Fear of deformity or dysmorphophobia is a broad term that encompasses multiple specific fears. Some people are afraid of becoming deformed or disfigured, while others fear those who have a disfiguring condition. Some future parents worry that their child will be born with a deformity. Dysmorphophobia can also be behind some cases of body dysmorphic disorder, a somatoform disorder in which people who suffer from it imagine body imperfections.
There seems to be a cure for just about everything in today’s media culture. Don’t you like your nose? See a plastic surgeon. Don’t you want your hair? Buy this dye or shampoo or get a makeover with a famous stylist. Are you worried about the signs of aging? Creams, unique soaps, and facelifts are at your disposal.
While it is perfectly natural to want to look and feel your best, the constant publicity in the media focuses on a virtually unattainable ideal of youth and beauty.
Against this backdrop, it’s easy for even regular, healthy physical features to be seen as something to get rid of rather than celebrate.
Of course, most people can maintain a healthy outlook. However, a genuine concern for health and vigor can turn into an unhealthy obsession for some.
Furthermore, throughout much of history, people with deformities or disfigurements were discriminated against, locked up, or even accused of witchcraft.
Public embarrassment, human zoos or monster shows, and crude medical “treatments” were frighteningly familiar.
In extreme cases, children and adults with deformities were sometimes sentenced to death. Although modern societies have gone beyond these measures, people with disfiguring conditions may have trouble obtaining employment, earning respect, or finding a partner.
Children and adults can be rejected, finding it difficult to make friends or become community leaders.
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Causes of fear of deformity
This form of dysmorphophobia can be rooted in a look at other fears. The xenophobia (fear of strangers) may be partly the cause. Humans have a strong tendency to self-select into groups based on commonalities.
Families, tribes, communities, religious groups, and nations have long played the critical roles of providing safety and security, promoting group interests, and working together to achieve common goals.
Those who are isolated or isolated from these units often face greater danger and limited opportunities.
One of the easiest ways to build group loyalty is to choose those who don’t fit in as the “other.” This strengthens the unity of the group and fosters unity.
But when taken too far, it can have far-reaching and damaging effects, leading to hatred, rejection, and even violence. However, more often, this tendency to reject the unknown leads to mistrust, discomfort, and exclusion.
As deformities and disfigurements are relatively rare, xenophobia towards people with these conditions may be due to a lack of familiarity or exposure.
For many people, an initially uncomfortable reaction is easily changed simply by meeting someone with a deformity on a personal level.
In some cases, the fear of deformity in others is based on medical worries. People with germ phobia, hypochondria, or nosophobia may be at particular risk from this fear, but it can occur in anyone. Some disfigurements are caused by infectious diseases such as leprosy. Although these diseases are now easily treatable, they have been stigmatized for centuries. Lack of understanding can increase fear of other people’s deformities or disfigurements.
Fear of giving birth to a deformed child
Throughout history, particular importance has been given to deformed babies. At various times and in multiple cultures, these children have been viewed as curses or signs of evil.
Sometimes they were seen as a sign that the mother was a witch. Sometimes they were seen as harbingers of a fire, flood, or another natural disaster. In some cases, the boy himself was seen as a demonic creature.
Although most modern societies no longer believe in ancient superstitions, there is still tremendous pressure on parents to deliver a healthy and perfect baby.
Many expectant parents worry that a not physically perfect child will be rejected or despised. Also, some conditions that cause deformity in the baby or childhood are painful, require extensive corrective surgery, or may even lead to a shorter life span.
It’s easy to see how a regular, healthy concern for the well-being of an unborn child can turn into an unhealthy phobia that something will go wrong.
Overcoming fear of deformity
The fear of deformity is relatively mild and easy to control for many people. Minor complaints are often relieved by exposure. Knowing someone with a deformity or disfigurement can help allay fears based on a lack of understanding.
Learning about disfiguring conditions can help curb medicine-based fears.
If you are a pregnant mother concerned about her unborn child, talk to your doctor.
Modern medical tests can identify many potentially disfiguring conditions, and advanced technology can correct most childhood deformities.
If your fear is more severe, simple exposure and information gathering may not be enough. If you find yourself going out of your way to avoid situations that could put you in contact with a disfigured person, or if you develop an unhealthy obsession with your appearance or that of a loved one, seek professional help.
Like most phobias, dysmorphophobia responds well to various common mental health treatments. If left untreated, the phobia could worsen, gradually limiting your daily life and preventing you from connecting with others.
Hello, how are you? My name is Georgia Tarrant, and I am a clinical psychologist. In everyday life, professional obligations seem to predominate over our personal life. It's as if work takes up more and more of the time we'd love to devote to our love life, our family, or even a moment of leisure.