Concern for physical appearance, to a greater or lesser extent, is commonplace today, as we live immersed in the culture of the image. However, when this concern becomes too important a part of our lives and leads us to engage in self-destructive behaviour, then we are talking about the Adonis complex , a serious problem that must be addressed.

In this article we will talk about the Adonis complex and we will go deeper into its causes, symptoms and treatment.

What is the Adonis complex

The Adonis complex is what is popularly known as vigorexia , muscular dysmorphia or inverted anorexia. People with this disorder suffer continuously because of their physical appearance and especially because of their obsession and fixation on acquiring a muscular body, which would represent the maximum expression of the male body image. This obsession and concern take the individual to pathological extremes.

The term “Adonis complex” is not usually used in the medical environment, but is rather the name given to vigorexia in a popular way. This curious name is extracted from Greek mythology, which represented Adonis as half man and half god. Adonis was considered the supreme being of male beauty and, according to mythology, so beautiful was his body that he won the love of Aphrodite, queen of all gods.


As some investigations claim, there are approximately 700,000 cases of the Adonis complex or vigorexia in Spain. The majority are men between the ages of 15 and 35 who usually suffer from this disorder; however, cases of women with this condition have also been reported.

Although the exact cause of this disorder is difficult to determine, scientific studies conclude that a number of factors may lead to the appearance of the Adonis complex. They are the following:

1. Low self-esteem

Low self-esteem is both a cause and a consequence of this disorder. Individuals with an Adonis complex often value themselves negatively and have a lack of self-confidence. They become obsessed with physical appearance thinking that this way they will feel better. They are not good with themselves and seek external approval that is not at all conducive to their mental well-being.

2. Culture of image

The culture of image and the values and beliefs that this society promotes have an effect on how people interpret the environment and value themselves. We are continually surrounded by media that make us feel bad if we do not meet the unrealistic expectations that we may have from the canon of beauty of the West. Education is the best way to counteract these toxic values or beliefs.

3. Bullying

Some individuals may develop this condition after having a negative self-image that is a consequence of how they have been bullied in the early stages of their life . For example, because of being teased by peers at school.

4. Perfectionism

The perfectionist personality is closely linked to the desire to have a perfect body. This type of behaviour leads to obsession , because perfectionists are very hard on themselves and do not accept themselves as they are.

Signs and Symptoms

Individuals suffering from the Adonis complex live obsessed with their physical appearance and may spend several hours a day thinking about their body in a negative way and looking at themselves in the mirror over and over again. Vigorous people are people who take care of their diet to the extreme, because they wish to have a body without fat but at the same time voluminous and muscular . They are never happy with the way they look because they never look good.

Not looking good causes them discomfort and they try to counteract the anxiety and low self-esteem they feel with some harmful behaviors. For example, they consume anabolics, eat in an unhealthy way and practice sport in an obsessive way , leaving aside the health benefits and focusing purely and exclusively on body image, even sacrificing their well-being.


Psychological therapy can be really effective in treating this disorder, but the first step in overcoming the Adonis complex is for the patient to accept that they have a problem and be willing to seek help. If you are aware that you are suffering from vigorexia, you may want to go to your family doctor first to discuss the problem. Although this professional can make an initial diagnosis, it is necessary to contact a psychologist who specialises in this type of disorder.

Psychological therapy is helpful because it re-educates the patient to learn positive and realistic thought patterns and behavior patterns. Although there are other treatments such as Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBT) or Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), which belong to the third generation therapies and help the patient to accept himself and adopt a non-judgmental attitude towards his body, classic Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) is often the treatment of choice . It has enough scientific evidence to claim that it is an effective treatment.

CBT can be group or individual, and is intended to recognize and make connections between the patient’s thoughts, feelings and behavior, so that the patient can acquire practical skills to overcome problems. In this case, the goal will be to focus on the patient’s beliefs about their own body and physical appearance, which will allow them to modify harmful behaviors.

Different techniques are used in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy: cognitive restructuring, exposure techniques, social skills training, among others.

  • You can learn more about these techniques in this article: “The 10 most used cognitive-behavioral techniques”