We all have something we don’t like about our appearance. A big nose, a crooked tooth, or eyes that are too big or too small. While these imperfections may bother us, they don’t interfere with our daily life.People who suffer from dysmorphophobia (or body dysmorphic disorder), on the other hand, can spend hours obsessively thinking about their real or imagined defects.
People with dysmorphophobia cannot stop negative thoughts about their appearance and even often seeking constant reassurance from family members or close people, they are not convinced that they have a normal appearance. In addition to the strong negative emotions that arise from these obsessions, these people may also find it difficult to leave the house for school or work because of these thoughts about their appearance.
Another common risk is that these subjects decide to undergo cosmetic surgery, convinced that it will put an end to their suffering. Unfortunately, however, when these concerns are of an obsessive nature, they are independent of the actual physical appearance and therefore these solutions, however drastic, never lead to improvements.
What are the characteristics of dysmorphophobia?
Dysmorphophobia is an obsessive-compulsive spectrum disorder whose distinguishing feature is the focus on aesthetic appearance. It is characterized by intrusive thoughts that cause discomfort, related to one or more physical defects – minimal or not observable by the eyes of others.
Typical areas of concern:
- Belly / abdomen
Other symptoms of dysmorphophobia:
- Masking parts of the body (with makeup, hats, assuming unusual positions, etc.)
- Avoid direct light
- Excessive mirror checks
- Avoid mirrors
- Tease / remove skin
- Excessive exercise
- Excessive body care
- Many changes of clothes
- Recourse or attempts to resort to plastic surgery
There is also a sub-category of dysmorphophobia, called muscle dysmorphia, typical of man.
People with dysmorphophobia can also suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder , social phobia and even depression and eating disorders.
How do i know if i have dysmorphophobia?
Only a professional who is familiar with this type of disorder can confidently diagnose dysmorphophobia. Furthermore, an accurate diagnosis in the psychological field aims to meticulously focus on the different aspects of that peculiar dysmorphophobia of that specific person that cannot be reduced to a simple label.
Who will have to make the diagnosis will observe three things:
- If you suffer from obsessions related to physical appearance;
- If you have compulsive behaviors related to these obsessions;
- If these behaviors cause discomfort, they take a long time and hinder other activities of daily life.
Treatment of dysmorphophobia
Scientific research-based treatment of dysmophophobia has two options:
- Cognitive and behavioral psychotherapy
- Pharmacological therapy
Cognitive and behavioral therapy provides the patient with the foundation for understanding the disorder, provides practical techniques for managing anxiety and negative emotions, and leads the patient to recognize and modify irrational thoughts that cause distress while reducing compulsive behaviors.
Drug therapy normally involves the prescription of antidepressant drugs useful in the treatment of obsessive-compulsive disorder such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
How common is dysmorphophobia?
Data from epidemiological research indicate that about 1.7-2.5% of the general population suffers from it. While among dermatological patients or those who undergo cosmetic surgery the percentage can rise up to 10-15%.
At what age does it start?
The average age of onset of dysmorphophobia is 16-17 years but the most common age of onset is 12-13 years.
Is body dysmorphism hereditary?
The body dysmorphism has genetic characteristics highlighted by a greater presence of the disorder in the relatives of those who suffer from it.
What causes dysmorphophobia?
There is no known cause and complex situations usually have multiple factors behind them. Experiences of abuse and neglect in childhood appear to be of particular importance in the development of the disorder.