Dysmorphophobia: what does it consist of and how to overcome it?

Have a small scar on the eyebrow and visualize, instead, an unpleasant deformity. Looking in the mirror and perceiving monstrous defects, unpleasant shades that, in reality, do not exist. Dysmorphophobia defines a somatoform disorder in which the person is overly preoccupied with a minor or imaginary physical feature.

This psychological phenomenon appears frequently in cosmetic surgery clinics. There are many men and women who come in search of an operation to remedy that "fault" in their appearance, that supposed "abnormality" that prevents them from leading a full and functional life. They are, without a doubt, situations of high wear and tear that reduce the social, work and affective level.

The prevalence in the general population is estimated to be between 0.7% and 2.3%. Likewise, we cannot ignore a remarkable fact: body dysmorphic disorder is usually behind clinical conditions such as bulimia and anorexia. Let's dig a little deeper.

What is dysmorphophobia?

Dysmorphophobia is an obsessive disorder that consists of an irrational concern for a defect, the one that can be real or imaginary. The first time this term appeared was in 1891, when the Italian doctor Enrico Morselli described the case of a patient who showed a distorted image of his own body.

Later, in 1986, the American Psychiatric Association recognized it as a psychiatric disorder, to be called ever since body dysmorphic disorder (TDC). In this way, something we must understand about this condition is that we are not dealing with someone vain or with a person who, like anyone else, would like to correct a small physical nuance.

What we have is an absolute obsession for a part of the body in which an abnormality is appreciated that is not always real. This perception also generates such psychological suffering that their social or work performance is affected. Little by little show other associated disorders, such as phobias, anxiety and even social isolation.

Body dysmorphic disorder is more common in adolescents and young adults, and can be associated with bulimia and anorexia.

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What are your causes?

It is estimated that about 2% of the world population shows the diagnostic criteria of body dysmorphic disorder or dysmorphophobia. Studies, such as the one carried out in the psychiatric clinic of the University of Padova, for example, indicate that today the exact causes that trigger its appearance are not known.

However, a series of aspects are assessed and associated risk factors are also taken into account. They are as follows:

  • There is research, such as that carried out at the University of California, which indicates that the origin could be cerebral. It has been observed that these patients process visual aspects in an altered way. This may explain this irrational and unadjusted way in which they see themselves.
  • On the other hand, The genetic factor is also noteworthy. If the parents have already suffered or show obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), there is also a higher risk.
  • Also, aspects of the personality such as introversion, perfectionism, low self-esteem, neuroticism and shyness must be considered.
  • Have suffered bullying it is also a factor remarkable.

Symptoms of dysmorphophobia

Dysmorphophobia shows a very broad and complex symptomatology. This explains why body dysmorphic disorder itself often overlaps with other psychological realities, such as social anxiety. Let us see, therefore, those characteristics that describe the clinical picture.

Cognitive symptoms

  • Obsessive thoughts of having a great physical defect.
  • Thinking that everyone is going to observe and reject them.
  • Spending a lot of time telling themselves that they won't be able to lead a normal life with that defect, that nothing makes sense with that "horrible" hue in his body.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Need to demonstrate absolute perfection to the world.
  • Poor self-concept and not defined.
  • Suicidal ideation.

Emotional symptoms

  • Great discouragement
  • Shame.
  • Feelings of inferiority.
  • Depressive feelings

Behavioral symptoms

  • Need for isolation, of not relating or leaving home due to defects.
  • Dysmorphophobia is attending work or academic absenteeism, inability to care for or maintain personal relationships.
  • Possible appearance of drug use behaviors or other addictions.
  • Alterations in feeding.

Body dysmorphic disorder usually resolves well with treatments such as antidepressants and psychological therapy.

What therapies help to overcome it?

Dysmorphophobia is treatable and usually patients achieve a good quality of life leaving aside that obsession, that particularity by focusing on little evident or nonexistent defects. The way of coping with body dysmorphic disorder starts from two strategies:

  • The first is pharmacological: treatment with antidepressants, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
  • The second is cognitive-behavioral psychological therapy: Thanks to it, the patient can detect irrational thoughts, deactivate them and replace them with a more adjusted and positive approach. Aspects such as self-esteem, self-concept, emotional regulation and assertiveness are also worked on. Cognitive restructuring will allow them to modify mental distortions to gradually introduce more accurate ideas, reasoning and behaviors.

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Dysmorphophobia requires professional help

Dysmorphophobia ends with many people turning to surgery to correct unimportant details nor significance. What is clear is that neither operations are the solution, since soon there is a new obsession with another part of the body. It is decisive in all cases to request specialized help.

If not treated, this mental condition leads to anxiety, major depression, social phobias and, for more extreme cases, suicide. Do not hesitate to consult with a professional as soon as possible.