What Is BDD, How Does It Work & How Can You Recover?
BDD (Body Dysmorphic Disorder), also known as Body Dysmorphia, is a self-perpetuating disorder surrounding the sufferers perception of one or more parts of their body. BDD shares close links with OCD and other obsessive compulsive disorders. On this page you'll learn how BDD works and self-perpetuates, how the obsessive compulsive cycle operates and perhaps most importantly how to successfully recover.
There's a lot of high quality, pioneering information on this website. If you're just window shopping or looking for a magic pill to take - this information probably isn't for you. However, if you're fed up with BDD and are genuinely looking for a way to overcome it - investing fifteen or twenty minutes of your life taking in this information will pay you huge dividends over the long term. Today could well be the turning point for you if you're willing to take the time to help yourself.
BDD can start in one of two ways. The most common tends to be an emotionally charged experience where embarrassment or shame become associated to a given body part. This can take the form of a one off experience or a collection of subsequent experiences such as bullying.
Alternatively, BDD can manifest very gradually through an initially low level of dissatisfaction with a given body part. Repeated attention and compounded negative emotional responses gradually build with each cycle. At a given point what was a relatively harmless habit gives way and becomes a fully blown obsessive compulsive anxiety disorder. The transition from harmless habit to disorder can occur suddenly (which is very noticeable) or over time as an almost imperceptible shift.
How your BDD developed is far less important (from a recovery perspective) than how it is maintained. We've just included the information for the sake of completion. As we progress you'll begin to understand what drives your BDD and how you can change it.
If you are a BDD sufferer you don't need us to tell you about how often you obsessively think about and pay attention to your troublesome body part.
However, wouldn't it be true to say that you don't 'choose' to repeatedly think about the body part? It's as though the thoughts just pop into your head from nowhere - right? It could be that you're already fed up of being bombarded by these repetitive thoughts.
So, if you're not asking for these repetitive obsessive thoughts to come into your head - where do they come from and why?
Most people consider their mind (brain) to be who they are. However, this isn't as true as these people would like to believe. Let's run through a quick exercise to prove our point:
In a moment we'd like you to close your eyes and have no thoughts for one minute. So prepare yourself now to have no thoughts (pictures or internal talk) in your head for the next sixty seconds. If you're going to try the exercise, do it now before reading on.
If you didn't bother with the exercise (as most people wont) you'd probably already decided that you couldn't possibly go for a whole minute without having any thoughts. If you did do the exercise (well done), you will almost certainly have found pictures or dialogue appeared in your head - regardless of you asking them not to.
So what is going on here? If you can't tell your thoughts to 'shut up' - who is running the show?
The brain is responsible for (at least) four things:
- It controls the automated stuff in your body (heart-beat, blood pressure, temperature regulation, etc)
- It generates thoughts and files information
- It generates your emotional states (feelings)
- It creates your conscious awareness
Let's pay attention to the part that deals with thought generation for now. So lets say, for arguments sake, that the brain is a thought generator. How does it know what thoughts to generate?
In order to understand how the brain decides what thoughts to bring to your attention, we first need to understand how we differentiate between what is 'important' and 'unimportant'.
Here are two brief scenarios for you to consider:
- You notice a charity collection bag has been pushed through your letter box. You should really sort out some of your old clothes and give them away... but you'll get around to it some other time.
- You get a phone call late at night telling you that your best friend has been involved in a serious car accident. They are alive but badly injured. There's no visiting permitted so you'll have to wait for further information by phone.
Which of the above two scenarios would you consider to be important?
The second one of course, but how do you know it's important? What happens to let you know THIS is important? The answer is really simple - you get an EMOTIONAL RESPONSE when something is important. The more intense the emotional response - the more important we consider it to be.
The mind uses these emotional responses as a sort of gauge to decide not only what is important, but also what to retain in terms of memory. If a situation or thought process is unimportant or mundane, there is no emotional response, the brain considers it to be unimportant and discards it. Have you ever wondered why it's so hard to remember boring stuff? If a situation or thought process elicits a mild emotional response the brain considers it may be worthwhile keeping (just in case) so it files the information deep inside your mind. However, if a situation or thought process elicits a strong or intense emotional response your brain considers it important and files it right at the top of the 'important pile'.
As mentioned earlier, the brain is a thought generator... so where do you think it looks for things to bring to your attention? It goes to the top of the 'important pile'
So when you're not really focused on anything in particular, your mind pops an unsolicited thought (from the top of the pile) into your conscious awareness. That's its job. However, what you do with that thought can have dire consequences as you'll learn in the next section - how the BDD cycle self perpetuates!.
