up to 8 percent of all cosmetic surgery patients are affected by BDD.  However, cosmetic surgery is not the solution for body dysmorphic disorder.  The majority of people suffering from BDD who undergo cosmetic surgery continue to have BDD symptoms.  One study found that only 1 percent of BDD cases found relief following surgery.  As seen with celebrities who get multiple cosmetic surgery procedures, the focus of the dysmorphia can move from one part of the body to another following surgery.  It can also change from one part of the body to another over time.

The causes of BDD are not known.  A combination of factors, including genetics, chemical differences in the brain, life experience, culture and environment may come into play.  Studies have found that the disorder often runs in families, indicating that there may be a genetic link involved.  Individuals suffering from BDD often suffer from other disorders such as low self-esteem, substance abuse, anxiety or depression.

Treatment for BDD

BDD often goes undiagnosed because people who are suffering from it often refuse to talk about their condition or seek help.  They often aren’t aware that their perception of body is distorted.  People who have strong feelings about changing some part of their body should consider seeking help from a mental health provider rather than a plastic surgeon.  Left untreated, BDD can lead to severe depression and suicidal thoughts.  Treatment of BDD may include counseling, cognitive behavior therapy and medication.

Our women’s treatment facility is primarily for addiction and occasionally a 2nd mental health disorder (when it is accompanied by addiction). However, our staff of mental health disorders will be happy to help with questions about BDD if they can and then refer you to an approved professional for further consultation.

Recovering from substance use disorders is a challenging journey that feels more doable in an environment that tends to each individual’s complex needs and strengths. Our goal is to foster a treatment experience that is built on compassion, hope, and caring, and fueled by excellence in the provision of evidence-based and trauma-informed care.

– - Anonymous