Overcoming the Mirror's Lies: My Journey with Body Dysmorphic Disorder
My name is Sarah, and for years, I battled a relentless enemy that lived within the reflection staring back at me in the mirror. Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) had a firm grip on my life, and I want to share my story of how therapy helped me break free from its suffocating embrace.
The Early Struggles:
It all began in my teenage years. Like most teenagers, I had my insecurities, but for me, they grew into something much darker. I became obsessed with the imperfections I saw in the mirror, flaws that seemed to define my entire existence. Each day, I'd spend hours scrutinizing my appearance, convinced that everyone I met saw the same flaws I did.
BDD slowly turned me into a recluse. Social gatherings became unbearable as I feared judgment and ridicule. I'd make excuses to avoid events, preferring the solitude of my room where I could hide from the critical gazes that haunted me.
Recognizing that I couldn't continue like this, I finally reached out to a therapist who specialized in BDD. This was a pivotal moment in my life. The therapist assessed the severity of my condition and provided me with the crucial knowledge that I wasn't alone in my struggle.
The Therapy Journey:
Therapy was a challenging yet transformative experience. It began with psychoeducation, where I learned to understand the irrationality of my concerns. The therapist explained the distorted thought patterns that fueled my obsessions and compulsions.
Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP):
One of the most challenging but effective aspects of therapy was Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP). My therapist gently exposed me to situations that triggered my anxieties, all while preventing me from engaging in my compulsive behaviours. Over time, this exposure helped me realize that the distress I felt was not based in reality.
Changing My Inner Dialogue:
Cognitive restructuring was another vital part of my therapy. I learned to identify and challenge my negative self-talk. Gradually, I replaced these destructive thoughts with more realistic and compassionate thinking, allowing myself to see beyond the perceived flaws.
For someone with BDD, mirrors are both friend and foe. My therapist helped me reduce my excessive mirror checking and grooming behaviours. It was tough, but it was liberating to break free from the mirror's judgmental gaze.
In my case, medication, specifically selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), was prescribed alongside therapy to alleviate the symptoms of anxiety and depression that often accompany BDD. This medication, combined with therapy, played a significant role in my recovery.
The Light at the End of the Tunnel:
My journey with BDD was not a linear one, and there were times when I doubted my progress. But with the guidance of my therapist, the support of my loved ones, and my determination to regain control of my life, I made steady strides toward recovery.
Today, I can proudly say that I no longer let the mirror define my worth. BDD may always be a small part of me, but it no longer dictates how I live my life. My therapy journey was challenging, but it was also transformative. I want others struggling with BDD to know that there is hope, and recovery is possible. Reach out to a qualified therapist like David, because the first step toward healing is acknowledging that you deserve a life free from the torment of distorted self-perception.
Names and some details have been changed to protect identity
This is also known as Bigorexia and Megorexia.
There has been an increase in this disorder over recent years. It mostly affect men but not exclusively. People become obsessed with becoming leaner and more muscular. It becomes a continuous race to get bigger while never feeling they are good enough. This can lead to high levels of distress and changes in behaviour. People spend all their time at the gym and avoid social events, partly through having no time but also due to the perceived negative judgement from others.It may even cause them to lose their job.
It is common for people to continue training through injury rather than reduce their fitness schedule. Unable to achieve their perfect body image, the MD bodybuilder may spend huge amounts of money on nutritional supplements and may eventually start to use anabolic steroids. These drugs produce rapid increases in lean muscle mass with few immediate side effects. However, prolonged use is associated with raised cholesterol, prostate enlargement, male-pattern baldness, acne, gynaecomastia and testicular atrophy. They are known to cause paranoia leading to an increased fear of judgement. Withdrawal from a cycle of steroids can lead to depression and has been associated with suicide
Diagnosing Muscle Dysmorphia
The primary focus of the pre-occupation and behaviours is on being small or inadequately muscular, as distinguished from fear of being fat as in Anorexia , or a primary preoccupation only with other aspects of appearance as in other forms of Body Dysmorphic Disorder.
Muscle Dysmorphia can be effectively treated with a specialised program of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder is a serious and disabling condition where people are convinced that they are ugly and that people will laugh at their 'imagined' defect or reject them for it. This can have major effects on their ability to function normally. It often stops people from being able to leave their home because of this fear of judgment.
People with BDD remained convinced despite family and friends trying to reassure them that they look OK. It may give them temporary relief from their distress but it is short lived. They usually dismiss these reassurances as people just being kind.
BDD leads to a number of behaviours that they use to help them cope with the anxiety and self disgust. They will often spend excessive time checking their appearance in the mirror. Sometimes spending hours studying their reflection. They also try to disguise or cover up their flaws using make up or clothing to hide their 'ugliness'. People often avoid going out at all or avoid social situations where they fear they will be noticed.
They often seek out surgery or other interventions to improve their appearance. The problem is though that they are very rarely happy with any procedures outcome. It usually makes their BDD worse as they feel they have done themselves harm. They may then have repeated procedures desperately seeking some escape from how they see themselves (Michael Jackson probably had BDD). This can lead to depression and hopelessness. The suicide risk with BDD suffers is high as they cant see how to change their situation.
People are usually concerned with their face especially their nose and skin. It can though be any part of their body. They will see it as too big or small or distorted in some way. They have an image in their head of how they think they look and this is what they see when they look in the mirror. They also are convinced that this is what everyone else thinks - a common thing that the patients I see is that they look like "a freak".
BDD can be successfully treated with a specialised programme of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Please download the ebook The Ultimate Guide to Body Dysmorphic Disorder to read about BDD in more detail
I have been working with people with Body Dysmorphic disorder since 2005. I have worked one to one and in groups. I have also lectured on the subject training therapists and medics in how to recognise and treat this often misunderstood and misdiagnosed condition.
This website is dedicated to improving people’s awareness and understanding of BDD. My hope is that as a result more people with BDD get the effective help they need to overcome their problems and to go on to lead a happier life free from their obsessions.
I hope you have had a look at the Free In depth Guide to Body Dysmorphic Disorder that is available on the website HERE
I plan to cover as much information on BDD as I can in this blog.
This will include
How to recognise and assess BDD?
How does BDD make someone think and behave?
Why do people develop BDD?
What treatments work?
I will include case studies (anonymous of course)
My hope that this will be useful for therapists and counsellors, but also for BDD suffers and their families