When you stop and think about it, the human species is the ultimate variety pack. We embody a collection of physical features in a staggering array of combinations. In all their diverse glory, though, most people are dissatisfied with at least one of their features. Some want a smaller nose or a flatter stomach. Others want to be taller or to have bigger muscles. Some yearn for thick, luscious hair, while others dream of a movie star smile. Despite these insecurities, people generally go on living their lives.
But what if these insecurities have a crippling effect? What if your imperfections cause you so much distress that it consumes you? What would you do if you saw yourself as a repulsive, disfigured anomaly?
This is the warped logic of body dysmorphic disorder, or BDD. NCBI describes BDD as a “distressing or impairing preoccupation with an imagined defect in appearance . . . in which patients are completely convinced that they appear ugly or abnormal” (Bjornsson, Didie & Phillips, 2010). BDD “is [also] associated with marked impairment in psychosocial functioning, notably poor quality of life, and high suicidality rates” (Bjornsson, et al., 2010).
In other words, it’s not just a simple case of low self-esteem. It is a perpetual state of a warped reality in which you cannot trust your own perception of yourself.
I don’t think I have any idea what I really look like. I see skin that is blotchy, uneven, and bumpy. I don’t understand why people don’t see the unsightly texture. I see a face that is swollen and distorted, but no one else sees it. I see a pointed witch nose and hopelessly thin lips. I see a misshapen chin, a grotesquely massive body, and a repulsive smile. But no one else sees it. I could swear that don’t have BDD at all. I could swear that this is just what I look like.
There is no cure for body dysmorphic disorder, but there is hope. No one has to suffer through the disorder alone and without help. In fact, there are a number of promising options for those with BDD:
- Support groups: A group setting allows people to “share their stories, experiences, and lives in a way that helps reduce isolation and loneliness” (Find Support Groups, 2016).
- Therapy: Dialectical behavioral therapy focuses on validating “uncomfortable thoughts, feelings and behaviors, thus enabling change” (Freedman & Duckworth, 2013).
- Relaxation: Indulge in an activity that brings you happiness. Try meditation, yoga, listening to music, snuggling with your pet, or calling a friend. Taking time for yourself can give you a sense of peace and help ease BDD symptoms.
- Acceptance and Healing: It may take some time to find what works for you. But it will happen. It takes hard work and perseverance, but BDD doesn’t have to win.
Body dysmorphic disorder will always be a part of me. I will have tolerable days and dark days. I will have moments of joy and moments of despair. BDD is woven into the very fabric of who I am. But it does get better. A therapist can guide me through the darkness, while my loved ones can offer support and validation. I need you to understand and accept my disease. I need you to understand and accept me. I need you to love me for who I am. In the end, isn’t that what we all want?
Bjornsson, A. S., Didie, E. R., & Phillips, K. A. (2010, June). Body dysmorphic disorder. National Center for Biotechnology Information, 12(2), 221-232. Retrieved August 8, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3181960/
Find Support Groups. (2016). Retrieved August 30, 2016, from http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/find-support-groups
Freeman, J. L., M.D., & Duckworth, K., M.D. (2013, February). Dialectical Behavior Therapy FACT SHEET. Retrieved August 30, 2016, from https://www2.nami.org/factsheets/DBT_factsheet.pdf
Phillips, K. A., & Hollander, E. (2008, March 5). Treating Body Dysmorphic Disorder with Medication: Evidence, Misconceptions, and a Suggested Approach. National Center for Biotechnology Information, 5(1), 13-27. doi:10.1016/j.bodyim.2007.12.003