Dysmorphophobia: causes, symptoms, and treatment

Dysmorphophobia: causes

All of us at some point in our lives may have been troubled by some physical defect or overwhelmed by some part of our body that we do not appreciate. But… what happens when a small complex turns into pure obsession?

Dysmorphophobia is the name of what is known as body dysmorphic disorder, which is framed within somatoform disorders. Literally, is the phobia or exaggerated rejection of a part of one’s body .

Dysmorphophobia: what exactly is it?

We are talking about a problem of distortion of the body image, therefore, the symptoms are related to the obsession towards a specific part of the physical aspect of the subject .

The person who suffers it, feels a constant and excessive concern about some physical defect, whether real or imagined. If such a physical defect exists in reality, the levels of anxiety experienced are exorbitant, since they perceive it in an exaggerated way, and they can end up having significant emotional problems or social isolation. It is important to point out that we are not referring to a problem of self-image related to eating disorders (as in anorexia) or sexual identity (which causes rejection of one’s body, specifically the genitals).

Causes and Beginnings of this Psychological Disorder

This type of problem usually begins in adolescence, where the greatest physical and bodily changes occur, and decreases with age, although it can sometimes persist into adulthood.

It has been studied that dysmorphophobia appears in equal measure in men and women , although it could be thought that the pressure for the physical demands more on the female gender. Depending on the etiology, the obsession with one part of the body is more common among upper-class youths, with few or no physical defects, but who magnify and make the center of their life. The tendency to an anxious personality, low self-esteem or having been a victim of some type of harassment or mockery in childhood, can predispose to suffer this type of problem.

The “cursed parts” of the body

According to various studies on the subject, the typical areas that are the object of most obsession are: skin defects (spots, acne or wrinkles on the face), teeth, chest, scars, facial asymmetry, lips, nose, abdomen, ears, chin and, in men, also the genitals.

The feeling of distress over the obsession can lead people who suffer from it to real emotional imbalances related to depression, anxiety attacks, low self-esteem and social isolation by thinking that everyone sees their “defect” the same way.

Feelings of shame or social inadequacy constantly accompany them, as well as comparisons with other people’s physicality. It is very frequent that associated to this obsession, comes a compulsion to try to reduce the anxiety. In this sense, the person may fall into a real ritual of aesthetic care, abuse of make-up , creams, or specific type of clothing to camouflage or divert attention. Some affected persons compulsively check their image in mirrors, while others avoid them at all costs.

The Photoshop culture and cosmetic surgery as a solution

The current reference models transferred from the media, on many occasions t scrape unattainable standards of beauty , which permeate into the most vulnerable people by having an erroneous perception of real beauty and a distorted or exaggerated perception of their imperceptible or imaginary physical defects.

This obsession with physics affects all kinds of people, and is even more so if they have a public image or live from it and have a high status. Lately we have seen how in some famous people or personalities, cosmetic surgery treatments have resulted in physical changes that have little to do with the original face. In most cases, public opinion values that the surgery was not only unnecessary, but that the results have not been good. We will only have to remember the faces of some famous women, after their last “touch-ups”, not only because there are no signs of natural aging, but because they have lost their most characteristic physical features. The fact is that major and minor plastic surgery is becoming the method of celebrities to appease anxiety and encourage the obsession with physical perfectionism .

The problem is not on the surface

The problem is that the physical changes or improvements that occur at the body level thanks to the magic of surgery, manage to reduce anxiety momentarily and in the short term, but soon the obsession reappears .

The reinforcement with the surgery is almost immediate but it is not maintained because the problem is sustained by body distortion, body dissatisfaction, low self-esteem… so that soon after, they feel dissatisfied and resort to the intervention again.

How can we help these people?

If there are no major disorders associated, it is very important to help these people make a realistic adjustment to their self-image as well as a thorough work on self-esteem. Part of the anxiety about the physical remains because the person does not value other areas of his or her life, and they make that defect a whole.

On the other hand, it will be essential to expose oneself to enjoy social relations independently of one’s own assessment . The rational acceptance of one’s own defects but also of one’s own personal resources is the key to reorienting those suffering from this type of problem.

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