We all have weaknesses and flaws. Although we are made in the image of God, we each have small things that we may wish to change. Someone with Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) may obsess over these perceived flaws. What is worse is that sometimes these flaws are imaginary, yet the sufferer spends hours in front of a mirror or seeking ways to “fix” themselves. This quest can lead to depression and isolation.
What Exactly is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) can start at a young age, especially if bullying is present regarding a flaw. Teenagers and young adults can begin to develop BDD symptoms to try to fit in with their peers. As adults, trauma or an imbalance in brain chemicals can create negative and persistent thoughts.
BDD takes the mind and may distort what you see in the mirror. Or it might take a minor perceived flaw and make it grotesque, injecting thoughts like, “He/she won’t like me if they see this,” or “What if they laugh behind my back? Or to my face?” or “No one will ever love me because of (fill in the blank).”
Like with any mental illness, the mind takes off with these obsessive thoughts like a rocket creating a cascade of emotions. These emotions then lead to compulsive behaviors, and symptoms of BDD. This chain reaction leads to deeper emotions like depression, guilt, shame, and fear.
The overwhelming thoughts and behaviors begin to consume too much of the day, interfering with work and relationships. Fun events and family outings are no longer enjoyable as you avoid the camera and hide from others.
Whether the flaw is real or imaginary, the thoughts, emotions, and behaviors are the same. The mind translates what it sees into a distorted image. Since these are our thoughts, they can be tough to distinguish from the truth, our belief system based on previous encounters or comments, or a spiritual enemy trying to steal our joy and identity in Christ.
The first step to take is to identify the problem. If the symptoms seem like BDD, then seek the help of a therapist who can aid you in untangling the lies from the truth. Depending on the severity, your age, and other factors, several treatment options are available for Body Dysmorphic Disorder sufferers.
This is not something you have to go through alone. Others are managing the thoughts and behaviors from BDD who you can learn from and lean into for support. But you must reach out and no longer allow the distortion of your true self to hold you back and keep you from enjoying life.
Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder
Body Dysmorphic Disorder has a range of symptoms, and two people with the condition may not exhibit the same symptoms. Check through the list, but keep in mind that it takes a professional medical diagnosis to confirm BDD.
Excessively checking your reflection in the mirror. The constant attention to the area to see if it looks okay or the need to cover it up with makeup or materials is a reaction to obsessive thoughts. This worry that the flaw is showing can become a distraction while at work, school, out with friends, or during an intimate time with your spouse.
Avoiding mirrors. On the other side, the flawed area may disgust you to the point where you do not want to see it and avoid mirrors at all costs. You may have trouble believing when someone who loves you tells you that there is no flaw or that it is minuscule. The defect creates such a revulsion in your mind that you can no longer see past it to the truth.
Picking at your skin or the area. Constant picking at the site, either consciously or unconsciously, can make it more pronounced. It offers a way for you to feel in control. Some people may begin to feel satisfaction with fixing the flaw themselves, even if it hurts. For example, someone who thinks their biggest flaw is their lips may pick at the skin until it bleeds and temporarily feel they have defeated their flaw.
Unnecessary procedures to fix the flaw. Plastic surgeries and operations to correct a perceived weakness can quickly get out of hand – and financially expensive. You may reach out to several different doctors trying to find one that will confirm your belief in the flaw.
An honest doctor may recognize and admit that the flaw often makes a person unique. People with Body Dysmorphic Disorder can be taken advantage of by less than reputable physicians looking to make a quick buck.
Hiding the flaw with clothing. Someone with BDD will try to cover the defect with extra clothing, whether the stomach, arms, hips, or another body part. This may mean always wearing long sleeves and baggy clothes even in the hottest weather. Or staying wholly covered at the beach, even if they risk a heat stroke. The thought that someone might see and remark about their flaw is mortifying.
Isolating at home to keep others from seeing the flaw. That mortifying feeling is enough to keep many people home and isolated, avoiding social gatherings, including working outside of the home, attending classes at school, or shopping at the grocery store.
They might develop social anxiety, a tangible form of anxiety where someone can launch into a panic attack if they face many people at once. The person with Body Dysmorphic Disorder might also avoid having friends and family in their home, adding to their isolation.
Exercising or grooming to fix the flaw. Extreme exercise or obsessive grooming techniques are also compulsive behaviors associated with BDD. Trying to control weight, tone, or build muscle to change the body’s shape can preoccupy the mind. Paying stylists to fix the flaw is an expensive endeavor.
Comparing yourself to others. When you have what you perceive as a flaw, you become hyper-aware of those who have what you want. This is more apparent in the day of social media, where influencers rule, and you can find something to point out and compare yourself to in society. This comparison leads to discontentment.
A wide range of emotions like rage, bitterness, anxiety, and depression. Comparison and isolation can lead to feelings that span the spectrum. These emotions are rooted in fear and not in acceptance of God’s love who loves us regardless of what we might think about ourselves.
He created each of us and knew us before we were formed in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). He knows the things we have done or have happened to us, yet He sees us as beautiful sons and daughters. When we accept this truth above the beliefs we have held onto, fear, anxiety, and anger begin to dissipate.
Looking for external approval or reassurance. Constantly seeking approval or comfort is not healthy behavior. A therapist can help you learn to see yourself as you are without the approval of others. Self-confidence is a powerful drug. Learning to accept flaws and manage emotions can take you further than hiding.
Suicidal thoughts. Body Dysmorphic Disorder distorts the mind and twists what is truth and what is a lie. The emotions that bubble up can feel overwhelming. If you have suicidal thoughts, reach out for help right away.
These symptoms can begin to manifest during childhood eating disorders or as a young adult as the body finishes its transition from puberty. It is also not unheard of to develop BDD later after a life event or trauma.
If you believe that you or a loved one suffers from Body Dysmorphic Disorder, it is not too late to ask for help. Contact a professional Christian counselor today to assess the condition and create a plan to manage BDD while leaning on God as you learn more about how the body is a temple for the Holy Spirit.
“The Woman in the Mirror”, Courtesy of Vinicius “amnx” Amano, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Social Media”, Courtesy of Georgia de Lotz, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Praying”, Courtesy of Priscilla Du Preez, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pointing the Finger”, Courtesy of Hannah Xu, Unsplash.com, CC0 License