We live in a world that is obsessed with images. There are images everywhere, from portable mobile screens belonging to a pair of individual eyes, multiple TV screens in family homes, to massive screens projecting in busy city squares. We live in a world obsessed with screens, showing us images of ‘life’ and how it should be. From perfectly sculpted models showing us what we could be wearing, eating, seeing, doing, and being. No wonder an increasing number of us develop insecurities enough to warrant professional counselling.
A big price to pay
A rising number of people today feel insecure about their appearance, and being bombarded with images of impossibly ‘perfect’ men and women doesn’t help matters. While this may not seem like something too serious, in fact it belies a disturbing social trend in the modern world. Most of us are able to deal with any insecurities we may have about our appearance and get on with our lives. However, there are some people who feel this way with so much intensity that they require treatment and counselling.
How we feel about our body is known as body image. Having a negative body image implies that you’re unhappy with the way you appear. With the impossibly unrealistic standards of beauty and perfection that have been set in our media driven society, it is not surprising that a large proportion of people have a negative image of their own body. This can severely impact on self esteem and confidence, turning it into a vicious cycle of insecurity.
For some individuals, feeling insecure in their own skin and negative body image can turn into an intense hatred for themselves. This is a serious mental condition and can be treated as such. There may be two main factors that play into an individual feeling a pathological hatred for their body: either because they feel intensely insecure about their appearance and have an exaggerated sense of ‘imperfections’, or because their ‘inner self’ feels trapped in their own body. These are two very different ideas and must be understood differently.
Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) is a psychological condition wherein the perception of physical imperfections and flaws is exaggerated to a degree where it impairs the individual’s social, emotional and physical functioning. Patients can develop an acute hatred for their own body, which can cause psychological distress, emotional anxiety, and depression. BDD can be effectively treated with different forms of therapy and counselling. The condition is commonly managed with psychiatric medication.
Another factor that may lead to a feeling of dissociation from one’s own body may be a feeling of ‘being trapped’ or feeling like one does not belong in one’s own body. While most people feel comfortable under the tag of either male or female – determined at birth and based on their physical bodies – there are individuals who feel a disconnect between their inner identity and the identity that is based on their pre-assigned gender. This is the case irrespective of sexuality, as gender and sexual preference are separate concepts.
Body Dysphoria vs BDD
There are people who may feel, often very early on in life, that they are not in the right body. This condition is known as Body Dysphoria or Gender Variance. While BDD is about feeling dissatisfied about one’s appearance, Gender Variance is about feeling like they are in the wrong body. There are several factors that play into one’s gender identity, social, cultural and of course physical. Gender variance can therefore raise incredibly complex issues, feelings and concerns in an individual’s life. Therapy or counselling can be effective in helping the individual deal with these issues.
Counselling is effectively used in the treatment of a variety of psychological and somatoform conditions. The human mind can be an extremely complex entity, and conditions such as Body Dysmorphic Disorder or Gender Variance usually arise from and lead to highly sensitive issues that require a safe, non judgemental and open space for discussion. Professional counselling can provide the space for frank and open exploration of these issues.