Monthly Archives: January 2010

Reverse BDD – Troy’s obsession about his girlfriend’s appearance

Troy, in your comment, you discussed your concerns about your constant questioning about whether or not you find his girlfriend sexually attractive and if not does this mean you needs to break up with her.  You also compare her to other women to figure out if you find her more attractive.  Medication helped for a bit, but the problem seems to have returned.  You also wanted to know if this is OCD.

The simple answer to your last question, is this OCD, is yes.  I’m sure you are a unique person, but your OCD symptoms are not.   Remember, OCD is NOT having thoughts you don’t like or having doubts.  OCD is wanting definite answers, no uncertainty, and often wanting to control the uncontrollable.   Although it isn’t a formal category, I usually call these kind of symptoms, reverse BDD; that is, your concern isn’t over your looks but over the looks of another, usually a significant other.  Sometimes it is general, sometimes it focuses on some small feature that the sufferer “can’t” get out of his/her mind.

So what is the truth about how you feel about her looks?  The problem is that anyone we look at can be experienced as more or less attractive.   Our perception not only depends upon how the person looks, but upon our mood, their personality and where our attention wanders.  Just as it is possible to repeat a word over and over and the meaning no longer sounds right, if you keep looking at someone and try to have the feelings you want, you often won’t.  If one doesn’t have OCD, this isn’t a problem.  The individual pays no attention to it and on another occasion, likes the way their partner looks.  But if your OCD focuses on this, then you try to figure out what this means:  Do I have to leave her?  Do I really not like her?   How can I be with her, when all that I keep noticing is this flaw that drives me crazy?  What do I really feel about her looks?  If this is OCD, am I really attracted to her, even though I’m not?  The questions are endless.

Like all OCD, conquering this is not getting an answer to your question, but learning to live with uncertainty and to make guesses.  Let’s face it, anyone you marry is not going to look as good in 30 yrs.  Presumably, you won’t get divorced.  Can you still have a full loving relationship?  Yes, because although we all may fantasize about beautiful people, love and sexual intimacy are made up of more than physical attraction.  Are others more beautiful than your lover?   It is normal to notice that others are beautiful and maybe more beautiful than the person you are with.  It is poor taste and not too smart to mention it.

With regard to how this is treated, I can give you some ideas, but obviously a brief blog isn’t a complete treatment road map, which isn’t possible with asking a zillion questions about you and your symptoms.

  1. The goal of living with uncertainty at this point translates to staying with her at this point, because it sounds like you aren’t ready to leave her.  It sounds as if you are saying, “if I’m not attracted to her I should leave, but I don’t want to today.”   So unless you are more sure you want to leave her for more reasons than her looks, I would suggest staying.
  2. You keep trying to measure her attractiveness by her looks and your physical response.  While you do this, you won’t respond.  Because you have ‘reverse BDD,’ the short term goal is to allow yourself to say, I’m currently planning on staying with a woman who doesn’t look as good as I wish.  If you need to fantasize during intimacy, do so.  This isn’t special for you — in any long term relationship, people will fantasize at times and the amount they fantasize is an individual variable.  Your longer term goal is to become less focused or caring about looks.  You and others who don’t suffer from this may say that this isn’t normal, but the fact is that even if you are with the most beautiful person in the world, you actually don’t notice it all the time.  And because of your OCD, you would not notice it at all.  It is odd, but the less focused you become, the better she will look — unless this refocuses you.
  3. In the ideal, when you compare her to other, you allow others to look better and you remind yourself that responding to others tells you nothing about your relationship.

Again, this isn’t a complete program, as is obvious, it is very difficult to do on your own.  You may have some additional interfering thoughts that you deserve someone better looking or that this is in some way unfair.  These thoughts are symptoms not truths.  This treatment can and does work for other sufferers, so don’t give up hope.  It is useful if you can find an OCD specialist in your area and the International OCFoundation (www.ocfoundation.org) may be able to help you with this.