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CPTSD And Body Dysmorphic?

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James B.

Needless to say this a very personal topic. I wanted to start this thread, add some textbook definitions and personal comments. Also, it’s true for me that aging and “the maturation process” have helped. A lot. It’s also true that for years I suffered from feelings that are typically “Body Dysmorphic”, and their serious effects on my life. Especially in my 20's and 30's.

Wikipedia: “The sufferer may complain of several specific features or a single feature, or a vague feature or general appearance, causing psychological distress that impairs occupational and/or social functioning, sometimes to the point of severe depression and anxiety, development of other anxiety disorders, social withdrawal or complete social isolation, and more.”

“BDD is often misunderstood as a vanity-driven obsession, whereas it is quite the opposite; people with BDD do not believe themselves to be better looking than others, but instead feel that their perceived "defect" is irrevocably ugly or not good enough.

“People with BDD may compulsively look at themselves in the mirror or, conversely, cover up and avoid mirrors. And, in severe cases, may drop all social contact and responsibilities as they become a recluse.”

“Abuse and neglect can also be contributing factors.” And: “BDD is diagnosed equally in men and women and causes chronic social anxiety for its sufferers.”
Hi James B.,

I'm sorry you are going through this.

I have a close friend who I think suffered an extreme form of this, like literally feeling that he's in the wrong body, "gender dysmorphic". It was aweful. He kept his head down, too ashamed to have eye contact with others, this big secret of his. Stiffness in his walk, wanting to be invisible, and has an amazing ability to disappear. He may have had a bit of Dissociative Identity Disorder as well, so the 'woman within' was not comfortable or happy about things at all.

Do you have a therapist to talk to about this? It's a difficult one.

I've only had mild, fleeting experiences of it myself, not really a chronic condition, was to do with some 'post trauma shame', abuse-related, but nothing too destructive from it, more like just brief episodes of it.

I'm glad though that you are noticing that you are feeling better about things as you age-- that's a total bonus!

I notice that at age 40, I am experiencing more stiffness. :) On the other hand I am noticing a lot more positive things. I admire my cat, how he gets up and does a wonderful, full kind of yoga-stretch, in perfect comfort with himself. Or how he basks in the sunlight under his favourite window. I find it kind of inspiring. Or a turtle that's awkward carrying this big heavy shell while on land, but as he dips into the water, he moves so freely and gracefully and seeming to enjoy it.

In this way, I think we are all amazing creations, and I find comfort in that knowledge.
Thanks for the reply, Nishkaa.

Am going to be addressing self-acceptance with EFT. Think this is the best way for me to deal at my age. Things just...are. Some people are luckier than others. My mom was small, my dad wasn't. One of my brothers and I took after my mom. We're not very big, and the part of my face where I was hurt when very young bears a scar. I have found solace in the outdoors, and in keeping busy with interesting stuff. Self acceptance and self-confidence have been hard won. Thanks for the story about your friend.

Aging really has helped. In the years where I was trying to be more outgoing, have a normal social life and a career, body dysmorphic issues were crushing. It was a day to day struggle, and I had to push through it. As if trauma wasn't enough of a challenge, there was this added layer. Very tough. Am glad and very thankful for the healing power of time, and am optimistic about the ability of EFT to help me gain a greater level of self-acceptance.
I had really huge problems with that in my childhood and youth. Until now I didn't know that there is a name for that.

The problem is that one could say that I really AM body dysmorphic. The problem in my childhood was that my parents never noticed, why so ever. So I couldn't understand the reactions that I got.
I had a funnel chest and my breasts developed really late when I was a child. And when they developed, they kept being small.
My so-called friends at that time tormented my on a daily basis for it, they gave me all those funny names or hoicked my shirt from time to time in front of other people, silly laughing at my... well... problem.
I never went to swim in youth because I had psoriasis and everybody could easily see it when I wore a swimsuit. Childen kept giving me funny names for that, too, like leprosy-child and so on. I learned to hate my body.

