Body complexes: what they are, causes, and how to manage them
Let's take a look at the causes of body complexes and what to do about body insecurities.
Gray hair, stretch marks, love handles, extreme thinness, little musculature, small nose... Do you have any of these "defects"?
The list of physical complexes is long, as well as the features of our physical appearance that we can worry and obsess about, complexes that despite the fact that we locate them in our physique, in many occasions it is in the look we have about ourselves.
Whether based on something real or imagined, complexes are often closely related to our self-concept, the canon of beauty of the society in which we live and our experiences in childhood and adolescence. Let's discover what are the complexes by the physique, how they arise and how to manage them..
What are physique complexes?
We can say that body complexes are any emotional and psychological discomfort that is emotional and psychological discomfort that is caused by some dissatisfaction and discomfort towards one or more features of our physical appearance.. These complexes arise from worrying about some part of our body and seeing it in a negative way, as a result of a subjective perception of how our body is that makes us see it in a way that does not have to correspond to how it really is.
The list of complexes about our physique is practically endless, as is the list of parts of our body about which we may feel uncomfortable. Among the most frequent complexes are those related to weight, height, hair, musculature, chest size, wrinkles, scars, stretch marks, color and shape of teeth, freckles, acne, nose shape, eye color and body shape in general.
Having a complex about what our body looks like does not mean that we have a mental disorder, far from it. Almost everyone feels discomfort towards some part of his or her body, and the reasons behind it are very varied.. Body complexes are something that we have all experienced in our own flesh and that cause us different levels of psychological and emotional discomfort, motivating us to do certain things to change them, such as dyeing our hair to hide gray hair or exercising to lose weight.
In many cases, the perception of a physical feature seen as "defective" is distorted, that is, the person with the complex does not perceive objectively that body part and, in addition, may become obsessed with that feature, seeing it more and more deformed and far from how it really is. In other cases, the physical feature is not appreciated in any distorted way and there really is some kind of "defect" (e.g., congenital deformity) but the worry and anxiety associated with that part is so excessive that it greatly limits the life of the complexed person.
Although our physical complexes accompany us every day of the year, there are times when they can occupy our minds more frequently and greatly influence our social life and leisure.. An example of this is in summer, when people wear clothes that show off body parts and go to the beach. This time of the year is especially hard for people with some kind of complex related to their body shape, either for being overweight or underweight, as well as some complexes related to the skin such as stretch marks, body hair, skin blemishes...
Causes of body complexes
Body complexes are closely related to are closely related to our self-concept and self-esteem.. The self-concept is the set of ideas we have about how we are and this is formed throughout our life taking as a reference our strengths and weaknesses as well as our physical, psychological, social and emotional way of being. All these aspects not only make us form an image of how we are, but also give us value as people.
If we consider that many aspects belonging to our self-concept are "bad" these will make us see ourselves as people who are not worth, negatively affecting our self-esteem. Taking this into account, physical complexes would be nothing more than physical traits to which we have attributed a negative meaning. but which are part of our being and, consequently, "detract" from our value as people.
Among the main causes behind the appearance of physical complexes are the following.
1. Feeling humiliated by a physical trait
In themselves, our physical features are neither good nor bad, unless they imply some kind of medical or functional problem. It often happens that people do not realize that we have something "negative" until someone tells us so, and as a general rule.
This is what usually happens in childhood, when at playtime other children make fun of what our body looks like, such as having big ears, being a little overweight or suffering from acne.
When we are children, this type of humiliation can be experienced in a particularly intense way, so much so that years later it returns in the form of "microtrauma", reminding us again and again of what we were told when we were little and starting to make us obsess about the part of the body that was the object of ridicule.
But these humiliations are not only done by children. It also happens that our parents and adults of reference noticed some physical trait when we were small and this marks us deeply. From our relatives we not only inherit traditions, values, language and culture, but also complexes and obsessions about what our body looks like.
2. Obsessing about specific parts
Our body is not an amalgam of different unconnected parts, but they form a whole. This obvious fact is often ignored when we meticulously scan that part of our body we feel so bad about, ignoring the rest of the good things and forgetting that the body is a whole, a structure with proportions that give it beauty.
Focusing on each of our body parts and understanding them as very distinct particularities contributes to suffering from complexes about our physique. We give importance to each of these parts separately, especially those with which we are not at all comfortable, distorting the perception of our own body.
To make it clear: let's imagine a person obsessed with his or her receding hairline, afraid that he or she is going bald. Every time she goes to the mirror, instead of looking at her whole body, or at least at her face, her gaze goes straight to where her hair begins. She looks at him and looks at him, ignoring that he has a beautiful nose, interesting eyes and sensual mouth that make his face very attractive.
