Body Dysmorphic Disorder

What is Body Dysmorphic Disorder?

Many people feel unhappy or insecure about their physical appearance at some point in their lives. However, some individuals become obsessed and excessively worried about a small, and often exaggerated or imagined, flaw in their physical appearance.

The condition is known as Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD), or body dysmorphia. People with BDD also engage in compulsive actions, such as excessively using mirrors to check their appearance or over-exercising to cope with the stress they feel about their physical image.

The severity of body dysmorphia differs from individual to individual, as well as, on a day to day basis. In many cases, it can lead to reduced self-esteem, feelings of anxiety and depression, and negative impact on social relationships. However, in extreme cases, people may also experience social phobia, withdrawal and/or self-harm.

On this page, we will explore what having body dysmorphia may feel like, and the symptoms you may be experiencing. We will look in more detail about the psychological factors that influence body dysmorphia and how therapy can help you recover and reduce symptoms.

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What Are the Common Symptoms of BDD?

Here are some of the symptoms and behaviours you may notice with body dysmorphic disorder.

  • Obsessive thoughts about perceived appearance defects
  • Obsessive and compulsive behaviors related to perceived appearance defects
  • Major depressive disorder symptoms
  • Delusional thoughts and beliefs related to perceived appearance defects
  • Social and family withdrawal, social phobia, loneliness and self-imposed social isolation
  • Anxiety, and possible panic attacks
  • Chronic low self-esteem
  • Feeling self-conscious in social environments, thinking that others notice and mock their perceived defects
  • Strong feelings of shame
  • Problems initiating and maintaining relationships (both intimate relationships and friendships)
  • Repetitive behavior such as constantly applying make-up or regularly checking appearance in mirrors
  • Perfectionism (undergoing cosmetic surgery and behaviours such as excessive moisturizing and exercising with an aim to create an unattainable but ideal body to reduce anxiety)


There are a range of psychological factors that can influence the development of body dysmorphia. Life events, mental health and social media can all play a part in how body dysmorphia is then maintained.


Having a poor body image is an important factor in triggering body dysmorphia. You might have developed poor body image due to stress factors from childhood, social media and internalising societal beauty and body shape ideals..

You might feel that you don’t meet these standards and start to pick your perceived flaws apart. This may trigger the start of certain behaviours, such as repetitive body checking in mirrors, or covering your perceived imperfections.

The more you obsess over your flaws and pick your body apart, your body image and self-perception becomes worse. This creates an endless cycle of self-loathing, shame and anxiety.


Physical changes or injury can trigger poor body image and lead to body dysmorphia.

When our body undergoes physical changes, this can affect our self-perception and trigger unhelpful and distressing thoughts and feelings. We may begin to fixate on injuries such as scars and burns, and this can cause us to feel insecure and self-conscious.

We may struggle with body dysmorphia after weight changes. We may become hyper aware of weight gain or loss, and start checking our bodies for flaws and imperfections.

This may trigger restrictive eating disorders, compulsive overexercising or even in a condition in men called bigorexia.


Having a critical inner voice can maintain body dysmorphia and worsen your symptoms. This voice might tell you that you are fat and disgusting, or that people are staring at your flaws when you are in public.

An unchecked critical inner voice can grow louder and become more powerful, contributing to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem. It might also stop you from seeking support and cause you to isolate yourself from others.

You might feel driven to action behaviours in an attempt to quieten your critical inner voice and reduce your anxiety. This may include  excessively exercising or undergoing cosmetic surgery to change your appearance and minimise your perceived flaws. 

As perfectionism is a component of body dysmorphia, your inner critic may judge that what you have done is not good enough, and will search for another flaw  to fixate on.


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Body Dysmorphic Disorder Treatment

Engaging in checking behaviours can keep you trapped, and you may feel that nobody understands or can see the flaws that you see.

Our experienced therapists can help support you in reducing your symptoms and helping you to accept and reconnect with your body.

This can help you break free from the constant cycle of negative thoughts, low self-esteem and checking behaviours, and help you regain control over your life.

Therapy might include:

  • Exploring the root cause of your body dysmorphia, and gaining awareness of factors that impacted your self-perception.
  • Identifying which events and situations trigger negative body image thoughts and emotions
  • Understanding how your distorted thoughts, feelings and behaviours maintain body dysmorphia
  • Breaking unhelpful habits and forming positive ones that promote recovery
  • Behavioural experiments to help you test assumptions about checking behaviours that maintain your anxiety and low self-esteem
  • Teaching you how to ‘turn down the volume’ on your inner critical voice and show you to experience your body without judgment

Treatment for Body Dysmorphic Disorder

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