Than there is the fact that I do not feel female. I never did, even as a child. I never played "girls games", my interests were those of boys. I would say this "man-ish" feeling is the result of what happened because of my special body features, but on the other hand I've always been and have always thought like that. I'm not really trans, in a way that I have no urge to become a man or something... I just do not want to be perceived as a woman because I do not feel like it. The fact that I had to tell my sex during registration here was a big problem for me, I always like to hide it because, only from my texts, people almost always think I'm a man. And I like it that way.

Well, aging helped in my case, too. I accepted my body a long time ago and found out that if I accept it others also do automatically.
Wow! I never knew there was an actual diagnosis for what I have dealt with in my lifetime concerning my appearance. First, I would tell you that I was neglected and seriously abused as a child, and was abandoned by my family by age 19. Actually the abandonment started when I was very young although I wasn't left in a garbage can. When your mother and father physically and emotionally neglect you, it is tantamount to abandonment. It doesn't look that way to anyone outside the family; it is a closely guarded secret, as is the physical abuse. My abusers were never held accountable for their crimes, they would never admit it, and my stress reactions were blamed on me. Later I was told I was a schizophrenic. So I was crazy and guilty. All the while, my abusive parents hid in the shadows, never taking responsibility for their part in my life, which they almost destroyed. In fact, I survived...no thanks to them.

But I had two injuries when I was very young. I fell out of my high chair when I was two, and was cut above my left eye. The fall left a relatively unnoticeable scar. I believe I fell because my mother would neglectfully leave her children in their high chairs all day long, and I was struggling to free myself. She has admitted this to me personally. The other injury was a cut on my right eyebrow that happened when I fell off my bicycle at age five (as my mother pushed her children outside by themselves all day when they were as young as four years old because she didn't want to be bothered by them). The cut required stitches. It left a very noticeable scar that remains to this day.

I still feel ugly, and I have since that time. My face is asymmetrical because of that scar. I hate the way it looks. No matter how I style my hair, or whatever clothes I wear, that scar is there marring my appearance. It reminds me of the hardest fact to accept - my parents did not love me. I'm told that this fact is not a statement about me, but about them. But I still bear the scars on my body to remind me of their neglect, and the scars within me that limit my ability to function. It makes me feel like a worthless piece of shit. I am a recluse. I prefer it that way. I've never had lasting relationships with females because I truly believed, and still believe, that I am too ugly for any woman to consider me any more than a friend.

I have so many symptoms of PTSD that it is truly complex. I've been shocked and traumatized so many times that I cannot count them all - serious traumas, many where I really believed I would be killed. But it is my appearance that kills me. I always feel like the baby who was so ugly, people had to tie a pork chop around his neck to get the dog to play with him. No one ever calls me. Maybe they don't want to be seen with me. It seems whenever anyone has anything to do with me they think it is charity work. Body dysmorphic? Hell yea! Thanks for giving the name of the problem. Maybe it can help when I talk to my psychiatrist and my therapist.

James B.-- I'd be really interested to hear how the EFT goes-- will you keep us posted? It sounds like you've been doing some really good work too, the hard won acceptance and confidence-- that means something. That's it and it's something I guess we just work at chipping away at it.

I like what Chthulu said on it "I accepted my body a long time ago and found out that if I accept it others also do automatically." I think that's so true.

I had two brothers, so I was also a bit of a 'tom-boy'. I also have tougher side, I have some remnants of my dad's personality, and when he was gone, and my older brother gone, at 11 I had to toughen up a bit, taking on some protective roles (like my mom panicking that there was someone at the door trying to break in, and they have a knife, me at 11 grabbing a baseball bat to answer the door to show to my mom that it was safe, no one was there. . . funny how she was okay about a little child, her child, taking that risk ;-).

One of my best friends, people take her as being a bit 'masculine' and her personality is a lot like that. She's scarred from a couple of motorcycle accidents. I don't have any issues with it, I mean why would I? Others might comment to me about it, but even with that, no one considers it to be a particular issue, it just is, so what? She's okay with who she is, with being more on the masculine side.

Michael G.-- Definitely talk this out with your psychiatrist and therapist. Those scars of yours are also a victory that you have had the strength (and sometimes even the grace of good luck) to have survived-- it's victory, but I know it might be hard to see it as such at this time, but maybe you will sometime?

