A Helpful Resource: Center for Discovery
Mirror Mirror On the Wall: Mirror Checking in Body Dysmorphic Disorder
We all look at ourselves in the mirror on a daily basis; many of us even look in every mirror we pass. From car mirrors, bathrooms mirrors, and full-length mirrors in dressings room, gazing at your appearance in the mirror to make sure you look presentable is a routine and natural reflex, but is there is a difference between regular mirror checking and obsessive mirror checking?
When mirror checking becomes an obsession
Obsessive mirror checking is a common unhealthy behavior seen in body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). Individuals with body dysmorphic disorder are compulsively drawn to the mirror, checking the mirror to ease their fears about how they think they look or continuously checking to see if their perceived deformity is still there or has become worse. Individuals with this disorder will often spend hours upon hours each day looking in the mirror, obsessing over the size of their nose, the shape of a mole, the color of a jagged scar, or ruminating over an imagined deformity. Some individuals may be so dependent on mirror checking that they use anything with a reflective surface: a car window, computer screens, someone else’s shadow, a picture frame, or any reflective metal surface as a tool for mirror checking. This ritual can leave individuals obsessing in front of the mirror for anywhere between 10 minutes to multiple hours hoping to see something different. This hope often turns into fear and panic with the compulsion to fix these flaw. This obsession can also interfere with daily living, as some individuals will not be able to leave their house until they are confident that their deformity has not worsened. They may also go to extreme lengths in order to hide this obsession with mirrors from others, often resulting in social withdrawal.
The consequences of obsessive mirror checking
Mirror checking provides only temporary, superficial relief (if any at all) from one’s pain and anxiety associated with their body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). If you feel better after looking in the mirror, these positive feelings will only last for a matter of minutes before you are triggered with anxiety and self-doubt and soon enough you will be triggered again to look in the mirror and fixate on what you identify to be a detrimental flaw in your appearance. On the other hand, checking your appearance in the mirror time and time again will confirm what you were afraid of, that you don’t like what you see, which will leave you feeling worse than you did before you stepped in front of the mirror. When you become stuck or fixated on your perceived physical flaw for too long, your body’s stress level increases which can impact your brain’s functioning, impairing your ability to function rationally and therefore your emotional and mental health. To help break this cycle some individuals opt to avoid all mirrors, which becomes another unhealthy obsession, as they literally will go out of their way to avoid seeing their reflection in a window, a mirror, or any other surface that may give a distorted image of their perceived physical flaw.
If you are unsure whether your mirror checking habits are unhealthy, track this behavior for the next seven days. Use a calendar, or a journal, and record each time you resort to mirror checking, how long you spend checking your appearance in the mirror, and what precisely you are fixated on. Ask those around you (friends, family, co-workers you find trustworthy) if they are aware of your mirror checking. Do they see it distracting? Often, it’s difficult to connect and be intimate with someone who is preoccupied and fixated on their appearance.
When to seek help for obsessive mirror checking
If you notice that you are fixated on your appearance every single time you walk by a reflective surface, you are spending so much time in front of the mirror that it is impeding into your daily life, your stress level increases when you are around mirrors, your friends and family are noticing your obsession with mirrors or you are constantly obsessing over the same minor physical detail associated with your appearance (real or imagined), then you most likely are practicing unhealthy mirror checking which could be a sign of body dysmorphic behavior.