When The Image you See is not what Others See

April 2008

Hi and Welcome to Issue #032 of Devine Online!

Is your life filled with anxiety about the way you look? Most people like to look their best, but for some people it is a daily battle, often comprising of hours in front of the mirror checking and re-checking their appearance, trying to cover up some real or imaginary defect. There is a name for this type of disorder; it’s called ‘Body Dysmorphic Disorder’ or ‘BDD for short.


You’ve probably heard me say over and over that what others think of you means nothing; it is what you think of yourself that matters. For sufferers of BDD, this is a double edged sword – they hate the way they look so much that they assume everybody else sees what they do. This is of course untrue.

BDD is a very serious illness, and can take over your life. Many sufferers lose their relationships, their jobs, and in the end, every ounce of self respect due to the need to continually engage in rituals that allow them to cope with a real or imagined defect.

For example, some people are so unhappy with the way their nose looks that they are positive that everybody they meet is staring at it in horror. This self-defeating projection causes them to imagine that to other people, they are unacceptable and unlovable.

This is also untrue.

Your body image is your inner view of your own physical body. Others may tell you over and over again that you are good-looking, but if you have a body image problem, you will be convinced that the only thing others can see is your perceived flaw or flaws. You might convince yourself that others are staring at it, and you will probably be highly suspicious of compliments, assuming that those who pay you compliments are 'just being nice'.

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Coping Rituals

“Peter” is obsessed with going to the gym. From a very young age, he has had a fear of looking ‘scrawny’. This has led to him spending large amounts of money on protein shakes and body building supplements. Last year he had calf-implant surgery, thinking that this might help him find a girlfriend; it didn’t, and now he is considering having pectorial implants.

“Peter” is convinced that no girl could possibly find him attractive as he is, and takes painful measures to hide his ‘chicken legs’. Even if he did have a girlfriend, he would hardly have time for her due to his grueling 3 hour daily gym schedule. For "Peter", this is his lifeline. His gym workout takes priority over everything else; no matter what the cost! His friends have stopped asking him along to social events, tired of being continually brushed aside and needless to say, his family are very worried about him.

The paragraphs above describe the coping rituals that “Peter” uses to help him manage his BDD – only they don’t allow him to manage at all, in fact he is miserable. Other common coping rituals used by people with BDD include skin-picking, excessive use of makeup, spending hours in front of the mirror trying to ‘fix’ the perceived defect, and on some occasions, expensive and invasive cosmetic and plastic surgery.

How do you know if you have BDD?

Some people are only mildly disturbed by their own appearance, and yet for others, their obsession literally stops them living a normal, healthy and happy life. Maybe your dissatisfaction with your appearance causes you to avoid certain activities that should otherwise be fun, or maybe you are unable to function at work or in a relationship because of your BDD. Here are some clues that will give you an idea of whether or not you need to take action:

  • Are you unhappy with any part/parts of your body?

  • Do you think about your appearance more than one hour per day?

  • Do you compare yourself unfavourably to others?

  • Do you continually check mirrors or spend hours putting on makeup to conceal your perceived flaw?

  • Do you have problems with your work, school, family or friends because of your appearance worries?

  • These are just some of the things that people with BDD do. One of the saddest things is that although BDD is very common, most sufferers feel so isolated and ashamed of their disorder that they avoid seeking help. If this sounds like you, understand that you are not alone. Many people go through what you go through, and have come out the other end able to live happy, normal lives.

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    Getting Help

    The first step to getting help is to recognise the problem. You may wonder why it is that you feel so unattractive all the time – are you the only one who feels this way? No you are not. In fact, I see many clients who hate the way they look. The good news is that with persistent work, you can manage and in some cases, overcome BDD.

    Hypnotherapy and cognitive behavioural therapy are two very good treatments for BDD. Some people need to take medication to settle a chemical imbalance as well, but this should always be combined with some form of therapy. I recommend a fantastic book called “Feeling Good about the Way you Look”. The Author is Sabine Wilhelm, and this book has some wonderful tools and techniques to help you help yourself.

    The most important thing to remember is that you are not alone! This is a real disorder, and has been the subject of much investigation over the years. If you have BDD, don’t wait for it to get better. Take action today to reclaim your life.

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    Feeling stuck? Consider enlisting the services of a qualified therapist to help you identify your blocks and create new, empowering beliefs.

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    So there you have it! I hope you enjoyed this issue of Success Express...have a great day!

    - Sonia

    Manifest Your Success

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