By Precious Nwufo – Private Therapy Clinic Psychology Writer

What is BDD?

Firstly it is important for us to dispel any misconceptions there are about what Body Dismorphic Disorder is. Often people confuse BDD with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) – and yes although there are similarities (obsessive thoughts), OCD deals with more than just obsessive thoughts about physical appearance. Similarly eating disorders such as Anorexia and Bulimia are often confused with BDD; however BDD sufferers are concerned with more than just their weight. Still, the bulk of these myths centre on the belief that the sufferer is vain. BDD is not a condition where the individual is obsessed with how beautiful they are but rather it is a mental health condition related to how the sufferer perceives his or her appearance. Why are the two of these different? Well, mainly because the individual suffering from BDD will have a completely distorted perception about a real or imagined flaw in their appearance and it is this disordered way of thinking that creates their irrational beliefs. The irrational beliefs the individual has about their appearance then lead to an excessive obsession with the body part(s) involved. These may include obsessive thoughts and/or rituals which cause the sufferer significant distress and often disrupt daily functioning. The sufferer perceives their physical appearance as hideous or disgusting; however it is important to remember that their idea of the ‘perfect’ image is often not that far from their own image.


Body Dismorphic Disorder can affect all aspects of the sufferers’ lives and this can often mean the individual is unable to find employment or struggles to keep any job they do get. It can also affect the sufferer’s relationships and can leave them with feelings of shame, guilt and loneliness.

Common Behavioural symptoms include:

  • Feeling that their face lacks symmetry or their body shape is out of proportion.
  • Going to excessive lengths to hide or cover up the area(s) of their body that they feel are disgusting.
  • Constantly checking themselves in the mirror or in any other reflective surfaces and if they are unable to check will have several repetitive thoughts about the area.
  • Feeling trapped when looking in the mirror and spending prolonged amounts of time in front of it; unable to move. Or equally, avoiding the mirror altogether.
  • Talking negatively about their area of unhappiness whilst in social situations as to seek reassurance.
  • Comparing themselves with models, celebrities, friends or even strangers.
  • Trying desperately to avoid bright lights, having their photos taken and people seeing them from certain angles.
  • Seeking surgery to correct the area of their concern, despite the professionals involved informing them that nothing needs to be ‘corrected’.

Common Physical Symptoms include:

  • A dry mouth.
  • Hot flushes.
  • Cold or sweaty hands.
  • Heart palpitations or shortness of breath.
  • Feelings of panic, fear and apprehension.
  • Having trouble sleeping.
  • Tense muscles.
  • Having a reoccurring upset stomach.

What Causes BDD?

There is no single cause for Body Dismorphic Disorder; but rather there are a combination of biological and psychological theories.

Biological Theories:

  • That it is a genetic inheritance.
  • That it is caused by a chemical imbalance (of serotonin) in the brain.

Psychological Theories:

  • It is mostly common in those with a history of depression, social phobia, abuse or low self-esteem.
  • Large amounts of stress can cause BDD to develop.

What Treatment is Available?

Firstly it is important to have a psychological assessment by a Psychologist/Psychotherapist or Psychiatrist. If you are diagnosed with Body Dismorphic Disorder than there are different options available to you depending on the individual. Antidepressant medication can be prescribed, as well as having Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Psychotherapy. Both of these are ‘talking therapies’ and involve being taught how to channel negative feelings and thoughts and replace them with positive ones. As well as talking therapies you may be asked to have Behavioural Therapy which includes carrying out a number of tasks set with the aim of reducing the amount of negative actions you do on a daily basis.

If untreated those with BDD can go on to suffer from depression, self-harm and even substance abuse. But remember, at least 1-5 per cent of the population are affected by BDD – so if you are diagnosed with it you are most definitely not alone.

What available help is there for you?

Do you feel you may have Body Dismorphic Disorder?

Then call our team on 020 81507563 or 075 1111 6565 for a free 15 minute confidential chat or to arrange an appointment with an expert who will be able to help.

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