Body Dysmorphic Disorder: Signs and Treatment

Medically reviewed by Karen Foster
Updated October 16, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Have you ever looked at yourself in the mirror and wondered, “Why do I hate my body?” It’s common for people of all ages and genders to sometimes experience doubts or insecurities about their appearance. However, when these negative perceptions and body image issues become persistent and pervasive, they could signify a mental illness called body dysmorphic disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia.

What is body dysmorphia? BDD is a psychiatric disorder that can limit socialization, functioning, and quality of life and cause significant distress. Although this disorder can make individuals feel like they’ll never have positive feelings about their bodies, effective treatment of symptoms is possible. Read on to learn more about this disorder along with an overview of treatment options.

Getty/Luis Alvarez
Are You Challenged By Negative Body Thoughts?

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), BDD is classified under the category of obsessive-compulsive and related disorders. Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder tend to be preoccupied with one or more perceived physical flaws that are either unnoticeable or appear very small to family, friends, or others. 

They may also feel compelled to perform repetitive behaviors such as spending time checking their appearance in the mirror, asking others for reassurance about it, or comparing it with others’. They may also go to great lengths to change or hide their body from others. These actions and the thoughts that motivate them can cause severe distress and negatively impact relationships, work, and mental health overall. People with body dysmorphia may also be at greater risk for suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts or behaviors, seek help immediately. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached 24/7 by dialing 988.

Note that feeling like you hate your body could be a sign of BDD, but only if accompanied by other mental health symptoms. BDD does not generally involve thoughts about weight or body fat, which would typically be better classified as an eating disorder—though both types of disorders can overlap. Someone with BDD may also experience other co-occurring mental illnesses, such as depression, generalized anxiety disorder, or bipolar disorder. In any case, some form of body dysmorphia test can help a health professional diagnose the disorder and determine the best course of treatment. 

How Does Body Dysmorphic Disorder Present?

Symptoms of BDD can appear at various ages, though early adolescence is the most common time. The key sign is the experience of dysmorphic thoughts about one’s body and related actions. Not only can BDD impact how an individual relates to their body and body image, but also how they interact in the world. Individuals with this illness often limit their social interactions to try and hide their body from others. This could look like declining an invitation to attend a party or calling in sick to work to avoid time spent in front of others because of how they think their body looks. Some may even avoid leaving the house at all.

Individuals living with BDD may also go through extensive efforts to change their perceived flaws. This may include purchasing expensive products or undergoing surgery or dental procedures to make their bodies look how they perceive other people’s bodies or ‘ideal bodies’ to be. They may also frequently buy new clothing and then discard it due to feeling like it doesn’t look how they’d hoped or how it looks on others.

Rawpixel

Treatment For Body Dysmorphic Disorder

Body dysmorphic disorder is a serious mental health disorder, and a person experiencing it should generally seek professional treatment. Both medication and therapeutic approaches may be used to treat BDD. 

The most common therapeutic method used for individuals living with BDD is cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). This therapy modality aims to help individuals recognize and exercise skills to change distorted and harmful thought patterns. The goal of CBT for body dysmorphic disorder is to help individuals learn to see their bodies in a more realistic, positive way and to not focus on perceived flaws. Medication may be prescribed by a doctor or psychiatrist in some cases to help decrease symptoms in order to promote better therapeutic outcomes.

Getty/Halfpoint Images
Are You Challenged By Negative Body Thoughts?

Seeking Help For Body Dysmorphic Disorder

As mentioned above, therapy is a practical treatment option for BDD, but the challenge of seeking out the help of an in-person therapist can represent a significant obstacle for individuals with this condition. Body dysmorphia can make it difficult for a person to feel comfortable leaving the house or interacting with others face-to-face due to their distorted views of their own appearance. 

Online therapy can offer an alternative way for individuals with BDD to receive professional help and support. Since online therapy sessions through a platform like BetterHelp can be attended from home or anywhere with a strong internet connection, individuals can meet with their therapist from wherever they feel comfortable. Medically reviewed research suggests that CBT can be “safely and effectively delivered” via internet for the treatment of BDD.

Takeaway

Body dysmorphic disorder is a serious mental health condition that’s characterized by persistent, distorted negative thoughts about one’s own body and perceived physical flaws. Therapy, sometimes in combination with medication, is the most common treatment method for BDD. You can meet with a therapist online or in person if you're looking for support in working toward managing an illness like body dysmorphia.

Learn how to honor your body

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get the support you need from one of our therapistsGet Started