I discovered my own Body Dysmorphia about a year ago, although I’m beginning to realize that its impact on my life has spanned almost three decades. For as long as I can remember I’ve had a really poor relationship with my own body… I didn’t realize that self-hate wasn’t just a normal part of the human experience until my BDD became so severe that it almost ruined my life. As part of my self-care routine, I’ve come up with 5 steps for coping with body dysmorphia.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (aka BDD or ‘body dysmorphia’) is similar to Obsessive Compulsive Disorder because it causes you to fixate and obsess to a degree that impacts your ability to live a normal life. With OCD, your fixations can be just about anything… but a person with BDD is focused on their own body. It’s also similar to eating disorders because it focuses on body issues, but while eating disorders create a fixation on your overall size and shape, BDD focuses very specifically on certain aspects of your body.How can I know if I have BDD?
Millions of people are living with Body Dysmorphia, and yet there isn’t a lot of talk about it in medical circles. This is partly because so many people don’t realize that they have a real disorder. Unfortunately, you can’t cope with body dysmorphia if you don’t know whether you have it.
If you’re not sure whether you have BDD or just really low self-esteem, there are some questions you can ask to find out.
- Do you frequently check out your perceived flaws, either in the mirror or with fingers/hands?
- Do you consider yourself “ugly” or do you believe that your body/features are “not right”?
- Do you experience persistent sadness or anxiety because of your appearance?
- When you notice an imperfection, do you struggle to move on until your corrected/fixed it?
- Does your poor self-image negatively impact your romantic and/or sexual relationships?
- Do your symptoms cause problems with your ability to work or study?
- Are you likely to avoid social situations when you are unhappy with your flaws?
- Do you consider yourself less valuable or worthless because of your appearance?
If you answered yes to many of these questions, you might want to consider seeing a professional who can determine if you have BDD. There are also tests you can take online to help determine your risk level.How can I manage my BDD symptoms?
If you have BDD, there are combinations of therapy and medicine that can work to help reduce symptoms. Like all disorders, it may take time to find out what works for you.
I’ve put together a list of 5 steps for coping with body dysmorphia to help get through those rough patches. Every person is different, so these might not all work perfectly for you. Feel free to tweak them according to your life and your needs.
The Post-It Method. It sounds cheesy and cliché, but it works for BDD. Get a stack of Post It Notes and write a kind word or sentence about yourself on each one. Stick them everywhere… in the bathroom, on every mirror in your house, and by your bed. When you pass one, stop and read it. Say it out loud… this is a small but powerful way to balance out the negative voices in your head.
Build up a support system. Most people don’t understand what BDD is, so in the beginning you might have to do some work to educate the people who love you. Make sure that there are 2 or 3 people who really understand what you’re going through, because there will be times when you need support. Try not to overburden your support system, but also remember that they are there for a reason: to support you.
Find an online support group. It doesn’t have to be specifically about BDD but having an online community where you feel safe and comfortable is key. Through online support groups you can find others who share your struggles, and you can have options for the times when your family and friends just aren’t able to help. (It’s also much easier to find an online friend at 3 in the morning, so you’re covered for those midnight anxiety attacks.)
Train your brain. When you’re in social situations, make a point to reflect on positive experiences you are having. When someone talks to you without lingering on your flaws, make note. When you receive a compliment for your appearance, believe it. Don’t assume it’s a lie; trust that people are being honest with you. Instead of comparing your body to the bodies around you, compliment other people in your head. Point out what you like about them. By actively thinking positive thoughts, you can push the negative voices completely out of view.
Fake it ‘til you make it. With the above suggestions, you can really help reduce the power that those negative voices in your head have over your life. But just like with any disorder, you can’t get rid of BDD completely… there will be times when the voices are just too loud, and when your support systems just aren’t enough.
In those moments, sometimes it honestly helps to fake it. Literally. Put a smile on your face, even though you’re crying. It will feel weird at first, but it works. It works for bigger stuff, too… say you’re having an episode of bad self-talk but you’ve got a social event in an hour and you have to be there. Get dressed, put on whatever level of makeup you’d wear if you were feeling 100%, and walk into that event with your head high. You’ll be surprised how well it can work. I know it’s easier said than done, and that sometimes it just won’t work, but it’s worth a try. When it does work, it’s kind of a life-saver.
These tips work for me, and I hope they work for you too! Obviously these coping mechanisms won’t replace therapy and medicine, but they can help make your daily life more positive. Just remember… the voices in your head are lying to you. You’re beautiful exactly as you are. <3