Self harming as survival, not suicidal intent, in dysphoric young women

There is an interesting new comment up on the Guardian piece about the mother with the mentally fragile daughter who wants to transition. In fact, there are many good comments that have been posted since I blogged about the article the other day. The commenter–a woman who has been to hell and back–provides excellent advice to parents of girls who are engaging in self harm.

I have suffered mental health issues since I was a child and my self harm began aged 11, I continued in secret till my twenties.

If I could share one thing with you, it would be this; self harm didn’t mean I was trying to kill myself. It allowed me to survive. It allowed me to moderate and purge very strong emotions that I couldn’t put into words. I come from a dysfunctional home where no one taught me how to talk about my emotions or that I was allowed. It gave me back a sense of control over my own life, I belonged to myself, I wasn’t at the mercy of adults who abused me. It had an addictive physiological response, the rush and the soothing pain killing adrenal response. It was survival. It wasn’t a cry for help, for attention or to punish family.

Your daughter won’t be in a place to stop self harming until she has a viable alternative set of skills, identifying her feelings, being able to communicate, bring heard, building self esteem, feeling belonging. Those skills take time to build and she needs a professional to do it with.

Most of all, she needs a Mum to witness where she is right now. Not a Mum who wants to fix her (natural as that feels) or a a mum who will analyse what she says and tell her what means. Listen to her with kindness, non judgment, let her voice her feelings. Feeling like you are alienated from your body is painful, listen to it and witness it. That doesn’t mean you have to endorse a gender reassignment. But listen. Whether she means she wants to be a man, it is telling you something about how she sees herself.

You can make it through this. I got into therapy, off meds, I stopped self harming and at 31, I am a happy healthy woman. At 25, I had endured 5 hospital admissions and was crashing out of the psychiatric system. I was giving up hope. What changed that was being listened to and loved by people who focused on what was valuable about me, not what was wrong.

You can do it.

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25 thoughts on “Self harming as survival, not suicidal intent, in dysphoric young women

  1. Today I broke down… The civilized, mature version of the converstion I had with my daughter stayed put in my head and what came out of my mouth instead was bitter. And she cried so much and I stayed hard. I remained impatient. I was exactly who I did not want to be in this conversation. Mocking unsupportive, maybe even cold. I spoke my truth… And it would have been better if I’d just kept things to myself. Because I recognize that speaking my truth meant hurting my child and essentially calling her a liar. I disbelieved what she thinks is her truth and now she feels like I will never be in her corner again.

    I’m sitting and looking at the view from our window, she in a tight ball in the corner of the room, crying, killing my heart, and me just watching her from the corner of my eye so she can’t see how fixed I am on every single breath she’s taken/taking… And I’m praying… No, I’m begging… to God/the Universe/maybe no one,that she grows to love herself and believe in herself… And that somehow the impossible will happen… That we’ll KNOW… Either way… What her truth is.

    I struggling with the fact that inspite of how awful it feels to question my own daughter’s conviction, what I’m fighting for is her life and so questioning, no matter how uncomfortable, is an absolute must if we are truly working towards the real her.

    I feel such despair, so extremely desperate.

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    • Carla, I’ve been there. More than once. I suspect many of us have. How well I know that feeling you are talking about: “What I’m fighting for is her life.” And you are. You’re her mom, not a cool-headed Internet advisor. And you are under enormous emotional stress right now. Please don’t beat yourself up when you can’t be dispassionate about this. There’s obviously a balance to be struck, but it’s not a bad thing for her to know how fiercely you are trying to protect her. Even if it upsets her, she knows in her gut that you care. Maybe tomorrow you’ll approach it a different way. Those of us who are going through the same trial by fire are groping our way through this too. Most of all, she needs to know how much you love her. Getting upset, or not being the “perfect parent” is not bad; it’s not unloving. It’s only human. I know I speak for several of the parents who congregate here that we are here for you. Please keep coming here and let us know how it’s going. I also sent you an email.

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      • Carla, I have also been there many times and I know what you are going through exactly. 4thwavenow has helped me so much to stay strong. Just knowing that there are other mothers out there who are feeling the same is a big help since in my immediate environment I don’t know any mother like that. Be strong, we are in this together.