I think there's something cool about my traumas in childhood, I seemed to have retain a child's openess to people. I can talk to a "guy" who has the 'soul of a woman' and it doesn't bother me, because I can see the soul. I'm also, as a woman not particularly attracted to the GQ guy, though I tried dating one as an earlier experiment ;-) It's boring. I like the moments when I can catch the spark that's coming from within a person, when it's unexpected even-- I'm not focussed on the "object of a human being, their shell", I like the movement of a human being, the changes in expressions, the moments of joy that might bubble up to the surface, the soul that moves through tears-- I think all of these things are where true beauty is. Maybe this sounds hokey, like a dove soap commercial or something, but I feel really fortunate that I can see this world this way. This is a way that I enjoy my life.
Thanks Nishkaa,

You wrote a beautiful post. I like what you, Cthulhu and Michael G. wrote a lot, and will keep folks up to date as I explore EFT.
Thank you Nishkaa for your kindness. I'm getting better with age. I don't have a lot of teenagers to contend with anymore. I still do not like mirrors, yet as I age, I am taking on the qualities in appearance that age brings. Add to that my growing knowledge and understanding of PTSD and now perhaps BDD or body dysmorphic disorder (if I'm using the acronym correctly), though not yet diagnosed formally, also help to diminish my anxiety about my appearance, and my body in general.

Thanks again.

Uh oh. There's a word for that? I have multiple scars on my body from beatings, two stabbings, and being thrown down a flight of stairs. I have a tattoo from my neighborhood and a memorial tattoo for one of my friends that was shot. I try to avoid completely looking at my body below my neck. I have just two scars on my face and one large one on my head so I never have short hair. When I meet people, I consciously pull my lower lip in so people don't notice the scar. I actually alter the way I speak so the scar is less evident. I try to give them my "good side" - the right side - because I had surgery on my left eye after a beating and it is visibly different - a bit larger. And my teeth were kicked in, oh, yeah, almost forgot about that.

I cut my hair short once and my new girlfriend saw the scar and, without realizing that it was a scar, she jokingly asked if I was going bald. I lost it. She almost broke up with me. I was so angry that she brought attention to it and that I had to explain that I was thrown down some stairs.

I am afraid of taking off my shirt in front of people or in the light. Most of the girlfriends that I have had did not know what the tattoos meant so they just thought they were cool. Once, though, the first time that I was going to sleep with a new girlfriend, I took off my shirt and you should have seen the look on her face. She didn't look in my eyes after that. She just saw the tattoos, grabbed her stuff, and never spoke to me again. She was from my old neighborhood.

I take very hot showers so the mirrors fog up and I don't have to see my body. I dry myself quickly and put on a shirt. My aunt has a pool and my family has big pool parties in the summer and I am the only one that doesn't swim because I don't want to take off my shirt and let the young kids see what I am. I want to be a good influence. My young nephew kept pestering me to swim in the pool and asking me, and, finally, my drunk uncle told him "He won't take off his shirt so you won't see his tattoos!" I was pissed.

I really, really hate when people make any comments or notice how I look. Even compliments make me very uncomfortable. Is that common? There are many friends that I have never told about my past because they always start preaching that I shouldn't live there or go back to my neighborhood. Whatever. I just skip the whole process and keep secrets. I lie about my tattoos and what they mean. It's just easier. I am thinking about getting them covered but it's so emotional for me, especially the memorial tattoo because the guy that was shot wasn't a thug, just a regular guy that was hanging out with us after a football game. Someone drove up wearing the jersey of the team that lost and tried to kill us all. I can't change that one.

Body dysmorphic? Aack.
Hi James B,
Thank you so much for this interesting thread and the definitions you provided, and sorry you had to go through this on top of the trauma. Nishkaa - I liked what you said about your cat and the turtles when they get into the water. I always feel peaceful around animals because they seem to accept you no matter what - unlike some humans.

I think I may suffer from this condition. I guess I never really accepted myself for who I am, and always felt self conscious in my body.

