What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD)

Body Dysmorphic Disorder

When an individual is deeply concerned with his or her body image, shown through an excessive preoccupation and concern regarding a defect that they have in their physical appearance, it is likely that they have Body Dysmorphic Disorder. It is one of the concerns in health psychology as it is also associated with other psychological conditions such as anxiety, depression, as well as social isolation and withdrawal.

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders V classifies Body Dysmorphic Disorder under the Obsessive-Compulsive spectrum. The reason behind this classification is that the individual exhibits repetitive behaviours, and has mental actions that respond to their perceived flaws in their physical appearances.

Symptoms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

From a healthy psychology standpoint, an individual who is suffering from Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) are likely to show the following signs and symptoms:

  • Wishing that they could alter or improve aspects of their physicality, even if they are of normal or high attractiveness
  • Believing that they are undeniably hideous in appearance which as a result, causes them to stay away from others for fear of being ridiculed and humiliated when it comes to how they look
  • In extreme cases, they tend to chronically avoid all forms of intimate relationships
  • Becoming secretive and with a reluctance to ask for help, due to the feeling that doing so will force them to face their insecurities
  • Feeling embarrassed and hesitant to admit that they may be suffering from a disorder
  • Thinking that their only goal is to fix the ‘deformity’ they think they have. Any disorders are caused by the said ‘deformity’
  • Confessing that they would rather endure the symptoms of the disorder rather than believe that they do not have any deformity

Causes of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

What causes this condition to occur? Here are some of the possible reasons that healthy psychology is looking at:

  • It can co-occur with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
  • Neuropsychology supports that there is a weak link between the brain’s emotional and rational centers – the amygdale and the orbitofrontal cortex, in which the latter is also responsible for the regulation of emotions
  • There is also the cognitive-behavioural model, in which a person’s inherent personality, combined with negative experience from childhood, may cause him or her to develop such disorder. An example of which is that a self-conscious or an introverted child could have suffered heavy bullying and verbal abuse. However it is important to note that all children who were bullied end up developing the disorder

Treatments for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Of the available methods of treatments that have been tried for BDD, it was found that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is the most effective.

  • This approach directly addresses any dysfunctional feelings, emotions, behaviours, thought processes and concerns through goal-oriented and systematic procedures
  • This form of treatment is problem-centric (there is a specific problem being addressed), and action-focused (the patient is assisted when it comes to the actions he is to make to address the said problem)
  • A review of this treatment shows that 81% of the 83 participants who suffer from BDD, and received CBT no longer met the post-treatment diagnostic criteria. This means that after undergoing CBT for 12 weeks, they were no longer exhibiting the symptoms of the disorder
  • Another study was conducted which found that when the treatment was extended up to 16 weeks, it was more effective compared to medication
  • To further support CBT, neuroscientists also found that this treatment method addresses the weak link between the amygdala and the orbitofrontal cortex – which is one of the main causes of this disorder.

Photo credit: Karina Lamontagne

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