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Psychiatry: When The Mirror Becomes An Enemy

Date:
September 12, 2008
Source:
University of Montreal
Summary:
A nose that's too big, hair that's too curly or a beauty mark in the wrong place -- who hasn't focused on a small detail of their appearance while staring at a mirror? But when these imperfections take over our thoughts, or exist only in our heads, it's a sign that such obsessing is a disorder.

A nose that's too big, hair that's too curly or a beauty mark in the wrong place – who hasn't focused on a small detail of their appearance while staring at a mirror?
Credit: iStockphoto/Paul Kline

A nose that's too big, hair that's too curly or a beauty mark in the wrong place – who hasn't focused on a small detail of their appearance while staring at a mirror?

But when these imperfections take over our thoughts, or exist only in our heads, it's a sign that such obsessing is a disorder, according to Universitι de Montrιal psychiatry professor Kieron O'Connor.

About 350,000 Canadians suffer such a phobia, while the prevalence is higher among those already experiencing some type of anxiety. "Sufferers are convinced that part of their body is abnormal, which is not the case," says the psychologist who also works at the Fernand-Seguin Research Centre. "They have difficulty separating what is real from what is not."

And it has nothing to do with vanity, he insists. It's a bit like hypochondria, where people are convinced they are sick or may get sick, or anorexia, which comes from poor body image, he adds. People suffering from this phobia will focus on the physical attribute they consider flawed, constantly viewing it in a mirror or asking the opinions of others. They may go to obsessive lengths to "fix" the problem by wearing too much make-up, going to a tanning salon or getting plastic surgery.

"It's as if these people are looking at themselves in a mirror that deforms their image," says O'Connor, who completed his clinical training in England. "They'll carry on an internal conversation and convince themselves that there's a problem with their bodies, although it's not based in reality. I've seen people who have flagrant physical flaws, yet are preoccupied by a completely different aspect of their appearance."

Skin receives the most attention from sufferers (73 percent), while the chest gets the least (21 percent). The hair, nose and stomach are also popular objects of obsession.

O'Connor's approach to treatment is to look at the reasons a person starts criticizing a part of his or her body in the first place. The source is difficult to pin down – whether genetic, parental influence or stress – but the consequences can be serious, including suicide.

"This problem can affect all aspects of life, work, studies and love and family relationships," says O'Connor. "It can stop someone from going out, or at least hiding the body part about which he or she is obsessing."


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Montreal. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Montreal. "Psychiatry: When The Mirror Becomes An Enemy." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 12 September 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080908185236.htm>.
University of Montreal. (2008, September 12). Psychiatry: When The Mirror Becomes An Enemy. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 17, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080908185236.htm
University of Montreal. "Psychiatry: When The Mirror Becomes An Enemy." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/09/080908185236.htm (accessed September 17, 2014).

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