Body dysmorphia: see symptoms and treatments

Having a healthy and respectful relationship with your own body is essential. In general, there is no problem in wanting to modify some aspect, such as the nose, a mole or a scar. But it is important to understand the extent to which this desire is normal and healthy.

Sometimes, this desire to change the body, or the frequency with which defects are found in it, can indicate a pathology: bodily dysmorphia. Learn more about this condition:


What is bodily dysmorphia?

Bodily dysmorphia is a condition in which the individual sees defects that do not exist in his body, or is too uncomfortable with some of his physical characteristics.

Found in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) due to Body Dysphoric Disorder, the condition affects about 2% of the population, with men and women being affected in the same proportion.

The disorder usually starts in adolescence and tends to be less intense as the person approaches middle age. However, in women, the duration of the disorder tends to be longer.

Its appearance is influenced by hereditary, psychological and even social factors. In times of social media, hyper-edited photos and Instagram filters, the problem becomes even more widespread.

The supposed defect may be non-existent, such as believing that you have a very large nose, when in reality it is proportional to your face, for example.

There are also cases based on some real characteristic of the body, such as spots and scars, for example, that are often insignificant for other people, but the individual himself puts them as very apparent defects and that are certainly noticed by all people.

The discomfort may not be limited to just one part of the body, that is, the person may see several “defects” in the body, or even change the concern from one part of the body to another.

This usually occurs especially when the person does something to treat what bothers them, that is, when they find a makeup capable of hiding the defect or when undergoing plastic surgery to correct it.

In most cases, the defects are in the region of the face or head. However, concerns about hair, skin pigmentation, size and shape of the breasts and buttocks (women), muscles (muscular dysmorphia, more frequent in men), among others, are also common.

Often, patients refer to their “defects” in these uncomfortable parts as monstrous and even disgusting deformities.

If left untreated, the body dysmorphic disorder can lead to a series of consequences such as depression , anxiety , unnecessary and / or ineffective aesthetic procedures, frequent hospitalizations, impairments in social life, among others.

Body dysmorphia is different from gender dysphoria in that it occurs regardless of the person’s gender identity. In the case of gender dysphoria, dissatisfaction with the body itself is entirely linked to an identification with another gender, which does not characterize bodily dysmorphia, although the symptoms may manifest themselves in the same way .

Eating disorders are also often confused with body dysmorphic disorder. Although people with weight-related eating disorders may have a degree of body dysmorphia, the diagnosis is different.

Symptoms: how do I know if I have bodily dysmorphia?

Disliking certain physical characteristics is completely normal, no one is 100% happy with their bodies all the time. However, in the case of bodily dysmorphia, it is not a simple “dislike” of certain body traits.

Among the symptoms of body dysmorphic disorder are:

Pathological concern

Characterized by great anguish and uneasiness about the alleged physical failure, which can be real, but imperceptible or ignored by others, or completely imaginary.

Obsessive thoughts about the physical “defect”

Thoughts about the supposed defect can be extremely invasive, so the person may not be able to stop thinking about it. In this, she may harass others by asking for their opinion constantly or trying to convince them of the defect.

Repetitive behavior

Checking your appearance constantly during the day can be a symptom of bodily dysmorphia, as well as wasting a lot of time during the day trying to cover up the imperfection.

Exaggerated suffering

Clinically significant distress caused by the alleged defect is a very strong sign of bodily dysmorphia. The person feels bad for feeling like this, knowing that it is an overreaction, but has no control over this suffering.

Social avoidance

When the anguish in relation to the supposed defect is very great, the person can stop leaving home, avoiding social situations, isolating himself, among others. When this occurs, it is even possible that the person has losses in his career and academic life.

Avoid situations where you can look at yourself

Some individuals may have an obsession with appearance and check it countless times a day, while others may have just the opposite and run away from any reflective surface!

Body dysmorphic disorder: what are the diagnostic criteria?

The diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder is not always very easy, as the person is often unaware that he is suffering from a mental disorder. Often, beauticians and plastic surgeons refer to a mental health professional when they suspect that the patient suffers from bodily dysmorphia.

Among the diagnostic criteria for body dysmorphic disorder are:

  • Excessive concern about one or more “defects” in physical appearance that are not noticed by other people or, if they are, people consider it insignificant;
  • Repetitive thoughts and behaviors regarding the supposed defect, such as looking in the mirror frequently or dressing up trying to hide the defect all the time;
  • Presence of an anxiety so intense that it impairs the normal functioning of the individual, whether in the social, professional, academic, among others.

The diagnosis is made based on the patient’s report, taking into account his life history and the level of suffering that is expressed.

What is the treatment?

Treatment is usually based on therapy and, if necessary, antidepressant medications.

The cognitive-behavioral therapy is one of the frequently indicated to treat this disorder. There is a lot of scientific evidence for its effectiveness. In this therapy, the objective is a cognitive restructuring, helping the patient to change his view about the world, others and himself.

Through various techniques, the patient learns to deal with obsessive thoughts, as well as starts to do reality checks, which help to confirm that his supposed defects, in reality, do not exist or are not noticed by others, bringing great relief to the anguish caused by the disorder.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also help to deal with repetitive behaviors, which end up reinforcing bodily dysmorphia.

In more severe cases, antidepressant medications can go a long way to combat obsessive symptoms.

It is common for people to want to change some part of the body – this is not always a problem. However, when this desire is persistent, affecting the person’s healthy routine, or there is an exaggeration in relation to the view of oneself, this can indicate a body dysmorphia.

Thus, it is important to seek medical and psychological assistance, so that mental and physical health are preserved.

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