Each of us has our internal self-portrait of ourselves. It is how we view ourselves in the mirror. We notice all the minor scars, marks, and flaws that are not visible to others. But what if, every time you look at yourself in the mirror, you see a distorted image of yourself? Do you think you have a body dysmorphic disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a serious mental health condition that can destroy an average person’s confidence across a lifetime. This article will tell you everything you need to know about this mental health disorder, including its symptoms and how it can be treated.

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental disorder where an individual is preoccupied and anxious about a perceived defect in their appearance. Most of the time, these physical imperfections are imaginary, but the obsession and repetitive behaviors can affect their ability to live a normal life.

Individuals with BDD feel ashamed and embarrassed of their perceived flaws that they are even willing to take drastic measures to hide them. From one plastic surgery to another and cosmetic procedures just so they could “fix” the problem and experience temporary satisfaction.

The feeling of relief may be felt after a surgery or a body modification but only for a short period. Anxiety will soon be felt again, and the patient will start looking for another perceived flaw and will feel distressed all over again.

The negative thoughts that come with body dysmorphic disorder may be difficult to control and could sometimes lead to social isolation and suicidal thoughts.

Body Dysmorphia As a Mental Health Disorder

Based on the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorder-5, Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD is a diagnosis that involves distress due to perceived flaws in one’s physical appearance. Individuals suffering from this condition feel a degree of dissatisfaction and doubt about imagined defects perceived on their body’s appearance.

Mental health disorders that involve body image misperception, such as eating disorders, muscle dysmorphia, and body dysmorphic disorder, can cause low self-esteem and emotional problems. If left untreated, it can also lead to severe depression and other mental disorders.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a body-image disorder that occurs equally between men and women but symptoms usually start during the adolescence stage. It has recently affected almost 2.4% of America’s general population.

Who Are At Risk For Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is caused by a combination of psychological, biological, and environmental factors. When you were bullied as a child, the experience can foster unwanted feelings of fear, ridicule, and shame. This certain condition often occurs in patients with other mental health disorders such as anxiety disorders and major depression.

Body dysmorphic disorder affects both genders and tends to start during teenage years to early adulthood. This is the time when we start comparing ourselves with others. The symptoms worsen as they get older.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Symptoms

People struggling with BDD are insanely focused on their appearance. They have an inaccurate view of their body, causing significant distress that can lead to self-isolation.

Here are some of the common warning signs and symptoms that a person with a body dysmorphic disorder may have:

  • Being extremely preoccupied with perceived imperfection in their appearance that others can not see.
  • Being engaged in time-consuming and repetitive behavior such as skin picking, excessive grooming, and constantly checking their appearances in the mirror.
  • They usually spend hours of thinking and criticizing themselves in front of a mirror.
  • They try to hide a certain body part under a lot of make-up, scarves, hat, or multiple layered clothes.
  • They strongly believe that their perceived flaws make them look ugly or deformed.
  • Repeatedly consulting healthcare providers, plastic surgeons, and other medical specialists to find other ways to improve their perceived flaws.
  • Constantly having problems with personal relationships and with social life because they can not stop focusing on their perceived flaw.
  • They have no control over their obsessions and behaviors that can sometimes lead to suicidal thoughts.

Treatment Of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Treatment for body dysmorphic disorder includes a combination of proper therapy and medications.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy

CBT is considered the first line of treatment for body dysmorphic disorder. It focuses on helping patients control negative thoughts and behaviors through a technique called Exposure and Response Prevention or ERP.

It also teaches individuals suffering from BDD alternative ways to handle rituals and urges, such as mirror checking and skin picking.

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy

ACT is another type of therapy that has been proven effective in treating BDD. It focuses more on tolerating the symptoms and thoughts rather than changing or generating interpretations of the problem. It teaches affected individuals how to manage anxiety-provoking situations.

This therapy uses core concepts such as Acceptance, Mindfulness, and Value-Based living:


Train the individual how to distinguish suffering from pain and teach them the ability to live and tolerate pain—people with BDD report feeling anxious and suffering due to their preoccupation. ACT will help them control or avoid unpleasant thoughts when in the struggle.


Teaching the individual how to develop their ability to be mentally present in the current situation. ACT will help them learn skills and techniques on how they can accept their negative feelings and thoughts about their body through mindfulness exercises.

Value-Based Living

To train the affected individual how to live according to their values and not their symptoms. The ability to live their life to the fullest instead of waiting for their symptoms to be treated.


There are no specific medications to treat BDD, but there are drugs that are also used for other psychiatric disorders that can also reduce body dysmorphic disorder symptoms.

Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors

SSRI is a type of antidepressant that is effective in treating symptoms of BDD. It helps control the repetitive behaviors and place obsessive thoughts at ease which are the known hallmarks of BDD.

The medication can take as long as 14weeks to start working, depending on the severity of the symptom. It is important that both the patient and mental health professional would give it enough time to take effect before switching to another type of medication.


There are some cases that the severity of the problem is caused by BDD that requires psychiatric hospitalization. Especially when the patient is already exhibiting suicidal thoughts and behaviors, it is best to seek professional help and place the patient in a secure and supportive environment to receive proper treatment.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder Vs. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines Body dysmorphic disorder as a distressing preoccupation of an imaginative defect, while Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is classified more like an anxiety disorder.

Though both conditions are characterized by compulsive behavior and prominent obsessions, BDD is considered as an obsessive psychosis-a more malignant form of OCD. These disorders are often linked, but they are different mental conditions with different treatment options.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder And Other Mental Health Disorders

Body dysmorphic disorder is often misdiagnosed as another mental illness. This is because some people are ashamed or embarrassed to talk about their symptoms or reveal their perceived body defects.

In some cases, the symptoms of BDD are recognized but diagnosed incorrectly as social anxiety disorder, major depressive disorder, skin picking disorder, or personality disorder, leaving body dysmorphic disorder undetected.

How to Prevent Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Developing BDD may not be prevented, but keeping the condition from getting worse can be done through early diagnosis. Working with a mental health professional and detecting the first warning signs of BDD can help create an effective treatment plan for you.

Final Thoughts

People with BDD are obsessively worried about their physical appearance and a perceived flaw that they consistently try to hide from everyone. They are even willing to try extreme measures and unnecessary surgical procedures to attain temporary satisfaction. Having this condition can be debilitating and could lead to other mental health conditions if not addressed properly.

If you still need help or want to learn more about body dysmorphic disorder and other mental health conditions, book an appointment with us at Kentucky Counseling Center (KCC). We have a team of mental health professionals and counselors with specialized training to deal with these kinds of disorders. You can schedule an appointment with us through the KCC Direct Services on our site.

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