Body Dysmorphic Disorder

There is a growing epidemic of men and women who hate their bodies and feel such a sense of self-loathing that it keeps them from leading a normal life. I am not talking about the typical concerns or dislikes that might accompany having a large derriere or a thick middle. I am talking about people who have such a distorted perception of themselves that it results in horrible body image.

The distortions may be real or imagined. Their nose may be large, but when they look in the mirror they see a grotesque nose that keeps them from seeing their other facial features. Their inhibitions about their body parts keep them from participating in daily activities or special life experiences such as dating, sports, sex, or involvement with others.

It’s natural to dislike certain things about your body, but it’s not normal to be obsessed or consumed with them—or to allow it to interfere with your daily functioning. When negative body image becomes this extreme, it becomes Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD).

BDD is a condition that can severely cripple a person’s ability to evaluate themselves objectively. Their distortions are typically over-exaggerated and interfere with their ability to manage their thinking about their appearance.

To make matters worse, we continue to strive for perfection. We are a visual society. As shows like “Extreme Makeovers” become even more popular, we create a society of people who want to be the perfect size and have the perfect look to calm their “extreme anxiety within.” Society sends a message that it is not who we are, but how we look that counts. Young men and women are growing up with a distorted self-image, over-emphasizing the need to have a model-like physique.

Where did BDD come from? There is a strong indication that people with BDD also suffer Obsessive-Compulsive features that feed into their self-loathing. Obsessive-compulsive thinking typically requires medication to interrupt the ongoing thought patterns; so many people with BDD benefit from medication. This predisposition toward OCD, coupled with past life experiences, contributes to this disorder.

There may have been a critical person in your life that berated you for your imperfections. You began to obsess on these criticisms.

How can you correct BDD? The number one ally you have in your defense is your mind. Consequently, it is important to retrain how you think and feel about your appearance. Negative self-talk can take a toll on how you view yourself and it can dictate how you feel about your total being.

Don’t give in to disparaging thoughts. Use your mind to restate a thought. You have the power to create a positive body image. Retraining your thoughts requires stating a negative thought and balancing it with a positive one. Phrases like: “Yes, my legs may be big, but they’re strong for a woman of 60.”

If you have a loved one that you suspect has BDD, it is important to encourage them to get professional help for this condition.

Share how their self-perceptions have interfered with their normal functioning.
Empathize with their feeling of discontent and embarrassment.
Encourage them to quiet the negative self-talk by seeking a professional who is trained in this disorder. Eating disorders specialists are excellent resources to change cognitive behavioral thought.
As society focuses more on the external, we need to counterbalance this pressure with sending a message that there is inherent beauty within everyone and that being imperfect is normal, natural, and part of life.

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