Body Dysmorphic Disorder: When what you see isn’t what you see

Part of being healthy is having a healthy and positive self-image.  Easier said than done though, right?  You’re probably thinking to yourself, the only people who say things like that are ones who have the bodies that the rest of the population would kill for.  But you know what?  Those people have their own struggles too.  That’s the thing about judging others; you just have no clue what they have had to walk through.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a kind of mental illness where a person has a high level of concern with their body image.  They have this preconception that there is something horribly wrong with their body. Their “actual self” does not line up with their “ideal self”.  This probably happens for most of us, so what makes people who suffer from BDD different? What they see when they look in the mirror is not actually there.  When you look at yourself maybe you see an extra five pounds you have been trying to lose or maybe a scar you’ve had since childhood that you wish you could get rid of.  Someone with BDD sees a grotesquely disfigured face where there is none or 20 pounds of flab where there might only be muscle.  These obsessions with flaws that aren’t there cause a significant amount of stress.  They are constantly thinking of ways to hide their “problem” areas, they may avoid social interactions just so no one can see how hideous they believe they are and they often struggle with depression and anxiety.

This is a hard disorder to deal with because you are faced with a person who sees and truly and deeply believes something that you know isn’t there.  Have you ever tried to tell a kid that their imaginary friend doesn’t really exist? This is along those lines.  Anti-depressants might be given to help with those symptoms, but it won’t help them see what is really looking back at them in the mirror.  More often than not, this is a deep seeded issue that goes way back. There isn’t much research on this disorder yet but it is starting to gain some attention.  Oddly enough more and more people who have had a huge change in their body, like losing a significant amount of weight, are the ones most likely to suffer from BDD.  When someone has looked a certain way for so long and then that image changes, it is hard to let go of the past and embrace the future.

How do you help someone with BDD? Patience, and lots of it.  Whether you have BDD or know someone who does you have to realize this won’t be a quick fix.  It will take time and most likely a lot of setbacks.  There will be good days and then there will be not so good days.  One of the biggest helpers is trying to focus more on the positive rather than the negative. Ok, you think your thighs are the reason someone named you thunder thighs.  Ignore that nagging thought for now and list 5 other body parts you like, or 5 personality traits you wouldn’t trade for the world, or 5 reasons your dog loves you.  Any way you can focus that negative energy into positive do it. This will take a lot of work because it is so easy for all of us to listen to that little voice inside our heads that says we aren’t perfect. No one is and even the people that appear to have it all have their own battles they are fighting.

Being healthy doesn’t always entail eating right and exercising.  It includes your mind and your thoughts.  Like I’ve said before I’m not a doctor or expert, so if you have BDD or just think you might, talk with a professional and set up the best plan of action for you.  Once you get your mind in the right place, all the hard work you put into your diet and exercise will pay off even more so!