Having thoughts just pop into your head is common for everyone. However, what is it that makes this process obsessive where you constantly focus on the same thing over and over?
Let's consider an example:
Sarah is unhappy with the shape of her nose. She constantly checks her reflection and touches her face. However, the most trying thing in Sarah's life is the constant thoughts she gets about how her nose looks. Sarah can be sitting watching the TV when a thought about her nose pops into her head. She touches her nose and starts to talk to herself in her own head about how it's such and awful shape and makes her look ugly. Then she imagines other people making fun of her nose behind her back. The internal chatter and contemplating what others may think make Sarah feel anxious, dissatisfied and intensely unhappy.
Now let's consider the process that is occurring in the example:
Sarah is already unhappy with her nose and has almost certainly thought about it (and felt bad) many times. This means her brain will have tested to see if the thoughts were important by considering if they were accompanied by intense emotional responses. We already know the thoughts make her feel bad so it would follow that her brain files them at the top of the important pile.
Sarah is watching TV and her brain (whilst she isn't focused on anything) selects a thought from the top of her important pile and pops it into her conscious awareness. Sarah immediately starts talking to herself in her head and playing out different scenarios - which elicit strong (unpleasant) emotional responses. The brain assesses the thoughts to (still) be important as they elicit strong feelings and so re-files the information back at the top of the important file.
Later (ten minutes, an hour, a day, etc) the brain will once more pop the same unresolved thought into Sarah's conscious awareness... and the cycle will run again... and again. This is where the obsessive thought patterns come from. It's actually quite a mechanical process once you understand how it works. Here's a summary:
- An unsolicited thought appears in your mind
- You focus your attention on the thought and play out various scenarios
- When a scenario plays out badly - you feel an intense negative emotional state
- The brain associates the intense unpleasant feeling with the thought
- The brain considers the thought important because it elicited a strong emotional feeling
- The brain files the thought as ‘important - please recycle’ at the top of the pile
- The thought gets recycled - Go to 1.
Now, be honest - do you regularly engage with your thoughts, play out different scenarios, talk to yourself in an unpleasant or critical way and feel bad? Welcome to a very sizable chunk of your BDD problem.
The truth is (much as you may like to argue to the contrary) that your problem isn't actually where you thought it was. The problem isn't your body part... it's the way you THINK about that body part that makes you feel bad.
The great news is that you don't need anaesthetic or surgery to sort out troublesome thought processes. It's relatively simple with the right specialised help.
The compulsions such as checking reflections, checking the body part and touching the body part are all symptomatic (driven by) the thought processes we've already discussed.
Some BDD sufferers reach a point in their life where they realise their obsessing and checking makes no rational sense - but it doesn't make it go away. The reason for this is because when we rationalise we use logic to make sense of things, however BDD is not driven by logic, it's driven by emotion.
Next we're going to explain specifically why logic and reason (no matter how hard you try) can't overcome BDD.
Let's say you have a sixteen year old daughter and she's started dating a 22-year-old thug. He has no job, a drink problem, a drug problem, a criminal record, a history of violence and already has three kids by different women none of which he takes care of. You see the potential danger ahead and decide to take your precious daughter to one side for a chat. You explain how this guy with his drink, drugs, lack of job, violence and relationship history is going to end up hurting her and that it would make sense for her to dump him and find a 'better boyfriend'. You're pleased at how your talk has gone as there's no denying your logic or rationale. However, your daughter turns to you and says "but I love him". Is she going to follow your logical advice or go with her emotions?
You know as well as we do how it will turn out. This is because our emotions are far more persuasive than logic (even if we like to believe otherwise).
Emotions and logic are like oil and water. You can't combine them no matter how furiously you try and they're not interchangeable. This is why you can't use rationalisation or logic (alone) to overcome BDD.
The good news is that we've pioneered something called emotional software and this CAN be used to change emotions, break obsessive thought processes and do away with compulsive behaviours. Sound interesting?
We discussed earlier that thought processes create emotional states. If you have any doubt about this, for example believing emotions are caused by your boss, traffic congestion or the government - you need to read this:
Have you ever felt nervous about an upcoming appointment (dentist, hospital, job interview, first date, etc)?
Assuming your answer is yes (which it will be if you have a pulse) then you need to consider that you were experiencing an emotional state (anxiety, fear, anticipation, etc) BEFORE the event even took place. The only thing that was taking place and creating the emotional states were your thought processes.