3. Not feeling valued enough
As we said, complexes about physique and self-esteem are closely related, with self-concept acting as a bridge between the two. People who have grown up in environments where there has been no love or affection may have a very negative self-concept, thinking that they are not worth as human beings and this causes all kinds of concern about how they are both physically and psychologically.
Believing that their parents did not give them love because they did not deserve it, many people begin to look for all kinds of "defects" to justify this fact, even if they are exaggerated and unrealistic. Insecurity and lack of confidence are two very common attitudes in people whose complexes were formed in this way.
4. Obsession with the canons of beauty
Although the canons of beauty have been evolving in the last years, progressing in ones that are not so surrealistic, there is still a lot of work to do. Today many people have internalized a very exaggerated ideal of beauty and their desire to achieve the perfect body, far from what is humanly possible, makes them feel very dissatisfied in the skin they inhabit.
Since they cannot be the person they want to be, many frustrations arise, as well as great anguish and discomfort. Pursuing an unattainable ideal of beauty will bring with it feelings of dissatisfaction and lack of acceptance of one's own body, giving rise to physical complexes.
Body dysmorphic disorder
A psychopathological condition closely related to complexes about the physique is body dysmorphic disorder. Also called dysmorphophobia, this disorder is characterized by a persistent preoccupation with one or more perceived defects in one's physical appearance. These defects may not be obvious or may be only slightly visible to others, but the person who feels self-conscious about them experiences them with great distress, resulting in compulsive behaviors to calm the associated anxiety.
In many cases, the physical complexes that bother these people are imaginary defects.while in the cases in which there really is a physically "negative" feature, these patients give it too much importance, living it with great anxiety. Its degree of discomfort and limitation is so great that difficulties appear in social, work, family, academic and leisure life.
Body dysmorphic disorder is considered a relatively common psychopathology, especially in its less severe variants.. There do not seem to be gender differences and it has been described worldwide with prevalences around 2% in general population samples. Two out of three cases have their origins in the patient's adolescence and it is believed that many of the patients presenting to dermatology and plastic surgery clinics meet criteria for a diagnosis of dysmorphophobia.
The fact that many patients with this disorder go to surgeons rather than seek psychological or psychiatric help makes identification and treatment very difficult. For this reason, it is considered essential to train both surgeons and dermatologists to be well aware of this psychological disorder, to detect it in their patients and to refer them to a psychologist or psychiatrist before surgical intervention.
The referral is very important for this type of patients because, although those who suffer from body dysmorphic disorder trust that surgery will solve their complexes, the reality is very different. At the beginning, when they have gotten rid of their "defect", they stop feeling discomfort in the short term, but as the months go by, they feel more and more dissatisfied.But as the months go by, they start to detect new defects, feeling again discomfort and wanting to go again to the surgeon's table. As their problem is in how they look and not in how their body is, no surgical operation is going to satisfy them.
How to manage complexes?
The case of body dysmorphic disorder is an extreme case of obsession with our defects, a psychological problem that, as such, should be treated with psychotherapy.. However, this does not mean that we have to accept all our defects without further ado, accepting the philosophy that we have to look in the mirror and accept ourselves as we are just because we are.
There are several ways to manage complexes, although these are mainly summarized in receiving psychological help, intervening surgically when necessary and, if possible and healthy, changing it on our own.
There are physical complexes that can really cause such a level of psychological discomfort that correcting them surgically or in other ways implies an improvement in the patient's mental health. in the mental health of the patient. An example of this can be found in Cancer survivors who have had part of their breast tissue removed, leaving them without breasts. In their case in particular, reconstructive surgery can imply a notable improvement in their self-concept and self-esteem, recovering something that cancer took away from them.
Another example is the case of many people who suffer from overweight.. No one should be attacked for their physical condition, and the only real motivation there should be to exercise is to be fit and healthy, yet it is a sad fact that many people consider "fat" people to be worth less.
In the case of being overweight and not having an eating disorder, this complex can be corrected by working directly on the root of the problem by exercising, something that will not only improve the physical state of health but also the degree of acceptance with one's own body.
Whatever the physical complex, whatever has caused it, its severity and whether it is modifiable, psychological therapy is an avenue that should never be discarded.. Psychotherapy can help us to relate in a different way with our body and change the way we look at it, to stop focusing on the "bad" things we think we have and to value all the good things, both physical and psychological, which are undoubtedly part of our being.
People who have many physical complexes are used to "run away from themselves", to not accept how they are and to see themselves as they are.They do not accept themselves as they are and see themselves as less valuable than the people they interact with every day. They try to avoid looking at themselves in the mirror or, if they do, they focus almost exclusively on what they consider to be wrong in an obsessive way.
The aim of psychotherapy is to get patients to be able to integrate this defect and compare it with the rest of the body, to have a global view of their physical appearance and, if possible, to do what is necessary to eliminate it.
(Updated at Mar 28 / 2023)