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Anxiety Clinic - Body Dysmorphic Disorder

BDD Treatment in Stoke on Trent & Newcastle Under Lyme

Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD as it's commonly abbreviated to, is an anxiety driven psychological disorder. In essence the sufferer obsessively focuses on one or more (perceived) physical imperfections or faults. The BDD obsessing can create feelings of dissatisfaction, anxiety and worthlessness in the sufferer. It is common for a BDD sufferer to contemplate or undertake some form of cosmetic surgery in order to remedy the problem body part(s). However, in reality cosmetic surgery rarely improves the BDD situation where ongoing personal criticism and sometimes a shift of attention to another body part is common. In truth the only genuine solution leading to a full recovery from BDD is through addressing the underlying thought and emotional processes which maintain it.

This page contains information on the symptoms of BDD, how BDD works, the cycle which keeps BDD running as a disorder, other psychological disorders associated with BDD and perhaps most importantly - how to overcome BDD.


What Are The Symptoms Of BDD?

Body Dysmorphic Disorder should not be confused with a general dissatisfaction in the way we look. Perhaps the most telltale sign of BDD is the obsessive focus on one or more parts of the body. As BDD is most common in women we'll write from a female perspective - however if you're a man the essence and structure of the information (as well as the help) will still be true for you.

It is common for women to be critical of their own appearance. This self-criticism (and associated dissatisfaction) seems to be hard-wired into the majority. However, this dissatisfaction tends to be of a more general nature where a woman may feel her bum is too big, her boobs are too small, her hair has a mind of its own and nothing seems to fit right without making her look fat. This is not BDD.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder tends to be very specific. Thus a BDD sufferer may pay 99.9% of her critical attention to her nose... perhaps even just a small part of her nose. The obsession means that she repeatedly checks how she looks in mirrors and other reflective surfaces. Touching can also become an obsessive behaviour - which is also a form of checking.

The checking is always accompanied by critical internal self-talk and feelings of dissatisfaction and/or anxiety.

BDD sufferers find it hard to break free or move on from their checking rituals, instead dwelling upon their obsession.

Here's a summary of BDD symptoms:

  • Focus is specifically directed - normally towards a single body part or area.
  • Checking is obsessive, repetitive and habitual.
  • Critical internal self-talk accompanies checking.
  • Feelings of dissatisfaction and/or anxiety are associated with the specific body part or area.

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The Truth About How BDD Works...

body dysmorphic disorder help

Body Dysmorphic Disorder can only operate when the sufferer is taken in by its illusion. What we mean by this is probably best demonstrated by an example:

Have you ever had a strange dream where you were somehow able to do things you couldn't possibly do in reality? Typical examples include being able to levitate or fly, being pursued by some sort of monster or possibly finding yourself in bed with Brad Pitt or George Clooney - sorry about that if you're a man!

The strange thing is that when you're in your dream, no matter how unrealistic your powers or experience may be - you rarely (if ever) conclude that it's impossible and you must be dreaming. Thus you're so into the dream, no matter how bizarre it may be, it becomes your reality.

If you do obsess over a particular body part it's possible you've already asked your family, friends or GP about it. It's more than likely that everyone has implied there's nothing spectacular or wrong in their opinion. However, no matter how many people fail to see what you see... you are relentless in pursuing what you believe to be true. Logically speaking, when you hit a given number of different people all telling you the same thing you'd expect at some point to become convinced. If this hasn't happened then perhaps you should ask yourself if you're in a sort of BDD dream without realising it. This isn't to trivialise your problem (because we know from experience how awful it is), however what if BDD has become your reality not because it's necessarily true, but because you're caught up in a sort of altered awareness (like in a dream).

All we ask is that you put this theory on the back burner for now.

Next we're going to discuss the mechanical elements of how BDD works. It's important you understand this if you are to overcome BDD and recover from it.

If you'd like access to our dedicated Body Dysmorphic Disorder website, it will open in a new window. You can save it to your favourites and come back to it later.

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The Mechanics And Cycle Of BDD...