My abusive ex picked fault with nearly every part of my body for years, and although I was never really comfortable in my body before, now I feel like a 'complete freak'. I have been left with scars on my body from injuries I sustained from his attacks so feel ugly even though nobody (apart from him) has told me I am, and others tell me otherwise but it is the way I feel from within which makes the difference. I can't even imagine getting undressed for a medical checkup because the whole thought of it fills me with horror. It is kind of a relief to know there is a name for it. Good luck with the EFT, James B.
I've been learning about myself at an exponential rate for the past 3 months since I finally began to put the pieces together of my past, my various anxiety problems, coming here to this forum, getting a new therapist, and just this week meeting with new psych and getting my "official" CPTSD diagnosis (and a handful of new drugs to try). This thread is timely for me and I thank you for it.

The first anxiety diagnosis I got around 15 years ago was BDD and by far was/is the most debilitating thing I struggle with. I have spent 12k+ on cosmetic surgeries and there was a time I quit my job and didn't leave home for over one year except to go to the grocery store once every 2 weeks. Then panic disorder, social anxiety, finally PTSD puts it all together and helps me understand how my trauma effected my life and contributed to my BDD where someone else would have been able to put their flaws in perspective and balance but I am not able to do this.

I still don't think my T knows yet how pivotal this is to my issues, and I'm not even sure if I can risk changing my current coping strategy :) I guess he will find out eventually. It is absolutely critical to my survival that I keep this one under control at all costs. After my year in seclusion, I developed a way to mostly keep it under control and I'm trained very well now after all these years. Every mirror in my apartment was covered by a sheet except one in my bedroom, with a very dim light (backlight) on the other side of the room. This is where I did my makeup. I am practically blind and I don't wear contacts, I remove my glasses anytime I will be in front of a mirror (public bathroom, dressing room, hairdresser, etc.) I remove them before I walk into that area. That was for about 6 years. Now, I have a bathroom mirrors in my house that are not covered but I use the glasses technique in my bathrooms as well as everywhere else. I spend a lot of mental energy psyching myself out for the other triggers but I have pretty good success. For glass reflections, the surgeries have improved things enough that often I look acceptable. I adjust the rear view mirrors in the car so it is easy for me to avoid my reflection there. I tell myself that if I were to look, I would probably look okay. But I don't take the chance. If I see a mirror coming (like in a department store), I repeat over and over don't look don't look don't look. It's not worth it.

I tried through therapy and drugs to be able to look and not fall apart (in my 20s), but I never was able to do it. For me, I so badly want to look and not see a monster but after trying for a long time I have decided I cannot endure it. So the above is what I've come up with and it works for me. Only maybe once or twice a year to I accidentally glance at my self and then I just have to deal with recovering which takes a week or so.

I recently got married and this is a huge struggle for me, the pictures. So far I think I am doing okay but I am definitely scared, 2 nights ago I was not doing very well but my husband managed to help me and be understanding, telling me how beautiful I was etc. I had a picture from the wedding on my comp. desktop because I wanted to love it but eventually I had to remove it for now. I have such wonderful memories of my wedding and I'm scared that the stress over looking at the pictures and imagining how ugly I looked will overshadow the great memories, so now I have been trying to figure out what I can do to make sure this doesn't happen. But I want to be normal and have a wedding picture in our house too. I'm not sure the answer but I am working hard on trying to come up with some solution.

Despite all this, I even reject the idea that I have BDD because to me I think my "monster look" is likely actually real. I don't know for sure if it is real, or imagined, or exaggerated, but regardless it's something I am always trying to control in order to have a somewhat normal life.

Really glad to see other PTSDers who struggle with BDD thanks for the stories, I am familiar with many of the feelings. Hoping that typing out my experiences might help me through this "picture time" problem I'm having lately and maybe can help someone else too.

One more thought on BDD that is meant to be encouraging

From Wikipedia:
"Phillips & Menard (2006) found the completed-suicide rate in patients with BDD to be 45 times higher than that of the general United States population. This rate is more than double that of those with clinical depression and three times as high as that of those with bipolar disorder. Suicidal ideation is also found in around 80% of people with BDD. There has also been a suggested link between undiagnosed BDD and a higher-than-average suicide rate among people who have undergone cosmetic surgery."

So if you have debilitating BDD and you are here, reading this thread, you are, most definitely, a survivor! This one really is tough, I know it first hand and my heart goes out to anyone who would have to deal with this. Hang in there.
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