By Kelly Grigg

“Wow, I look absolutely perfect! I could kiss this mirror; I’m just so bleeping GORGEOUS!” said no one. EVER. Well, aside from the infamous Narcissus of Greek Mythology, who died staring at his own reflection. So, yeah… hardly something to strive for.

The tragic fact is that almost every human, at some point, has looked in the mirror and been discouraged by the reflection gazing back at them. It’s human nature to self-criticise and to desire classic, good looks. And it’s also pretty universal to struggle with low self-esteem. 

However, some battle with it at a much more heightened level, to the point of obsession. This is termed Body Dysmorphic Disorder or BDD. Let’s consider the differences between low self-esteem and BDD and learn about how we can tackle these issues.

The Difference Between BDD And Low Self-Esteem

A helpful description of low self-esteem is the tendency to disregard our extraordinary qualities and give more credence to our unfavourable ones. Having low self-esteem can make us quite miserable and, in turn, less desirable to ourselves and others.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder, however, is something much more severe. It’s an obsession with a specific body part (like one’s teeth or nose, for example) or area that one deems flawed, yet others barely notice, if at all. This flaw may be real or imagined, but the bottom line is that those with BDD spend HOURS a day engrossed in negativity over the perceived defect. 

Sufferers often engage in repetitive actions such as mirror-checking (or avoiding mirrors altogether), skin picking or overexercising. These obsessive behaviours make it similar to OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). However, the difference with BDD is that the behaviours are done in the name of appearance improvement.

BDD can have dire effects on one’s life. Upholding a job, managing everyday tasks, continuing educational endeavours, or even leaving one’s home can be monumental chores. Romantic relationships may become obsolete, and families and friendships can experience strain as the sufferer seeks constant reassurance. Some people turn to drugs and alcohol, and some become suicidal.

Considered an obsessive pathological disorder, it is often improperly diagnosed as social anxiety or depression. In addition, although usually starting in adolescence, teens are frequently told their feelings are typical for their age, and the diagnosis goes unrecognised.

BDD Is More Common Than You Think

It’s important to note that those with the condition are not alone and needn’t suffer in silence. Although the terminology is relatively new, dysmorphia is more common than anorexia (but not the same as an eating disorder). 

In fact, almost one in 50 people have BDD, with an almost even split between men and women. 

Additionally, approximately 8% of those with the condition have a close family member who has received the same diagnosis. This aligns with research on genetics being a potential cause of the disorder.

So What Causes BDD?

The exact causes of BDD remain unknown, but experts generally point to a combination of genetics and environmental or social factors, such as bullying, being root causes.

Some research has shown that those with BDD have low serotonin levels, a brain chemical related to mood, while others might suffer from different visual processing. Abuse during childhood and living in a culture that places high significance on beauty are other noted prompts. Thanks, Instagram!

How To Cope With BDD And Low Self-Esteem

Seeing a professional therapist is an optimal remedy for BDD. One research-supported treatment is called CBT, or Cognitive Behaviour Therapy. It teaches patients how to better manage negative thoughts and learn alternative methods for replacing repetitive behaviours, like mirror-checking, with other, more positive mannerisms.

Medication is often prescribed alongside therapy in the form of SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which are also used to treat depression. In addition to elevating mood, SSRIs can prepare patients for CBT by relieving obsessive thoughts and creating the ability to engage more in the process with a more relaxed mindset.

Aside from therapy or medication, there are ways to self-manage low self-esteem and BDD. 

For starters, knowledge is power. Researching symptoms, acknowledging triggers and joining support groups to discover what has helped others are compelling ways to take control of our mental health.

Healthy life choices such as avoiding drugs and alcohol and staying active are outstanding self-care options for battling self-image issues. Abundant evidence shows that exercise can reduce stress and depression, and it doesn’t have to be significant. Just taking a short walk or gardening can often be enough.

Thanks to science, new treatment methods for mental illness are constantly emerging. Although pricey, contemporary concepts like ketamine therapy seem to help fight BDD, low self-esteem and other disorders.

Ultimately, it’s important to realise that everyone struggles with self-acceptance. Talking to those we trust rather than isolating ourselves is critical to leading a healthy, happy life. And remember, you are beautiful just as you are.