Sufferers need courage to speak out about perceived body ‘flaws’

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Most of us have parts of our body we dislike and would love to swap that big nose, large chin or ugly scar for something a little more ‘perfect’.

The chances are, however, that you can live with your ‘bad bit’ – unless you have body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). If that’s the case, then a perceived flaw can ruin your life, and even drive you to suicide.

And what’s particularly cruel about this psychological condition is that the terrible ‘flaw’ that sufferers obsess about isn’t at all noticeable to others. It may not even exist, and even if it does, its size and significance is all in the mind of the person with BDD.

The condition is by definition an obsession with a part of your body that only you think there’s a problem with, and that’s why it’s also known as imagined ugliness syndrome.

Dr David Veale, a consultant psychiatrist at London’s Priory Hospital and co-author of the book Overcoming Body Image Problems And Body Dysmorphic Disorder, says: ‘For people with body dysmorphic disorder, the problem is on their mind all the time, although they’re fixating on a feature that’s not noticeable to others.

‘It causes a great deal of distress and shame, and can be devastating in social situations.’

The condition often begins in adolescence, when young people’s bodies are changing and they’re becoming more sensitive about them. It can sometimes occur in those who’ve been bullied, and perhaps in people who are artistic and have a strong sense of the importance of aesthetics.

It affects both men and women and cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is the treatment of choice for BDD, sometimes in combination with antidepressants. Hypnotherapy may also be used.

CBT helps people think differently about themselves and their perceived flaws, and spend less time focusing on their appearance.

‘The ultimate aim of the therapy is self-acceptance, so individuals can learn to like themselves as they are,’ adds psychologist Kasia Szymanska.

‘There is help available for people with BDD, but they need to have the courage to ask for it.’