How can you overcome body dysmorphism

A phenomenon of the current zeitgeist?

People have always been concerned with the question of how to define “beauty”. In the age of Instagram, Germany's next top model, photo filters and beauty tutorials on YouTube, the focus on appearance and aesthetics is becoming a real fixation.

Many people cannot accept their body for what it is. Self-doubt and the urge for self-optimization can be very stressful. In some cases they are suffering from a serious mental illness called body dysmorphic disorder.

Where does the perfectionistically directed pursuit of beauty end and when does body dysmorphic disorder begin?

What is beautiful anyway?

Giving a straight answer to how beauty is defined is difficult. The fact is that “beauty” is an abstract term and it is known to be in the eye of the beholder. It is therefore subject to a subjective and emotionally guided assessment. Beauty also describes how attractive or repulsive one feels to something or someone.

But who determines what is perceived as more or less beautiful? Beauty is a valuation. And the standard of assessment depends on the norm of the zeitgeist and on cultural influences. Think of the Rubens woman in the Baroque era or the well-nourished and rounded woman who is considered “beautiful and desirable” in some cultures.

Beauty in the digital age

In the age of digitization and globalization as well as the worldwide used social networks, the impression often arises that the focus on appearance and aesthetics is becoming a real fixation. Here nicely made-up actors compete with one another in a digital beauty contest in a mania for optimization. Pictures of so-called influencers are regularly admired, idealized and finally copied by numerous, often very young, followers. Children and young people often compare themselves with their idols and do poorly in their own experience because they think they cannot keep up with the returned images. You start to think early on that your own worth depends on your looks and the number of "likes".

Now the question arises: where does the perfectionistically guided striving for beauty end and when does a so-called body dysmorphic disorder (KDS) begin? With this disorder, the thoughts of those affected constantly revolve around their own appearance. KDS is a shame disorder in which those affected perceive themselves as ugly or disfigured. Objectively, however, there is no flaw. Those affected are overly fixated on their external appearance and often focus their attention on a special part of the body that they perceive to be disfigured.

The causes are not clearly clarified

Body dysmorphic disorder affects around 0.7 to 2.4 percent of the population. The causes of a body dysmorphic disorder have not yet been clearly clarified. It is assumed that both biological and socio-cultural influences can play a role here. It is believed that the main causes of body dysmorphic disorder, which lead to self-assessment in later adulthood, lie in childhood and puberty. It matters how you were shaped by your parents, the media or your classmates - just think of the “hysteria” with branded clothes.

The pursuit of a perfect and flawless body can become so problematic that thinking, feeling and acting are focused on it. By using “Photoshop” and similar embellishment techniques, self-portrayal on the Internet and reality usually have little in common. In this way, the child or young person is dubiously led to believe what a man or a woman should look like. Since children and young people are still in the physical and psychological development, their own identity is not yet fully developed and the personality is not yet fully developed, this can lead to damage in the development of identity. Those who reject their own appearance can develop strong feelings of shame and thus tend to social isolation, flight into substance use and compulsions. Every part of the body can be felt to be ashamed. Hours of inspection in front of the mirror and attempts to cover up alleged defects make a regular everyday life impossible. One is only concerned with the appearance. There is no longer any room for other things. Thus, this mental disorder is associated with an enormous level of suffering for those affected.

People with body dysmorphic disorder are often single and mistakenly believe that they are disfigured and therefore not good enough for a partner. The social withdrawal, the loneliness associated with it and the many self-devaluations often lead to depression and anxiety disorders.

This distorted perception of one's own physicality is to be distinguished from the not uncommon struggle with one's own appearance during puberty. The latter “grows together” as it were with the differentiated perception of reality and the consolidation of one's own identity.

Similar symptoms in men and women

As far as the gender distribution of the so-called “beauty madness” is concerned, the ratio is around 40 percent men and 60 percent women. The symptoms are similar in men and women. Usually the same parts of the body, led by the skin and nose, are affected. Women put on more makeup and diet. Men, on the other hand, tend to train their bodies. Visiting a plastic surgeon is also not uncommon. However, the hoped-for relief does not come after cosmetic surgery corrections.

Overcome shame with therapy

In the therapy of body dysmorphic disorders, patients learn to develop a stable self-image and their own identity and no longer reduce themselves to apparently flawed external characteristics. Through psychotherapeutic discussions, they can overcome feelings of shame, social anxiety and avoidance behavior. It is important to recognize the symptoms as a warning sign for deeper and more complex problems of identity development. In therapy, it is practiced to focus less attention on apparent specific flaws.

The patients train their ability to limit their detail-oriented perception and to deal more appropriately with negative feelings, thoughts and core beliefs with regard to their own well-being.

Overall, through therapy, they learn that they are more than just their looks. Instead, they find beauty in their own personality and identity.

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