We’ve all had those days – when we look in the mirror and aren’t quite happy with what we see. Perhaps we’re having a bad hair day, or no matter what clothing we put on we just don’t look good. However, for those suffering with serious negative body image conditions, such as body dysmorphic disorder (BDD) looking in the mirror is a daily exercise in disgust and self-loathing.
Prolonged negative body image can lead to anxiety and depression and in the worst-case scenario, body dysmorphia or an eating disorder. But could psychedelics help people rethink their connection with their bodies and lead to increased body positivity?
WHAT IS NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE?
Before we dive into the potential of psychedelics to build a positive body image, it’s important to understand the intricacies of negative body image and the serious mental health conditions associated with it.
Negative body image is when an individual has an unrealistic or distorted perception of their own body. They may feel shame, anxiety, discomfort, and that they are unattractive due to their body size or shape. This can often lead to eating disorders, depression, isolation, low self-esteem, and obsessions with weight loss, which are especially common in women.
Someone who has a bad body image has a skewed perception of their body. Common symptoms of negative body image include:
feel self-conscious and uncomfortable about your body
feel uneasy and odd in your body
believe that only other individuals are appealing
feel that your body type or size indicates personal failure
UNDERSTANDING NEGATIVE BODY IMAGE
To understand these conditions properly and, consequently, how to treat them, we must first understand body image. It’s not as easy as liking or disliking one’s own body. Body image is a complicated concept that includes our feelings, ideas, and impressions of how our body seems to us and others, as well as our understanding of what it can accomplish and its estimated size.
Body image concerns can emerge as early as the age of five. Puberty-induced physical changes might exacerbate the discontent. Moreover, culture has a significant impact on how we perceive ourselves. Gender, complexion and hair color, and a variety of other factors may all influence how a person thinks and feels about themselves.
Body dysmorphia is a psychiatric disease defined by an excessive concern for the body, prompting the individual to overvalue minor flaws or even invent flaws. This leads to a poor self-image and reduces self-esteem. It can lead to eating disorders and other issues in one’s social, career, and personal life. Both men and women can suffer from body dysmorphia and eating disorders, although women are three times more likely to be affected.
Approximately 30 million people in the United States suffer from an eating disorder. 70% of these 30 million people do not get the help of a specialist. As a result, anorexia nervosa, one of the most frequent eating disorders, has a 5.9% death rate – one of the highest rates among mental health conditions.
WHAT DOES THE RESEARCH SAY ABOUT PSYCHEDELICS AND BODY POSITIVITY?
Some research has been conducted to explore the potential of psychedelic substances such as ayahuasca, psilocybin, and LSD in treating body image issues. Studies have found that psychedelics may play a role in improving body positivity and self-acceptance, potentially enabling individuals to develop more positive and balanced views of their bodies.
The research conducted includes studies on the psychological effects caused by psychedelics, primarily how they can reduce body dysmorphic disorder (BDD).
Psychedelics have been found to reduce obsessive thoughts connected to BDD and improve overall body image. This could be attributed to psychedelics’ power to reduce anxiety and judgment, allowing individuals to accept their imperfections. Psychedelic experiences also foster an appreciation of life’s beauty, which extends to physical features. Therefore, users may begin to see their bodies as valuable and something that should be appreciated, rather than criticized.
While counseling and training have been the most effective treatments for this body image issue, new scientific research on psychedelics as a potential treatment is now emerging.
CAN PSYCHEDELICS POTENTIALLY LEAD TO POSITIVE BODY IMAGE?
Eating disorders are notoriously difficult to treat in comparison to other mental health illnesses. Traditional therapies, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), have a remission rate of around 45%, a recurrence rate of approximately 30% within one year, and can be difficult to adhere to. Some professionals and researchers are now examining psychedelic therapy as an option and evaluating its possible advantages.
So, what is it about psychedelics in particular that allows for the potential reimagining of our body image?
For starters, they have the potential to have a good influence on the Default Mode Network (DMN), which handles communication between brain areas. In several mental health problems, including as depression, anxiety, and OCD, this area seems to be hyperactive. Furthermore, some characteristics of eating disorders, such as poor cognitive flexibility exhibited in many anorexia nervosa patients, may be linked to an overactive DMN. According to studies such as “Rethinking Therapeutic Strategies for Anorexia Nervosa: Insights From Psychedelic Medicine and Animal Models” psychedelics suppress activity in this area, allowing us to establish new thought patterns and get a new perspective on life, the world, and ourselves.
Another way that psychedelic psychotherapy can be beneficial is by assisting a person in understanding the real basis of their discontent. According to a 2013 study on why eating disorder therapy fails, a patient’s resistance derives from the disease’s “ego-syntonic” character. Many of the disorder’s actions, feelings, and values are ego-syntonic, which implies that the ego’s demands and ambitions drive many of the disorder’s behaviors, feelings, and values. Psychedelic chemicals can cause the ego to dissolve temporarily, allowing for the transformation, healing, and modification of particular habits, thinking patterns, or addictions.
Psychedelic-assisted psychotherapy promotes embodied transformation, whereas standard psychotherapy frequently focuses on cognition and intellect. In treatment, a person may grow to understand their patterns in depth and clarity, yet they may still struggle to change them.
Psychoactive drugs can cause experience alterations that transfer more effectively into internally-led and persistent behavioral change. The therapist’s duty is to create a secure environment for exploration as well as a good relationship framework for a person to make sense of the experience and to anchor in the good that exists.
USING PYSCHEDELICS TO RECLAIM OWNERSHIP OF YOUR BODY
Psychedelics can assist people in viewing their eating issues as a coping strategy rather than a part of their personality. They can gradually begin to replace negative behaviors with healthier and kinder new behaviors if they embrace this awareness. They have the ability to change their inner story of falsehoods and self-limiting attitudes about their bodies.
Once again, the necessity of integration, connections, and a holistic approach must be emphasized alongside other treatment approaches and modalities. Change takes time, effort, and consistency, especially when it comes to deconditioning habits that have been a part of our life for a long time.
When considering recovery, it is important to remember that it is not about halting or restricting a habit, but rather about allowing it to alter and transform, bringing us along for the journey so that our beliefs, feelings, thoughts, behavior, and action take on a new shape. True, long-term change does not happen overnight.
Although additional study is needed to better understand the safety and efficacy of psychedelic medications and therapy in the treatment of eating disorders, the encouraging results demonstrate that this is an important objective to explore.
One of the most important components of a psychedelic experience is the shattering of the ego. As a result, we might obtain a fresh perspective on the world and, more crucially, on ourselves in the world.
Psychedelics have the potential to be transformational, therapeutic, and change agents in persons who are trapped in specific habits, mental patterns, or addictions. Perhaps we might harness its power to improve self-acceptance, self-esteem, and the development of a healthy body image.