The 6 Defining Character Traits of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
By Dr Becky Spelman
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a mental condition that is characterised by an obsession with one or more perceived flaws of one’s physical appearance. It has recently been classified within the DSM-5 obsessive-compulsive and related disorders category. However, while it does share many common traits with such conditions, it’s also considered in part to be an anxiety disorder. This is due to the effect it has on the individual’s self-image and confidence, which, in turn, affect their ability to socialise.
Although the BDD can affect people of all ages, it is most commonly experienced in teenagers with around 1 in 50 people known to have a form of the condition. However, there is some confusion around its exact definition, as many people consider body dysmorphia as an extension of bulimia or anorexia. And while they can present themselves at the same time, working cyclically with one following on from the other, they are entirely separate disorders. This confusion tends to comes from the assumption that Body Dysmorphia is concerned solely with body shape, but can, in fact, extend to all physical features.
To give you some clarity on what traits are associated specifically with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, here are six of the most commonly observed signs and symptoms:
Imagined Ugliness: This is sometimes regarded as an unhelpful tag in the media that some see as discrediting the disorder. However, when placed in context, what this phrase is referring to isn’t someone who’s overly vain. It describes an individual who has an overwhelming aversion to one or more of their physical features, which leads to them developing issues of extremely poor self-worth. And as we already mentioned above, BDD doesn’t just include to body shape but can relate to any part of your body from your facial features to acme, blemishes, breasts and muscle size.
Appearance Comparison: This has become ever more prevalent with the role that social media now plays in our daily lives, and is a source of much of the inner resentment that individuals harbour towards themselves. TV and film have always held up celebrity figures and set the standard of idealised ‘beauty,’ but platforms such as Instagram has made this kind content of even more of its own genre. The constant comparing of oneself to others can often be one of the main catalysts for BDD, but can also reinforce the idea that who they are isn’t good enough.
Seeking To Modify Your Appearance: Body modification is now a widely accepted part of our modern society. And while nose jobs, facelifts, breast enlargements, Botox and other such procedures may bring temporary relief or satisfaction, it is often short-lived. As the condition is a mental one, unless the thinking is changed, no amount of modification will ever completely satisfy. The anxiety may subside for a while, but will soon manifest itself, as the old flaw doesn’t appear to be ‘fixed’ or a new one takes over.
Developing Compulsive Behaviours: In a similar manner to those who suffer from OCD, those who have BDD, also find themselves engaging in compulsive behaviours around the maintenance and improvement of their physical appearance. These habits are usually specific to the types of flaw the individual may perceive. Typical behaviours include constant mirror checking, excessive grooming, and asking seeking of reassurance.
Feeling the Need to Spare Others From Your Flaws: In cases where the shame experienced due to a perceived flaw is so bad, it can lead to an individual not wishing to ‘inflict’ their appearance on anyone else. They will often withdraw almost completely from their social life, turning down invitations to activities and events where they would have to present themselves in public. Over time, their shame and withdrawal can morph into an anxiety about being seen at all, which leads to yet more shame and further isolation as the pattern continues in cyclical fashion.
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