Body Dysmorphic Disorder and Cosmetic Surgery Addiction – Mental Health Awareness Week 2019

Unrealistic body image representation in the mirrorBody image – this is the theme for Mental Health Awareness Week 2019 and it’s something that affects us all. How do you think and feel about your body? And how does body image affect your mental health? In this blog, we’ll explain how body dysmorphic disorder (a mental illness that involves harmful perceptions about the way you look) can lead to cosmetic surgery addiction.

Young or old, male, female or transgender, if you rely on cosmetic procedures for your happiness, wellbeing or self-worth, you might have developed cosmetic surgery addiction. There could be co-existing addictions or mental illnesses you’re suffering from too – such as an eating disorder, drug or alcohol addiction, internet addiction or depression.

If you’re worried and you want help to change, please contact Addiction Helper for a confidential addiction assessment. You’ll speak to a skilled addictions advisor, who will identify the full picture of your situation. We can then recommend the best addiction treatment programmes to help you recover.

Body Dysmorphic Disorder – the Root Cause of Cosmetic Surgery Addiction

Body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) is a mental illness where a person becomes unduly preoccupied about their physical appearance, usually with harmful consequences. BDD sufferers focus excessively on perceived physical flaws, which could be visible to others. Often, they are imagined. They load these features with highly critical meanings, usually connected to an unusually diminishing sense of self-worth.

Untreated, BDD takes over people’s lives. It limits or ends relationships. It affects job and education prospects. It destroys self-esteem. As the illness centres around covering up or changing flaws, often people struggle to admit what’s really going on.

Cosmetic surgery, or non-surgical beauty procedures such as Botox or lip fillers, can seem like the solution to BDD sufferers. When the highs and lows spiral out of control, however, this can become an all-consuming and exhausting addiction. Mentally, physically and financially, cosmetic surgery addiction drains energy and resources. As with all addictions, the BDD sufferer rarely, if ever, feels satisfied.

Just as drug addiction centres on getting drugs and using them to feel better, cosmetic surgery addiction is about having more and more procedures to feel good or to quell your fears. In the advanced stages, you may feel intense sadness or self-loathing for having cosmetic surgery – and yet still you cannot stop.

10 Signs of Body Dysmorphic Disorder

If you have body dysmorphic disorder, you’ll recognise some or all of these signs:

  • Excessive worry or undue preoccupation with specific bodily features.
  • Low self-esteem, shame-based thinking, self-harm or thoughts of suicide – connected to your poor body image.
  • Obsessive and compulsive behaviours, to try to cope with your poor body image and feel safe – for example, mirror checking rituals; avoiding mirrors and reflective surfaces altogether; skin picking; very precise make-up routines or always wearing certain types of clothing to disguise ‘unacceptable’ features.
  • Devaluing other positive attributes or characteristics you have, particularly aspects unrelated to how you look – for example, your intelligence, life experience, social skills or educational achievements.
  • Comparing yourself negatively to how other people look – whether that is friends or colleagues in real life, or celebrities, influencers and public figures.
  • Avoiding or cancelling social activities, particularly when you feel very unhappy or uncomfortable with your physical appearance – isolating to feel safe.
  • Believing that you would be completely happy if you could only achieve a precise look or fixed perceived flaws.
  • Criticising or inwardly judging other people’s physical appearance – searching for things about them that are ‘imperfect’, in order to feel relief.
  • Excessive fear of the ageing process.
  • Extreme responses to having your photo taken – such as fear or strong dislike of having your picture taken, insisting on seeing every picture that is taken of you or spending a lot of time taking ‘perfect’ selfies.

10 Signs of Cosmetic Surgery Addiction

If BDD has progressed on to cosmetic surgery addiction, you’ll also recognise some or all of these signs:

  • Spending excessive time researching cosmetic surgery procedures – including when you’re supposed to be doing other things, such as working or spending time with your family.
  • Undergoing multiple cosmetic surgery operations or enhancements – feeling an adrenalin rush before, during and just after the procedure, then feeling disappointed or deflated with the results long term.
  • ‘Fixing’ one problem with your body through cosmetic surgery or non-surgical procedures, only to feel dissatisfied with another part of your body.
  • Fantasising about or longing for a time in the future, when you will feel completely confident about your body.
  • Spending a disproportionate amount of money on cosmetic surgery – impulsively booking procedures, using credit if you can’t afford them, feeling like you have no choice about spending the money.
  • Trying to attain a very specific physical look – rather than listening carefully to the possibilities and limitations of cosmetic surgery in your case.
  • Not fully considering the risks of cosmetic surgery – signing consent forms without reading them; rushing into surgery or cosmetic procedures; or not researching qualifications and experience of the surgeon or provider.
  • Risking your job, friendships, relationships or health to undergo cosmetic surgery – feeling unconcerned or numb about the consequences in other areas of your life.
  • Becoming very angry or upset, if anyone questions the cosmetic surgery procedures you’ve had – feeling you have to defend yourself, feeling judged or shamed by others.
  • Feeling like your life is worthless or on hold until you can correct a certain feature – believing you can only feel good about yourself after the procedure has taken place.

Cosmetic Surgery Addiction – Ask Yourself this Key Question

If you could never have cosmetic surgery again, how would you feel? This question can help you understand the extent of your problem. Can you imagine a positive future for yourself without ever having cosmetic surgery again? Could you cope? Or does it feel frightening to live without having cosmetic surgery?

If you’re unsure about the answer to this question, then you can try abstaining from cosmetic surgery and non-surgical procedures for several months or even a year.

  • How do you feel when you stop?
  • Does life carry on as normal? Or do you feel very uncomfortable, anxious or angry?
  • Do you find yourself thinking obsessively about changing your appearance?
  • Do you try to cope by using drugs or alcohol, restricting or bingeing on food, working very hard or exercising a lot?

As with all addictions, the key is how you feel when you’re not engaged in the addictive process. If your mental health suffers and you find yourself regularly craving an addictive hit, then please get professional help. Addiction treatment is necessary for many people who get addicted – because specialist treatment helps you to face and overcome your triggers to use.

You don’t need to suffer in silence with cosmetic surgery addiction. Please contact Addiction Helper today to discuss the most effective treatment and support, including if you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness like body dysmorphic disorder or depression, or if you have another addiction.

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