Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Sufferers are preoccupied with any imperfection or imagined defect in their appearance. While we are all a bit self-conscious at times, those with BDD focus excessively on a particular feature or features to the extent that it impacts negatively on their daily activities.

Their obsession may involve any body part but it more commonly involves areas with high visibility such as the nose, eyes, hair, mouth or torso. It tends to affect men and women equally however men may be more likely to obsess about the size of their muscles whereas women may be more concerned with the shape of their breasts.

BDD is believed to affect 1-2% of the Australian population although countless others may be too embarrassed to come forward. Cases can vary from mild to severe and debilitating. The roots of the condition may begin to form when older children and teenagers enter puberty and become more concerned about their appearance.


What causes Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

BDD has no definitive cause however there are several factors that can be involved in its development. These include:

  • Maladaptive thought patterns – While most people enter adulthood with a reasonably rounded sense of self, some may be adversely affected by the opinion or behaviour of others. For example a child may be bullied or teased about aspects of their appearance or an adult may constantly refer to a child as being ‘fat and lazy’.
  • Other conditions – Body Dysmorphic Disorder often coincides with other mental health conditions such as depressionanxiety or eating disorders.
  • Genetics – like other anxiety disorders, BDD tends to correlate in families although there is no way of predicting who will develop it.
  • Brain chemistry – Much research has been done regarding the connection between mental health conditions and the movement of neurotransmitters (chemical messengers) around the brain. When these messengers go awry they can have a profound impact on thought patterns and behaviour.


What are the most common symptoms?

Those with BDD may have recurring negative thoughts about their appearance and experience an uncontrollable urge to stare at their reflection for lengthy periods or may avoid mirrors altogether.

Sufferers often groom themselves excessively; for example they might spend hours combing their hair or applying make-up. Some women may even use make-up as a type of camouflage, refusing to be seen without it. Both men and women may use clothes to hide their hated features. They need constant reassurance from others about their appearance yet they fail to believe any positive comments they receive.

In more severe cases, BDD sufferers may seek cosmetic or surgical solutions in order to rectify their perceived flaw. However even this tends not to alleviate the underlying belief that they are ugly or somehow malformed.

Feelings of embarrassment are common and sufferers can become masters at avoiding attention. This often leads to social isolation and low self-esteem.


What are the main treatment options for Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

There is no specific treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder that suits everyone. Often a combination of positive self-help activities, group support, counselling and/or medication is used.

BDD sufferers can begin to help themselves by repeating positive affirmations about their body or shifting their focus to other areas such as talents or maintaining their health.

Support groups are excellent for relieving the sense of isolation and allowing people to share their experiences.

Even if they are not clinically depressed sufferers often benefit from taking antidepressants to help neutralise the effect of deeply-held negative thoughts and control the errant neurotransmitters.

Counselling is one of the most effective ways to overcome Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Your counsellor/therapist may use talking therapies to create a customised program. The most widely used of these is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). This is based on the premise that our thoughts govern our behaviour. By changing our thought patterns we can improve our response to challenging situations.

A therapist will help you explore the underlying beliefs and emotions that may be causing your Body Dysmorphic Disorder. Through addressing these negative patterns you can develop new coping strategies to create positive changes in your life.


Why seek professional help?

Mental illness can be frightening and isolating, especially if you are in a depressed or suicidal state. Talking to friends and family may help but having the support and guidance of a professional counsellor is usually more beneficial. Therapy sessions are confidential and non-judgemental. Seeking help early gives you a greater chance of overcoming your condition and getting your life back to normal.


Where to find help

Our directory lists hundreds of psychotherapists, psychologists, counsellors and other therapists from around Australia. These mental health experts offer counselling over the phone and online in addition to one-on-one consultations. Many also offer workshops and seminars. 

Enter your postcode or suburb into our search box to see a comprehensive list of the health care professionals near you.


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