It's unlikely you were born with Body Dysmorphic Disorder, so it means at some point you've learned how to do it. When it started isn't important or useful in terms of recovery - However, realising it's a process you've somehow created and understanding how it works and self-perpetuates is essential.

We're sure you'll agree that BDD runs in a cycle. If that were not the case, you'd have only obsessed once, accepted it and not thought about it again. However, what makes BDD a disorder is that it keeps on going... often getting worse as time passes. Thus it's safe to say BDD is a cycle.

Any cycle needs to have a start point, so what is the start point (daily) for your BDD? The two most likely options are a behaviour (such as looking in the mirror) or a thought (such as "I bet my hair is going to look awful today").

Which ever start point is true for you the next step will be the same. You dwell (either on your reflection or the thought) and begin to 'think' to yourself in your head. Some people will just talk to themselves internally and others will talk and make mental pictures of what they don't want to happen. For example you may verbalise in your mind (in a critical voice) "Oh my hair is so bad - I can't go to work looking like this". This may be accompanied by mental imagery of you arriving at work to have other women sneer and gossip about how you look behind your back.

The next stage is to feel bad inside. Our emotions are like an internal barometer letting us know how we relate to things, situations and people around us. Thus the feeling bad is your internal barometer telling you something is wrong. However, and pay particular attention to this - you associate the feeling bad to your hair (or whatever body part you obsess over). You must understand that you work in a way in which you associate one thing to another. What keeps you trapped in this BDD illusion is that you associate your bad emotions (feelings) to the body part. You're essentially 'blaming' this body part for you feeling bad.

Now let's rewind a little. The truth is that your body part is NOT responsible for you feeling bad. Your thought processes are what create your emotional states... not your body part. The reason you are trapped within a BDD cycle is that you are looking in the wrong place for a solution! You are trying to change the body part in order to stop feeling bad (and hopefully feel better about yourself)... and this is the trap so many BDD sufferers fall into.

Even if you have the finest cosmetic surgery money can buy and your body part becomes genetically perfect as a result - the thought processes which created your negative emotions in the first place will still be running. You'll still pick fault with yourself because the real problem (the thought processes) hasn't been addressed.

Many hardcore BDD sufferers would be itching to disagree. They'd be determined that if their body part 'looked better' then they'd 'feel better'. This is part of the illusion. Just as an anorexic firmly believes that losing just a few more pounds will make them feel better and that they could then accept themselves - BDD offers the same sort of false promise. Let's say the anorexic is eight stone. They feel bad and decide to starve themselves. They lose four pounds and temporarily feel better. However after a few days they return to criticising the way they look and decide that seven stone ten isn't good enough. They starve themselves again. They lose three more pounds and for a few days they feel good. The self criticism begins again and they decide they're still not satisfied so they starve themselves... and the cycle continues.

Now let's be honest with respect to the anorexic. Is their real problem with a number on the scales or is it with the way they feel and perceive themselves? They firmly believe their vehicle for escaping feeling bad about themselves is losing weight (just as you believe changing the appearance of a body part is your vehicle). The anorexic pattern of temporary satisfaction from weight loss is always over-ridden by ongoing dissatisfaction with the way they look... which in turn causes the cycle to run again. The anorexic always believes that hitting the next weight target will be the one that makes them accept themselves and they'll be able to stop... but it's always a false promise (a lie!) - BDD is no different.

OK, so we've had plenty of doom and gloom so far but the good news is that we're now in a position to look towards how to break the BDD cycle and ultimately recover.

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Why Do You Keep Dwelling On The Body Part?

body dysmorphic disorder treatment

Have you ever noticed how tough it can be to recall information (memories) of things that seemed dull, uneventful or monotonous? For example, if you bump into someone you find mind numbingly boring and they talk to you for ten minutes - do you think you'd remember what they said?

Now let's say you bump into your old flame from school. They look great, they're funny and charming as they always were and you spend ten minutes laughing and reminiscing about old times. What are the odds you could replay that conversation almost word for word in your head?

So - what's the difference? What makes one more memorable than the other?