Think of a time in the past when you felt really bad. You could have just split from your first love, lost a relative or been utterly humiliated in public. As you think of that, do you feel bad inside? So you feel bad inside by merely, THINKING about something which happened in the past.
How about an example from the present? You're late for an important appointment and you're stuck in traffic. You begin to feel increasingly anxious as the minutes tick by. You imagine arriving late and having to apologize to disapproving looks. You snap back to the present and in your head desperately plead "come on... come on..." to the traffic in front of you. It's easy to assume that being late or stuck in traffic is what is making you feel bad. However, in truth it's the thought processes (the speculated imagery and internal talking) that generate the emotional responses. This is precisely why different people respond in different ways to the same situation - they have different internal thought processes.
So, emotions are NOT generated by outside things like your boss, spouse, traffic or weather. They are generated through your thought processes... although you're hard-wired not to realise that.
Now, let's compare thought processes to computer software. This is actually quite an accurate comparison as your brain is essentially an automated information processor and storage device. Software is basically information (code) containing a set of instructions.
In the same way, your thoughts contain code which tells your emotional centre what to do.
- The first instruction is whether or not to fire off an emotional response. Yes or No. If Yes...
- The second instruction is to decide WHICH emotional response to fire (anxiety, fear, anticipation, joy, etc)
- The third instruction is to decide the INTENSITY of the emotional response (say on a scale of 1-10)
For your obsessive thoughts with respect to your body part you'll get a YES, probably followed by anxiety (revulsion dissatisfaction, loathing, etc) followed by an 8+ intensity (maybe even a 10 if you have it bad).
Everyone has their own unique way of processing information and eliciting emotions. However, by asking you a series of very simple questions we can 'map out' how you work internally. It's then just a matter of re-programming the obsessive thought processes that are making you feel bad.
Once the obsessive pattern is broken, the old problem thoughts stop getting recycled into your conscious awareness. Essentially you just wont care about it anymore.
This may sound simple... because it is. We've given you plenty of high quality, leading edge information on this page... but none of it is complex. The problem with BDD (and most other anxiety disorders) is that the sufferers and the medical profession are looking in the wrong place for a solution.
Anyway, here's what we can do...
Let's consider some options for a BDD sufferer.
The first option is to do nothing and hope things get better. However, as you have already learned, the BDD cycle is self-perpetuating and immune to rationalisation. Thus doing nothing will actually result in the disorder continuing and more than likely escalating over time.
The second option is medication. You're unlikely to struggle in finding a GP to prescribe you anti-anxiety or anti-depressant medication. However, the truth is that medication only temporarily masks the symptoms (bad feelings) whilst the problem process continues to run and escalate in the background. At some point you're either going to become immune to the effects of the medication or you're going to have to come off it. One way or another you're going to end up back where you are now... the question is how much worse will the BDD be when that happens?
The third option is surgery and much as you may 'believe' (which is just a thought process) that going under the knife will make you feel better and fix the BDD - it probably wont. We know this for a fact as many of our BDD clients have already undergone the surgery they wanted only to find it didn't affect the BDD or make them feel better as they'd expected. If you're still focusing on the body part being the 'problem' you've missed the essence of what we've being saying. No amount of surgery will change the way you process information and think - that's why you need our specialised help.
The fourth and final option is to work with us. We can quickly and safely address your problem. The treatment mainly consists of teaching you self awareness of how you work internally and create your own emotional responses. We'll do an assessment of how you 'map' information and once we understand how you work internally we can give you tools and techniques to break down the obsessional thought processes you've been running. Also, we'll teach you how to 'not bother' with your problem body part. It's perhaps difficult to contemplate right now, but if you follow our suggestions you wont feel bad about it anymore. It will cease to matter. If this is what you want (along with having your life back) - you can have it.
We can work with you in one of two ways. We offer Online Consultations nationwide, or if you live near to our established Clinic in North Staffordshire we'd be happy to work with you through Face to Face Consultations.
There's no hard sell here, we're just offering you the best no-nonsense advice. It's entirely your decision whether you work with us or not. All we'll say is that we only want satisfied clients, so we offer a no-quibble full money back guarantee. We invite you to book an Initial Consultation, ask your questions, listen to our advice and if for any reason you're not completely satisfied to continue working with us - we'll refund your deposit in full. It really is that simple.
All you stand to lose is your BDD.
For further information on how to book a Consultation, our fees and how long treatment takes - choose from the following links:
I live near North Staffordshire and would like more information on Face To Face Consultations
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