We all think about the way we look. We may not like an imperfection or two in our appearance, but we do not fret about it. We do not let it come in the way of what we are doing.
But there are about 2% of the people who have an obsession about how they look. They spend hours thinking about their flaws and they cannot control their negative thoughts. Such people suffer from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), a condition which refers to the excessive anxiety that people suffer who cannot help thinking about their looks and their perceived flaws. Their obsessive thoughts cause them severe distress and are a hindrance in their daily lives, causing them to avoid social situations. They suffer from social phobia and become loners, and avoid meeting people because they are so bothered about what others will think of their real but mostly imagined flaws. They will go to great lengths to rectify the way they look or hide it. They spend hours checking their looks in the mirror and in trying to change their looks by changing clothes or with styling.
People with body dysmorphic disorder may take a dislike to any part of their body. Often, they dislike their way their hair, skin, or nose looks, or they may develop an obsession about their chest or stomach. The defect is usually not severe and may not actually be there. But for people suffering from this disorder the flaw is not only severe but debilitating as to cause them immense stress. The disorder occurs mostly during teenage and early twenties, and women are affected more by it.
Adolescents and teenagers develop this disorder, but it exists among adults too. It is a psychological disorder and the root causes may be genetic or neurobiological. It may arise from childhood experiences if one has been ill-treated, abused by peers, or faced sexual trauma. Malfunctioning of serotonin in the brain, personality traits, and bad experiences in early life could also manifest in BDD.
Signs and Symptoms
People suffering from a heightened obsession about their looks have Body Dismorphic disorder. They continue focusing on their appearance for hours at a time extending to the whole day. The obsession is hard to resist and people having this disorder cannot think of anything else but the defects in their looks. They lose confidence and have difficulty in facing others.
Those suffering from BDD may try to camouflage their perceived imperfection by clothing, makeup, hats, and body positioning. Some people resort to surgery to have their looks altered. They will keep looking in a mirror when alone but avoid mirrors in public. Patients may also start excessive grooming or exercise, and start trying to alter their looks by other means.
Their behaviour results in other mental health problems such as social anxiety, depression, eating disorders, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).
If one is suffering from this disorder, it is necessary to see a doctor. Patients must be honest and state clearly how they feel, otherwise their condition may be wrongly diagnosed. They should mention what they feel about their body and how it hinders them in their daily life.
The disorder can be treated. One line of treatment consists of cognitive-behavioural therapy, which consists of teaching patients to change their negative thinking. They learn to identify their irrational thoughts and replace them with alternate behaviours. Negative thoughts are recognised and attempted to be changed. The treatment is aimed at reducing anxiety and depression among patients.
Another line of treatment is to prescribe medicines to cure depression. Medicines can also be prescribed to control serotonin in the brain, which can be helpful in treating the condition.
Very often people suffering from body dysmorphic disorder think about hair loss or skin problems. These can be corrected by modern hair transplant and skin treatment or skincare methods. The doctor goes into depth to identify the thoughts leading to what they think of their looks. Clinical counselling sometimes helps the patient to understand the causes of the disease. Counselling attempts to provide rest to the patient’s mind and reassure them about their looks. The negative thoughts are changed into positive ones.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a debilitating disease. Though it is a rare disease, it has serious consequences: people suffering from it become loners and face problems socially. Since patients may not recognise the disorder, it is up to others to identify if their friends or loved ones suffer from obsessive thoughts about their looks. Medical help should be sought for, since the disorder can be managed and corrected, so that patients can lead normal lives.