The mind has a very simple way of assessing what is important and what isn't. If it elicits an medium to strong emotional response - it's important and the mind will probably readily retain the information. If there is very low or zero emotional response the mind will more than likely bury the information in the recesses of your mind or delete it completely. This system works for situations, events, conversations, experiences... and interestingly... thoughts!

Have you ever woken from (or perhaps even remembered) a dream where you felt terrified, amorous, lost, anxious or some other emotion? Odds are that you were lying in bed asleep when this happened so it would suggest that emotions are just as possible in your head as they are in day to day reality. Also you can experience high intensity emotions within your thoughts or dreams (both being the processing of information).

Let's say for arguments sake that your mind has a sort of filing system. The thoughts and events in your life with no emotional response get filed in the bin. The events and thoughts with low and medium intensity emotional responses get filed in the bottom and middle drawers respectively. The events and thoughts with high intensity emotional responses get filed in the top drawer. Thus the filing system stores information in a sort of hierarchy of importance... with the most important stuff right at the top.

Now let's consider the mind to be a sort of thinking machine or thought generator. It's the minds job to generate thoughts for your attention. If you're in any doubt about the mind being a thought generator just try sitting for a couple of minutes and have no thoughts - good luck with that. So the mind generates thoughts - but which thoughts should it bring to your attention? Surely it would makes sense of bring the important thoughts from the top drawer to your attention - right?

Essentially this means that your mind recycles the thoughts which had an intense emotional response attached to them. Which thoughts in your life carry the highest emotional charge? - The BDD thoughts right? Is it any wonder they keep popping into your head?

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How To Stop Those Compulsive BDD Thoughts...

We've already established that the reason your BDD continues is because your mind repeatedly recycles certain thoughts... which in turn causes the BDD to re-run. However the reason the thoughts are recycled is because of the intense emotional charge attached to them. If there was no emotional charge associated with the thoughts the mind would consider them to be unimportant and discard them in the bin. Hence the BDD cycle would break down and stop.

We discussed earlier that BDD could be initiated by thought processes or a behaviour leading to thought processes. However, BDD is reliant upon an intense emotional response to the thought process in order to fuel itself. No emotional response - no fuel. Thus severing the emotional response from the thought is key for disrupting two elements essential for the running and re-running of the BDD cycle.

So the theory sounds great BUT the problem you have is that you can't help feeling anxious when you get these thoughts. If you could simply decide not to care about the thoughts, you wouldn't suffer with BDD and you wouldn't be reading this page. So it would make sense that you need some help, information and techniques from the outside... and this is where we come in.

We have the technology to separate unpleasant emotions from persistent thoughts. We can teach you how to do it for yourself. This does involve effort on your part and nobody else is going to do it for you. The techniques are very straightforward, easy to learn and apply but as BDD is essentially a habit you'll need persistence to overcome it.

If you're happy to sit back and feel sorry for yourself, moan and groan about how there's no help on the BDD forums and endlessly search for a magic pill to make things right - we can't help you. We only work with people who have had enough of BDD and can put their hand on their heart and say "I'll do whatever it takes to beat this thing!". If this is you, read the next section.

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How To Successfully Recover From BDD

body dysmorphic disorder recovery

If you've read this far you're probably serious about recovery - which is a good start. At the Anxiety Clinic we use leading edge technology which directly addresses the 'stuck' emotional processes that are responsible for your BDD. You've already learned it is these ongoing processes which keep the BDD running - it's nothing to do with your hair, nose or boobs!

Our technology doesn't use counselling or drugs, rather it's a recovery programme that you can follow from home. You'll need to attend appointments with a specialised Consultant although this can be done in person (if you live within a reasonable distance of our Clinic) or online if you live further afield.

Our Consultants are all specialists in the field of psychological disorders and understand your problem. We can give you the tools, techniques and perspectives you require to get your life back. However, you need to be prepared to help yourself and put into practice the guidance and instructions we give you. If you're willing to do this, we can help you to recover.

Here's a link for further information on Face to Face Consultations at our Clinic in Staffordshire.

Here's a link for further information on Telephone/Online Consultations if you genuinely can't get to our Clinic in person.

If you would prefer to discuss your requirements with a Consultant you can reach us on 01782 855585.

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