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      • Gah, this was my life this morning. I know I shouldn’t fall into the trap of thinking I can reason with her. I mean, her reply is, “I’m a boy. I’m a boy.” I keep thinking I wouldn’t feel the need to be supportive of any other delusional belief my kid was having. But I’m supposed to just go along with this one.

        Also, I found out that my sister-in-law sent a note congratulating my kid on her new name and pronouns and said she was proud to have a new nephew. Hooray — someone just inserted herself into my family after she knew how we felt. I am really, really angry.

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      • Yes, Carla, I have been there as well. During one conversation I called my daughter’s belief a delusion (among other things) and I thought I “broke” her. I wasn’t proud of myself. The last thing I wanted to do was hurt her. I thought I could calmly convince her back to reality. In my head it seemed obvious she would understand.

        It took a while to reconnect after that, but we have had conversations since then that have gone much better. All hope is not lost. Please hang on. And try not to beat yourself up. This is such an impossible spot to be in as a parent. Highly stressful. You are walking on egg shells and fear that saying or doing the wrong thing could push your daughter down the path of transitioning.

        I have come to realize that there is no quick fix. We are five months into this and my daughter has changed somewhat. She is seeing psychologist number two (the first one probably did more harm than good) and it seems to be helping. She is still not in a healthy place. She still wants to present as a boy, but she no longer has a strong drive for hormones and surgery. She wants to be seen as a human, not a female. There is still work to be done, but at this point I do see a glimmer of hope.

        If you go the route of psychotherapy, I recommending screening psychologists. There are some out there that will be skeptical of the increasing self-diagnosed gender dysphoria in teenagers, especially girls. Ask them if they have seen an increase in teenagers identifying as transgender, ask them if they are concerned. It will help you narrow your list down.

        Good luck. Hugs. And I wish you strength and peace.

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      • And, Katiesan, and anyone else out there, I feel for you too. Ticks me off that our stance is seen as politically incorrect. And that people feel the need to affirm our child’s delusion in an attempt to be “supportive.” We are just being concerned, cautious parents, not transphobic.

        Hugs to you all. Keep strong. Hang in there.

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    • Sending a hug to you and katiesan and all who are grappling with this. We can’t always say the ‘perfect’ thing. I have found that leaving the door open somewhat has helped; that was a suggestion from a wise counselor. (Not a gender counselor but a person with a lot of years of working with adolescents.) I have been able to say “if this is the only way you can conceive of living in the world you are certainly going to be able to pursue it, and we will always love and want a relationship with you. but your brain is still developing and this is a decision best made by an adult because it is not a reversible path from a physical standpoint, and there are health risks.”

      Saying “you can. when you grow up. if you think you have to.” — somehow that seems to have helped my kid, who’s still emphatically nonconforming and still binding but who is not currently insisting on any kind of rapid medical action or even on seeing any kind of counselor about this particular issue. What’s coming later who knows, but I consider every month of brain development unimpeded by jiggering her hormones as a victory.

      Hang in there.

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    • This hurts to read, being able to understand your child’s perspective as someone who has been in a similar place and also as an adult now who can empathize with an adult perspective and begin to imagine myself as a parent in your position.

      It’s so much to ask any person, but especially a young person, especially a female person, to love and accept themselves.

      Try to disengage from the validation game by refusing to either validate or invalidate anything related to gender. Try to remove gender as much as you can altogether from your speech patterns for now. Stick to “child” over “daughter.” Don’t press it for now. They’re trying to center their entire life right now around validation/invalidation of a very specific thing, perhaps partially as an unconscious means of exercising control in their life. Try to understand that it might have more to do with that, and to the drive to get out of their own body, than with you personally.

      I hope you can find a good therapist, and I hope that maybe with time your child can unpack the false ideas about gender and sex they’ve been sold and seduced by. They think right now that it’s the answer to all their problems, an unrealistic narrative to make tidy sense of the big collection of confusion and bad feelings they’re experiencing. She will likely come back eventually, but I hope without having dug herself into too big a hole in the meantime both physically and interpersonally.

