Eve Fisher, PhD
“Stop behaving like your father!” I remember my mother scolding me after one of my emotional outbursts when I was young. My father would often yell and raise his voice when he was upset about something my mother, my brother, or I had done. My mother’s admonition to not act like him was based on comparing his temper to my emotional outbursts.
After many years together, my parents had become adept at pushing each other’s emotional buttons. There were days when my father would come home from work and sit quietly in front of the television, smoking his pipe, and ignoring the family. Other days, if his workday did not go well, he would vent his anger towards my mother, my brother, and me. He usually calmed down after we had retreated to our rooms to escape his anger. My father was never physically abusive, but he had a temper fueled by neuroticism, and by his mother’s emotional disengagement during his childhood.
When my brother and I were teenagers, my mother refused to be trapped in the house during my father’s tantrums. She would leave and drive somewhere for hours until my father had calmed down and it was safe to return home. During these times, my father would turn his anger towards my brother and me. He would tell us that it was my mother’s fault that we did not love him and blamed her for turning us against him. Of course, he never seemed to realize (until I confronted him towards the end of his life) that his arguments with my mother alienated us from him.
Their arguments sometimes deteriorated into throwing objects; a glass ashtray went flying past my father’s head at one point. The breaking point for my mother came after my father retired and he was around the house ALL the time. He rarely moved from the living room chair and would sit there, making negative observations about the activities that took place around him. My mother filed for divorce six months later.
The contempt that my parents expressed for one another during their yelling matches was palpable and made a lasting impression on me as a child. I was also constantly teased at school by my classmates. As a result, I would come home in tears, having endured another stressful day at school. My emotional outbursts may have become too much for my mother to bear. Having divorced my father, she wanted peace and quiet at home. I remember the day she reprimanded me to not act like my father. She warned me that I would suffer the same fate; I would make others around me miserable and have no chance of being in a loving relationship as an adult.
I took those words to heart. I remember telling myself that instead of getting visibly upset, I would turn those negative emotions inwards, towards myself. That way I would not alienate other people by creating emotional damage like my father had. However, my mother’s words also sent another message that I internalized. If I was behaving like my father, and she hated my father, then my mother was also rejecting me. On some deep level I felt unlovable and genetically flawed, since my mother implied that I took after my father and would be unable to change.
Many years later, I was able to heal the emotional wounds suffered during my childhood. It took ongoing help from a trusted clinician for me to confront my feelings of rejection. The belief that I was fatally flawed and unlovable was buried deep within me. That belief morphed into feelings of self-hatred about my nose and face, fueling the start of my BDD symptoms. My mother was an artist, and I knew she valued physical beauty, as did I. Thus, it was easy to connect her negative response to my behavior to my appearance. Because physical beauty is also admired in society, feeling ugly made me increasingly depressed, and obsessed with my perceived appearance flaws.
My journey to recovery from BDD took place in stages; first, I had to recover from the negative BDD thoughts, behaviors, and related depression that I suffered for 20 years. After that, the healing took place on a deeper level. With the help and guidance of my therapist, I was able to get past the internalized stigma of feeling rejected and unlovable. The final realization came to me in a dream where I saw myself freed from the shackles of inevitable rejection. The truth became clear. I did not have my father’s flaws; I had my own. And if the flaws were mine, then I could change them.
Overcoming BDD symptoms and the stigma that comes from having a mental health condition was not easy. However, conquering my BDD and related depression has given me confidence, freedom, and power. I want others to experience the joy that comes from living the life they have imagined. Internalized stigma, due to feeling rejected, unlovable, and ugly, controlled my life for 20 years. I know that finding peace and happiness is possible.
I first learned about the disorder by reading an article in Shape Magazine in 1998 with excerpts taken from Dr. Katharine Phillip’s book The Broken Mirror (1996/2005). I hope reading the stories and blogs on the International OCD website provides hope to those with BDD that they can recover. BDD is a devastating, debilitating disorder, and one that needs to be better recognized so more people get the treatment they need to recover. There are effective treatments available for the millions around the world who suffer from BDD and related mental health conditions.
Please get the help and support you need to cope with and overcome BDD symptoms. There are resources available on the International OCD Foundation site (bdd.iocdf.org) and on the BDD Foundation site (bddfoundation.org). Both sites offer treatment and diagnostic information about BDD and links to peer support groups. You may email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to share your story and learn more about my recovery from BDD.
Dr. Eve Fisher shares a personal story about Body Dysmorphic Disorder (BDD) and how she discovered she had it from taking a magazine quiz.