Most people are dissatisfied or self-conscious with some aspect of the way they look. However, if your appearance is causing you a large amount of distress and you spend a lot of your day worrying about it, then your concern may have become excessive. You may have noticed that much of your days are taken up with thoughts about the way you look, frequently checking your appearance in the mirror, or avoiding mirrors all together. The concern may be about a particular feature that you believe looks ugly or disfigured. If this sounds familiar, this could indicate some of the behaviours that are associated with body dysmorphia.
Body Dysmorphia refers to a distressing, continuous preoccupation with an apparent defect in one’s appearance. Some common focuses of obsession in individuals with Body Dysmorphia include skin appearance (e.g. scaring), facial features (e.g. shape and size of nose) or another body part (such as arms, breasts or buttocks). However, someone with Body Dysmorphia may have an obsession with any aspect of their appearance. Body dysmorphic disorder also affects women and men equally. For example, men may worry that they are not muscular enough (i.e., muscle dysmorphia) or that they are going bald.
If you have Body Dysmorphia, you may recognise some of the indications below:
- Low self-esteem, depression, shame and guilt
- Engaging in repetitive behaviours such as looking in a mirror, picking at the skin, covering up or examining the area of concern
- Fear of being judged by others
- Feeling self-conscious, not wanting to go out in public or have photos taken
- Experiencing problems at work, school, or in relationships due to concerns about appearance
If you are overly concerned about your physical appearance, and it has begun to affect your daily functioning, it is time to consult a psychologist. Often people with Body Dysmorphia seek cosmetic procedures in order to ‘fix’ the perceived flaw, even after family and friends insist they cannot see the flaw. However, those who pursue treatments/procedures are generally left feeling worse about themselves or the preoccupation moves to another area of the body. Consequently, psychological support is crucial and should be sought.
Treatment by a psychologist at VCPS will involve:
- Reducing your negative thoughts about your appearance
- Addressing the compulsive behaviours and rituals you use to lessen your anxiety – e.g. touching or checking a part of your body
- Helping you to view yourself more holistically, without judgement and beyond your physical appearance
- Exploring events or experiences which may have led you to become concerned about the body part in the first place
- Working with you to decide whether medication is appropriate in your treatment