Body dysmorphic disorder can impact people’s lives drastically. Discover the facts and how to dispel the myths about this condition.
Many mental health conditions are riddled with myths and misunderstandings and body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is no exception. BDD is a condition where one becomes preoccupied by a perceived flaw in physical appearance and the hyperfocus on this perception negatively impacts their quality of life. In the past, celebrities thought to have body dysmorphic disorder have been portrayed by the media as eccentric and dysfunctional. To some extent, this portrayal has fed into the mischaracterization of the condition rather than educating the public about the disorder, though the latter has been the goal in more recent coverage.
As more accurate information is disseminated about body dysmorphic disorder, people with the condition can feel less isolated and talk more openly about the impact on their lives. This will ultimately lead to better understanding and more compassion for those suffering from the disorder. In the meantime, here are five myths about body dysmorphic disorder and the corresponding facts.
1. Myth: Body dysmorphia is an eating disorder.
Fact: Body dysmorphia is not an eating disorder.
While body dysmorphia is not the same thing as an eating disorder, the two conditions do share a common dissatisfaction about one’s body or appearance. However, these perceptions do not necessarily have the same outcomes or focus. Someone with an eating disorder has concerns related to the ingestion of food and concern about weight, whereas a person with body dysmorphic disorder can be focused on a perceived flaw that isn’t related to weight or food consumption.
Eating disorders and body dysmorphic disorder do frequently coexist, as there is often a perception that one must restrict diet or engage in other food-based behaviors in order to meet a goal, but the two diagnoses can exist independently as well.
2. Myth: BDD is about extreme vanity.
Fact: Body dysmorphic disorder is not a condition that indicates vanity, in fact, it is the antithesis of vanity.
Vanity is defined as extreme self-pride or admiration. People with BDD are so self-critical about their perceived physical flaws that it can be a major barrier to living a satisfying life. Those afflicted with this condition are often convinced that everyone else also sees their flaw and is as focused on it as they are, which causes a great deal of distress and self-consciousness. Often this leads to avoidance of others and extreme emotional distress.
People with BDD sometimes resort to extremes to remedy a perceived flaw. Some of these behaviors can include seeking surgical intervention or trying to repair the issue themselves through behavioral methods related to the condition (skin picking or efforts to conceal the area). People may misinterpret body dysmorphic disorder as a condition of vanity, but in truth, BDD and vanity are two opposite ends of the spectrum.
3. Myth: Body dysmorphic disorder dissipates in adulthood.
Fact: BDD can affect people of all ages.
The disorder can exist in any age range, including elderly populations. One study showed that body dysmorphic disorder did decrease in many adults over age 44 who participated in the survey, but this does not mean that the condition dissipates for all adults.
Often in older adults and elderly populations, people with BDD continue to struggle with the condition, it simply morphs into different areas. As older people struggle with BDD, the aging process can be triggering for additional self-criticism. Adults with body dysmorphic disorder often avoid talking to their medical provider about these concerns, due to fear of being perceived as vain or irrational.
4. Myth: BDD isn’t a serious disorder.
Fact: Body dysmorphic disorder can be a very serious condition.
In terms of serious conditions, body dysmorphic disorder is significant in its impact on a person’s life. The impact of BDD on self-esteem can result in severe depression and anxiety. Additionally, the significant level of self-consciousness can result in avoidance of others and social isolation. The severity of the condition depends on the individual circumstances of the person experiencing BDD.
BDD can result in suicidal ideation for some, particularly those who experience the condition prior to the age of 18. A study evaluating data about BDD patients from 2001 to 2003 showed that out of 200 people, 78% experienced suicidal ideation and 27.5% had made a suicide attempt.
Body dysmorphic disorder may seem like a benign condition for those who aren’t aware of the level of serious consequences it can bring. Unfortunately, many people with this difficult condition do not talk to others about it, which leads to further isolation and suffering.
5. Myth: Plastic surgery will cure body dysmorphia.
Fact: Surgical procedures do not cure BDD.
On the contrary, surgeries for body dysmorphic disorder tend to result in an ongoing and sometimes worsening perception of flaws. Sometimes people with BDD who have had plastic surgery end up focusing on other aspects of their appearance, confirming that this is not a condition that can be easily cured or dissuaded by surgical intervention. Since BDD is a condition of negative self-evaluation and misperceptions about one’s appearance, it is not something that surgery can repair.
But, body dysmorphic disorder is treatable. Successful body dysmorphic disorder treatments can include the use of SSRIs and other antidepressant medications and psychotherapy. Given the intensity of the perceived flaws, it may take time to work through the thoughts that perpetuate this condition. Therapeutic treatment modalities such as cognitive-behavioral therapy and acceptance and commitment therapy can be useful in challenging these perceptions.
Body dysmorphic disorder is a condition that is often undiagnosed and people who struggle with it are sometimes reluctant to talk about it for fear of being considered vain. As society learns more about BDD and myths about the condition are dispelled, those who struggle with the disorder can talk about their struggles more openly and get the help and support needed to heal.
If you or a loved one is living with BDD and a substance use disorder, contact The Recovery Village today to learn more about treatment options to address the addiction and body dysmorphic disorder simultaneously.
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Anxiety and Depression Association of Ameroca. “ACT with CBT for BDD: More than Alphabet Soup.” Accessed May 31, 2019.
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