      I’m afraid though that if you press too hard, are too harsh, and too actively try to invalidate, you are only bolstering the delusions. You are unfairly set up to be the villain that proves the delusions correct and righteous by doing the human thing of resisting. I’m sorry for your pain and struggle, and for the reality that you will have to be stronger than anyone should ask you to be in order to help your child through this with your relationship in tact. It’s truly unfair.

      I wish you both nothing but the best.

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  2. Oh, how I feel this. I am barely done whipping my tears from a conversation with my daughter. Is there ever an end to this misery?

    When I mentioned the fact that I was concerned some new “imessage” friends and Tumblr had influenced my daughter in determine she was transgender, the therapist (who is “familiar” with transgender issues) told me that there was no way that could happen. That being transgender is a choice no one would want to make… But what if that choice makes her fit in with her friends and become the newest sensation at school.

    My heart is literally being ripped out of my chest and I am supposed to sit here and say “oh my goodness, it is so great that you are now a boy. I have a son!”

    Does it get easier? Has anyone ever gotten their daughter to come back offthe edge of being transgender? Or I am I the delusional one? Am I just in denial? Would it be easier for everyone if I just gave in and gave up?

    I am not sure if I am strong enough for this….

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    • I’m so sorry. it really is very hard, and maddening that some people expect you to CELEBRATE this situation.

      As for “get the daughter back” — I think most of us out here are just living in ambiguity, you know? I’d for sure not say it’s a settled situation in my household. But we’ve at least succeeded in slowing stuff down. As for whether females come back off the edge of FTM on their own — Lord, yes, for sure this does happen, sometimes with women who’ve gone quite far down the hormone/surgery path, too, and lived as male for a good long while. Anyone who says it never happens is uninformed, or lying. There are lots of detransitioners out there whose stories aren’t being told, if you go poking around to find them. There’s so much pushback from other trans ppl who try to stifle those voices for various reasons.

      Living in ambiguity is hard. Not knowing how the story’s going to go, with regard to such a fundamental issue, is hard. It might be easier to acquiesce, yes. At least, temporarily. You’d get strokes from society for your bravery, and your kid would be happy with you. And you’d KNOW. Not this endless questioning pain and worry.

      But I can’t do it. or haven’t been able to. I think it’s a fundamentally wrongheaded solution to a mental health situation — abetted by social trendiness and infectious internet cheerleading. And I can’t in good conscience consent to procedures that I truly believe are risky and potentially life-shortening … and that don’t have a track record of “fixing” dysphoria, anyway.

      If your therapist really doesn’t think teens are suggestible enough to adopt certain behavior patterns and ideas based on outside influence from internet “friends” — then your therapist doesn’t know much about teens. IMO. Have the therapist take a look at that reddit thread I linked above, of all the stories of things people used to passionately believe when they were teens and now … don’t. And dig up the Finnish study reported here at 4thwavenow regarding the mad influx of girls presenting as FTM in recent years — and the high incidence of comorbid psych issues with these kids.

      The therapist sounds like a gender essentialist. Is your daughter super-attached to her/him already? Can you investigate other counseling options? You need to find someone who will listen to your concerns in a manner that’s not so dismissive, and who will accept the idea that you might actually know something about your kid. And whatever you can do to distract the kid from the internet time, other activities, stuff you could do together, even if it’s binge-watching TV together, playing games, cooking, whatever she will deign to do with you — yeah, I’d push that as much as possible.

      I don’t have all the answers; no one here does. But on behalf of all the moms here who are fighting for the health of our precious daughters, I am wishing you strength and wisdom, clarity and perspective. And hope.

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    • Hang in there! I don’t know if it ever “gets easier.” We are 5 months in and I am still a mess, but it has become a little more “normal.” I have been able to go back to eating and sleeping, but there is a stress that never goes away totally unless I am really distracted.

      Finding this blog has helped greatly, knowing that I am not alone. And, reading all of the information from 4thWaveNow, Transgenderreality.com and Gendertrender.wordpress.com has helped me realize that I am not the one that is delusional.

