There’s a chance that you haven’t heard the term ‘body dysmorphia’ before, but I can guarantee you’ve at least heard of some of the effects it can have. For example: self-harm, depression, low self-esteem, a lack of confidence, anorexia, bulimia, binging, or excessive working out. (To be clear, these are examples of some things that can be caused by body dysmorphia, and suffering from any of these issues does not necessarily mean that you have it. For example, body dysmorphia is different than having an eating disorder, though depending on how it manifests, having body dysmorphia can lead to similar behaviors, and therefore individuals can suffer from both.)
Basically, body dysmorphia is a condition in which you become obsessed with a ‘flaw’ in your appearance.
This flaw (or flaws) might be something that others notice, but often times it’s something that only you focus on. Maybe it’s something slightly out of the ordinary or maybe something that is extremely common with a lot of people. Sometimes, the flaw doesn’t actually exist except in your mind. The point is that someone with body dysmorphia will become obsessed with that flaw to a point that it starts affecting their daily life.
It’s usually not as bad as you think it is.
But that won’t stop you from feeling like it is all that everyone sees. There’s an old saying that is pretty common: “I wish you could see yourself the way that I do.” This is usually said when someone sees someone else differently than that person sees themselves. Often times, it’s because the recipient of the comment doesn’t see how wonderful they are. The thing is, when someone has body dysmorphia, they would never believe a comment like this. In their minds, since they see this flaw so clearly, they are convinced that this is how everyone sees them, and that it’s the only thing people focus on.
Someone suffering from body dysmorphia will usually feel defined by this one thing about themselves that they hate.
They become obsessed with it and can have a hard time thinking about anything else. It can cause anxiety, fear and a lot of self-doubt. Rather than being able to get involved or passionate or even just be in the moment, sufferers are usually on some level thinking about how noticeable the flaw is and thinking that other people are looking at it too.
While there are a lot of different ‘flaws’ that a person can focus on, it’s usually something specific (the shape or size of the nose, skin color, hair…) and sometimes it’s a combination of a few specific things. Regardless, they usually feel out of place or like something is wrong. This can lead to trying to change that feature in order to feel more confident or less flawed. Usually, even when changes are made, people with body dysmorphia will still feel flawed or damaged. This can lead to a lack of hope and increased depression.
Feelings caused by Body Dysmorphia are real.
It’s important to remember that even if the ‘flaw’ isn’t something noticeable by others, it can still be an extreme source of stress for the sufferer. The feelings associated with it- such as fear, shame, disgust- are very real and valid. No one but that individual can understand the thoughts that they are having, so it makes sense that no one else can tell them how to feel. Simply telling them that they are being silly or dramatic is not helpful, nor is telling them to get over it. When someone suffers from body dysmorphia, they are not able to simply accept the thing that they think is wrong with them, even if they want to.
Some suffers become obsessed with their reflections and appearance, which can come off as vein. However, this obsession is not voluntary. It is more fear-based, trying to come up with a way to hide or fix what they believe is wrong with them. They may constantly need reassurance or feel the need to compare themselves with others. In today’s word of constant social media and false narratives, it is even trickier to navigate. Those with body dysmorphia are plagued by images of what is considered beautiful, perfect or expected. Failing to live up to those perceived expectations can lead even further into self-hate and deprecation.
Without treatment, body dysmorphia can have devastating effects.
Sufferers are sometimes so desperate to ‘fix’ themselves that they attempt to make drastic changes. This can be anything from an eating disorder to plastic surgery to self-inflicted injuries. Sometimes the low feelings can lead to addictions to drugs or alcohol in order to cope. Relationships, social activities, school or having a career can become hard to maintain as things like anxiety get worse. This can further increase the feeling that something is wrong, creating a vicious circle.
Body dysmorphia is a treatable condition.
The exact cause isn’t known, though it has been associated with things like bullying or trauma and it is actually suffered by a decent part of the population. It is treatable, but requires work and time. Support groups or finding a therapist who is trained in body dysmorphia can be very helpful. Other specialties such as hypnotherapy and cognitive behavior therapy which focus on rewiring the brain are some options that seem to have a strong effect on treating the condition. As it is a physiological condition, there are medications available that may help as well, though those should always be discussed with a physician.
Overall, the goal is to help decrease how much you focus on this perceived flaw so that you can better live a full and healthy life.
With treatment and of course by doing some mental ‘work’, it can be possible to diminish the effects of body dysmorphia so that you are able to lesson your anxiety and to be able to function more when it comes to things like work, school or even relationships. The hope is to be able to lessen the impact that the disorder has on your life. This way, you are no longer spending so much time obsessing over the ‘flaw’ and are able to put your focus to better use. This should hopefully lesson anxiety and fear, increase your confidence and self-esteem, and improve your overall quality of life.
If you think you might be suffering from body dysmorphia, know that you are not alone. I’ll be back over the next few weeks to talk a bit about my experience with it as well as some things that I’ve found useful in dealing with/treating it. I would also strongly suggest looking into speaking to a professional about it as well, as it can be very helpful.