Body Dysmorphic Disorder, or BDD, isn’t talked about much, but it should be. We all have our insecurities, or those physical features that, given a magic wand, we’d change for the better. But when that insecurity becomes something affects our thoughts and behaviour everyday, this sympton can be a warning sign for body dysmorphia that needs treatment.
Like it’s more famous cousin, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, BDD can affect men as well as women. “I’ve always seen men and women with it at quite equal proportions,” explains Claudia Prothero, a psychologist, BDD expert and founder of CBT Anglia clinic at The Chelmsford Wellbeing Centre in Essex. “It comes from obsession and perfectionism, which isn’t gender specific.”
Fortunately, awareness about this condition is on the rise, but there is still a long way to go, and all too often sufferers are dismissed as vain or self-involved when really they are in need of help. Here are some essential warning signs to look out for:
Obsessing over mirrors
BDD sufferers will either go to great lengths to avoid mirrors completely, or repeatedly check their reflection. “I’m talking 200 or 300 times a day,” says Claudia. “And then you get a mixture of the two – people avoid the mirror but then if they accidentally see themselves they then can’t get out of the mirror.” See also obsessing over selfies.
Their perceived imperfection dominates thoughts…
Claudia explains that while most people have something about themselves they’re not keen on, BDD sufferers will spend 90-100% of their time thinking about their perceived imperfection. “It’s very irrational,” she says.
… and becomes incredibly distressing
Symptoms of anxiety and panicking are common for body dysmorphia sufferers, especially when it comes to their perceived imperfections. “Someone with BDD will get really distressed when they have to think about the thing they are obsessing over,” explains Claudia.
Seeing something that isn’t there
A typical body dysmorphic disoder symptom for the mirror version of yourself to be nothing like what the people around them see. “For most [BDD sufferers], it’s not related to their actual looks,” Claudia says. “But they genuinely see themselves as grotesque and they think if they go out in public people will be revolted by them.”
Obsessing over remedies or finding new problems
“Part of the behaviour is continually looking for beauty or cosmetic way to correct the problem,” Claudia say. “Definitely someone who has repeated surgery is a big risk factor. You’ll find that even if [a patient] corrects whatever it is, say the nose, either they then become unhappy with the correction and they have to go and have repeated nose jobs, or they just refocus on a different are of their body.”
So what can you do if someone close is showing these symptoms?
The first thing Claudia says is that it’s important not to get caught up trying to reassure the person that they have nothing to worry about. “It doesn’t work,” she explains. “It’s a natural reaction, but it’s a road to nowhere and it just makes the patient think about [for example] their nose even more.” Instead, Claudia says it’s better to gently change the subject to something completely unrelated.
Then it’s important to get professional treatment. The Body Dysmorphic Disorder Foundation says a combination of anti-anxiety medication and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) with a professional with experience working with the illness can have a big improvements on symptoms.