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Body Dysmorphic Disorder : Its Link To Childhood Trauma

childhood trauma and body dysmorphic disorder

Studies (see below) suggest that those of us who suffered traumatic childhoods are significantly more likely to develop body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) than those who were fortunate enough to have experienced relatively stable and nurturing childhoods. I briefly summarize two of these studies below :

Study One :

A study conducted by Didie et al., 2006 involving 75 participants who had been given a diagnosis of body dysmorphic disorder (with an average age of 35 years) found that 78.7 % reported having experienced maltreatment during childhood ; and, more specifically, of these 78.7 % :

  • 68 % reported emotional neglect
  • 56 % reported emotional abuse
  • 34.7 % reported physical abuse
  • 33.3 % reported physical neglect
  • 28 % reported sexual abuse

(NOTE : the above figures add up to more than 100 % because some participants in the study had suffered from more than one type of childhood trauma.)

Study Two :

A study conducted by Semiz et al., 2007 compared 70 in-patients suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) with 70 matched, healthy controls.

Results showed that 54.3 % of those suffering from borderline personality disorder (BPD) (a disorder which itself is closely linked to childhood trauma) were also suffering from body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).

Further statistical analysis revealed that these individuals (i.e. who were suffering from both BPD and BDD) had experienced significantly more trauma in childhood than those without BDD and that traumatic experiences during childhood were a significant predictor of the comorbid diagnosis of BDD in BPD sufferers.

body dysmorphia disorder

What Is Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) ?

BDD is the preoccupation with a specific ‘blemish’ of physical appearance in an individual who is, in fact, of normal appearance. It mostly occurs during adolescence and affects males and females equally.

As we saw above, it is linked to childhood trauma but can also be influenced by parental attitudes to appearance, the prevailing culture (e.g. general high value placed upon youth and beauty, especially in the media) and low self-esteem.

How Does Body Dysmorphic Disorder Make The Individual Suffering From It Feel?

Typically, the individual suffering from BDD perceives him/herself as ‘ugly’ and is obsessively concerned about some imagined physical ‘flaw.’ In order to be diagnosed with BDD, the individual’s concern with his/her appearance must be severe enough to negatively impact upon his/her daily functioning (including avoidance of social interaction due to self-consciousness in connection with the imagined physical ‘flaw.’

Can A Person Diagnosed As Having Body Dysmorphic Disorder Actually Have A Physical Defect?

Yes, but the individual exaggerates its significance in relation to his/her appearance.

Considerations Relating To Diagnosis :

For BDD to be diagnosed it must exist ‘in its own right’ and not be explained as a symptom of another disorder such as anorexia nervosa, social phobia, avoidant personality disorder, delusional disorder (somatic type), other somatization disorders or normal concerns about appearance.

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy :

One of the main treatments for BDD is cognitive-behavioral therapy aimed at psychosocial functioning and body image.





David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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