      Is the therapist your daughter seeing causing more harm than good? If you think this is the case, you should consider finding a different one. There are some good ones out there, but you need to screen for them. You need one that will help your daughter work through whatever caused her to think this way in the first place, not one that will validate her transgender identity.

      My daughter hasn’t quite come off the transgender edge yet. She is still flirting with it, but not at the original intensity. She wants more to be viewed as human than female, but not necessarily embracing the male stereotype either. There definitely has been progress made and I believe eventually she will be a safe distance away from that edge.

      There are others that have come away from the edge as well. 4thWaveNow had a well-written and informative guest post not long ago from a woman that has been through this: https://4thwavenow.com/2015/08/14/abandoning-the-ship-of-woman-guest-post/ And, if you google transgender regret and de-transition you will find a lot of stories. There is still hope for your daughter.

      It has been and continues to be a healing process that moves much slower than I would like. I really wanted to have that one conversation that totally convinced her that she wasn’t transgender, but that was a pipe dream.

      Good luck. I wish you strength, patience, and I send you hugs.

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    • I am refusing to give up. My kid has long-standing mood disorder issues and this all happened when she started high school and fell in with a kid in the GSA who identifies as trans. My daughter has always been an outsider and had a difficult time making friends. Then there was the Tumblr and youtube and reddit immersion. Also, being the unusual, different kid who is fighting society by changing her gender gives her a cachet and interest that no one thinks she has as an awkward girl.

      We have actually been doing what Dot advised and have done for over a year — kind of letting stuff be neutral and ignoring a lot of provocations. Shrugging off a lot of stuff designed, it appears, to get us to have fights. This is the best way to deal with her, in general, since she’s so strong-willed. We resisted. But, her therapist, who we thought was at least trying to be neutral, too, since she talked a lot about how the teenage brain is developing, was agreeing that my daughter needed to out herself and present as a boy in school and that we needed to be accepting and go along. And that was too far, so we fired her. Our kid can ask people to call her a new name and we never told her how she has to look. But I am NOT calling her he and the farthest I will go with names is calling her the masculine nickname of her given name (which I’ve used forever anyway). She is very controlling. She still throws screaming tantrums. She is strong-willed and I am pretty certain that she feels that by becoming a different person, she will be leaving behind the problems and predicaments her poor decision-making has gotten her. Except, that poor decision-making seems, to me, why she certainly should not be seen as competent to make such a serious decision as taking hormones and getting surgery.

      And I merely drew a boundary for me and the rest of our family. We’ve done it once before, when she decided she didn’t like taking her medication for her anxiety/depression and I flat-out told her I didn’t care what she wanted — we’d send her away if she didn’t because we refused to go back to her extreme behavior which the meds radically reduced. I think it shocked her that she could do something that would get her booted. I have put up with a lot from this kid, whom I love madly. But once I knew what her meds could do, I just refused to put up with most of that stuff. And, frankly, I think reducing her anxiety and depression made her feel better and she stopped feeling intensely dysphoric. She doesn’t talk about hating her body anymore, she talks about how she’s a boy in her head and how we have to respect that.

      The boundary I drew was that I would not allow her to live in our home if she took testosterone. Full stop. She has the tendency for aggression and violence and I will not accept her taking something which increases that and living in my home. I told her that dispassionately and she stared hard at me and then said, “Yeah, I know. I’ll have to wait to be out of the house before I can do that.”

      So, we’re back at the truce stage. She’s expressed her feelings and wishes. We’re accepting of the fact that she has them, but not planning to accommodate them right now. And we’ve drawn boundaries we feel are entirely fair, given her history. The search for a therapist who will agree to approach our kid and deal with her other issues and kind of put a pin in the sex/gender stuff for a while goes on. I am not hopeful in finding someone. Everyone insists I am in denial and grieving. I’m actually angry that everyone seems to think this is a done deal and we have to capitulate. Considering that one of the few facts known about transgenderism is that 80% of kids come out to be accepting of their physical bodies as is, I refuse to treat my kid as needing hormones and surgery before she’s shown real and lasting persistence. A year and some change ain’t it.

