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What Do You See When You Look In The Mirror?: The Skinny On Body Dysmorphia

Ever notice that you are more critical of yourself than you are of your friends? It is a common phenomenon that people chastise their own appearance, behavior, and habits, while easily forgiving and overlooking their friends’ same issues. It is as though we are our own worst enemy!

Nowhere is this more evident than when looking in the mirror. Even though a mirror reflects reality, an individual’s perception of the reflection may not. For some people, it is yet another opportunity for self-shaming and negative self-talk. Others take it further – fixating on an imagined or slight flaw in their appearance. They may avoid being in public, suffer severe distress, or even change their eating habits because of this perceived imperfection.

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a diagnosable mental disorder in which an individual’s functioning is hampered due to an unhealthy fixation on their body. People with BDD perceive their body inaccurately – like the fun-house mirror phenomenon – imagining that they are more overweight than they actually are. As you can probably guess, BDD is a common trigger for eating disorders like anorexia.

In men, BDD often occurs as Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder (MDD), or the false perception of weakness. Men with this disorder try to bulk up, even though they may already be stronger than the average man.

What Causes Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Muscle Dysmorphic Disorder can be caused by past trauma – especially bullying. Men who were bullied in school due to being “scrawny” or undersized may feel compelled to get bigger than anyone else so that they could, theoretically, take on their bully of the past. Essentially, they overcompensate for any perceived weakness.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder can also be a result of past trauma and experiences. For instance, if a girl watches her mother pinch her extra fat and look uncomfortable in front of a mirror, she might learn to be overly critical of her own appearance. It can be particularly damaging if young girls hear normal-weight people referred to as fat, as is common in the modeling industry. Sports that idealize a certain body type – such as wrestling, long-distance running, ballet, and gymnastics – are breeding grounds for BDD.

But BDD has other causes besides past experiences and trauma. Some studies suggest that it has a genetic basis, with BDD more likely to occur in certain families. In addition, personality traits, such as perfectionism, can create an environment for BDD to thrive. Lastly, the latest neurobiological research points to the fact that a serotonin deficiency may contribute to BDD.

Self-Shaming Is A Gateway Habit

With all of this focus on BDD, it can be easy to overlook the non-diagnosable practice of self-shaming. But it’s important to not gloss over, and to fully acknowledge, the dangers of and destruction caused by self-shaming. In fact, self-shaming can even lead to BDD.

Most people can think of something that they wish was different about their body – a low-hanging earlobe, facial dissymmetry, nose size, or excess fat. But the trouble comes when people allow these slight imperfections to diminish their self-confidence and self-worth.

Because the West has a certain –relatively unattainable – standard of beauty (especially for women), it is all-too-common for people to think of themselves as “less than” because they don’t look like the models in the magazines. The truth is that this conception of beauty is arbitrary. Beauty ideals change across time and cultures. There is freedom in embracing diverse appearances and appreciating your own appearance as an outward manifestation of the true you!

Even if you suffer from physical limitations, it is possible to accept your body and feel blessed for what it can do. Some of the most inspirational stories come from people with physical limitations that have pushed the boundaries of what doctors initially believed was possible.

Common Treatments

People who struggle with self-shaming, BDD, and MDD are often treated with a combination of talk-therapy and anti-depressant medication. The trouble is that these conditions are the epitome of mind-body disconnection and must be treated as such. They can only be overcome when the body and mind are reconnected.

At Helix, we recognize and treat the many possible roots of self-shaming, BDD, and MDD. Our well-experienced mental health professionals understand how to turn a mind that is hostile to the body into a mind that loves, accepts, and appreciates the body for what it is. We combine the latest neurobiological research with ancient healing modalities to provide the care you need to overcome BDD. Contact us today for a free consultation!

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