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What Is Body Dysphoria?

By Jillian O Keeffe
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Dysphoria is a medical term that refers to emotional discomfort that is part of a recognizable mental disturbance. Psychiatrists in particular use the term to describe a range of mental issues, from a depressive mood due to grief, to issues such as gender identity disorder, where the affected person feels that his or her physical gender is wrong. As a descriptive term, body dysphoria is most commonly equated to gender identity disorder, but people who suffer from body dysmorphic syndrome, who see their body as unattractive, may also possibly be described as having body dysphoria.

Originating from the Greek word dysphoros, which means hard to bear, dysphoria is not a condition in itself but rather a word that can be used to describe an unhappiness with a psychological issue. As well as unhappiness, the word can also mean anxiety, depressive moods or an increased irritability. Restlessness is another type of mood which can be labeled as a dysphoria.

Gender identity disorder is a condition that is well recognized by the medical and psychiatric fields, although the cause, as of 2012, is not yet known. People suffering from this condition, which is also known as gender dysphoria and occasionally as body dysphoria, feel that they are living in the wrong gender body. Emotional symptoms of this physical mismatch can include anxiety and depression, as well as restlessness and a feeling of persistent discomfort. It is these emotional issues that make the condition suitable for a dysphoria label, but it is possible that the root cause of the disorder is an issue with the development of the brain and body.

People with gender or body dysphoria may experience emotional problems due to the condition itself, but they may also experience depressive moods due to a a lack of acceptance by other people. A possible treatment for the disorder is a sex change procedure, which involves undergoing cosmetic surgery and taking hormone treatment to alter the physical characteristics of the person's body. An unwillingness to fully embrace gender roles and appearance is common in childhood, but people with the true body dysphoria condition experience these feelings throughout life.

As dysphoria is a descriptive term rather than a single condition, it may also be used to describe unhappiness with other areas of life apart from gender issues. On occasion, a person may use body dysphoria to describe a condition more properly termed body dysmorphia. With this psychiatric condition, affected people place undue emphasis on a perceived bodily flaw, which can affect normal daily life and produce emotional problems.

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