      Hang in csm. Even is this is the path your daughter eventually takes, you will know that you did your best to keep all her options open and went WITH the odds, not against them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • I’m not sure where exactly to post this comment, but your comment is the one where this stuff came to mind, so uhh, maybe it’ll help you / your kid? I hope it’ll help someone.

      My parents had no idea what to do when I IDed as trans; apparently no one did, since the psychologists would do basically nothing once I’d tell them I felt like a transman. At least they didn’t try to help me get hormone treatment, though. My parents were convinced my dysphoria was caused by undiagnosed autism – which no one we went to could diagnose me with, and which my family couldn’t afford to get a diagnosis anyway – which I knew /obviously/ wasn’t it, autism could explain my past difficulty with high school homework, but it /couldn’t/ explain gender dysphoria… Anyway, since nobody knew what to do, and since the only advice from other transpeople was “transition, or live with dysphoric pain for your entire life” – neither option of which seemed very optimal to me – I was pretty much reduced to helping myself. (I am very glad my parents did not take away my internet, since ironically enough, doing internet research like I usually do was what ended up with me stumbling upon my own personal solution.)

      I had been researching Enneagram for a long while, along with other personality-typing systems, even previously to my most recent bout of dysphoria, but I had never been able to pin down what enneagram personality type I was before that moment, while feeling very much transgender and not having a solution. I figured out I was type 4, description of which is here https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-4/ , and that it was very likely a strong factor in my identity crisis, where if I had been some other personality type, I might have just had different sex stereotypical traits but not felt the need to form those into a certain, extreme “identity”. With that knowledge, I was able to find a way to form a new target identity for myself, one that wouldn’t require me changing my body’s sex to feel strong, comfortable and whole.

      I would suggest to anyone who is transgender, but who would like an alternate way to relieve/eliminate dysphoria other than transition, to check out Enneagram theory and see if you are Type 3 or Type 4, in particular (There are 9 “types”) ; those are the types that I can see a transgender identity forming in most easily. Perhaps the knowledge of your type and of personal growth through enneagram is something that could help you relieve dysphoria as it helped me.

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  3. I left a comment about the reddit that a commenter linked to. About all the weird stuff people were really into when they were in teenagers and and then left it all behind. My comment here was so glib I sound like an insensitive asshole. I am sorry. I was reading the stories in the comments here and they’re so incredibly sad. I am so sorry that you all are going through that. And my god there’s so many of you. The Reddit comments are funny. But when I made my comment I had forgot who I was talking to here. I wish the best for all of you. (I’m also really effing angry at the psychologist and doctors promoting this lurid crap.)

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    • Hey, most of them ARE funny.

      Look, my husband and I have NOT lost our sense of humor in all of this. He will sometimes whisper, “It’s not wrong that hopefully, in the future, we’ll joke about how she thought she was trans, right?” And I reply, “It will be just like that bit halfway through Friends, when Ross said, “Remember when I had a monkey? What was THAT about?'” Ha!

      Here’s a wish that all of us will look back on this time and say, “Remember when our daughters thought they were trans? What was THAT about?”

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      • Thank you. I am SO glad you and your husband have not lost your sense of humor! Or presumably your sense of the absurd. Re: Ross & monkey? Exactly.

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      • I thought they were funny, too! Actually it was a relief to read them and see how normal it was for teens to have such strongly held beliefs that eventually became cringe-worthy memories.

        In my opinion, humor helps you get through life’s challenges (and this is a BIG one). My husband and I joke around too. It helps let off steam about such a serious topic.

        And, sometimes just reading pro-trans articles that are meant to be taken seriously leave me giggling like this one:
        https://4thwavenow.com/2015/05/07/head-transplants-obviously-the-solution-for-gender-dysphoria/

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    • It’s ok, Petuniacat. I thought they were funny, too. But also amazed at how they give the lie to the gender essentialist view, the ‘born this way’ narrative, which clashes with these real-life stories of “yeah, thought I was, for a long time, I mean I was really into it, all ready for it and then … something happened, and then I wasn’t.”

      The essentialist narrative posits that this kind of shift almost never happens when, in fact, it does.

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