Blog 97. Parenting: a) Did you know that most gender issues arise in childhood and particularly during the Oedipal Stage? b) Or it can be due to a negative early experience, c) The role of social media:
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This blog consists of 2 sections:
2) Transitioning, detransitioning – and the realities:
Before I address these two points it is worth knowing that, gender issues can arise in childhood and particularly during the Oedipal Stage:
Gender identity is according to Wikipedia, one’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both or neither – is how individuals perceive themselves and how they may choose to call themselves. One’s gender identity can be the same or different from the sex assigned at birth.
I find this a rather exciting time when gender in society is being challenged, because after all, it is the person not their sex or gender, or what they wear that we should see, not their colour or nationality – but who the person actually is, that we should love unconditionally, that we should employ and so on.
However, as a relationship therapist I have also seen the other side – the side that involves clients struggling to find their identity or indeed, meaning to why they feel the way they do.
For some accepting who they are, or transitioning into who they want to be, can be a confusing time often stemming way back in childhood. For some it’s not a problem. It works for them and they report being happier than ever before. For others it is not.
But let me explain.
There are various areas from cross-dressing, wearing the opposites genders’s clothing to transitioning – when someone changes their gender presentation and/or sex characteristics to match their internal sense of gender.
Some while ago, I observed a transgender shopping in a woman’s underwear department. I recognised her, as she is local to my area. However seeing her there dressed in a wig and in unfashionable clothes, I found myself wondering why anyone would want to look like their unfashionable mother. This is not the sort of thing that usually goes through my mind. But then the penny dropped.
I was immediately reminded of a few clients who had struggled with father and mother issues and over time it seemed that the issues often lay in Freud’s Oedipal stage.
I have already written about the importance of understanding this phase of child development which Freud pinpointed to rather accurately. (In Blog 38 and 39 and in the previous Blog I wrote about Sigmund Freud’s Oedipal Phase and you may remember me writing that if there is only one thing you ever get to know about psychology, it should be Freud’s Oedipal Stage. I explained why, and I suggest you go back and read it, as it will certainly give you a deeper understanding of the psychology behind much of our behaviour).
And when children reach the age between say 3-6, this is when they begin to investigate their own sexuality and that of their parents. This includes the relationship parents have with one another. This is when they try to make sense of how the ‘mummy and daddy thing’ works – who belongs to whom, and so on.
But also, this is when children begin to work out who they are – boy or girl, and how this relates to either mummy or daddy. This is when they begin to work out how mummy or daddy relates to them – as either a girl or a boy. In doing so, they often also begin decoding the conscious or unconscious messages received about what is expected from them or who mummy and daddy loves most – girls or boys.
And sometimes instead of sufficiently working through this stage, some children can get stuck especially if they receive mixed messages or, if indeed one or the other parent is either emotionally or physically absent – as pointed out in the previous blog.
But what does this really mean?
During this phase, a child begins to work out things out about their sexuality as well as, how powerful they can be or which parent they can control. In working this out, a little girl may flirt with her daddy or a little boy may hold mummy’s hand just a little tighter or a little longer than usual. At the same time they may find themselves a boyfriend or girlfriend, as they test or act out what they’ve observed mummy and daddy do. It’s usually also at this point that children play the game of, ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours. And you may even find children kissing and holding hands.
Sometimes however this ‘acting out’ phase can go deeper.
Power games are usually worked through easily enough and normally with the help of both parents, a child is assisted in their quest for relationship knowledge as they gain a better understanding of the roles that a daddy and a mummy play.
But unfortunately, this is not always the case.
If a child, in trying to get mummy or daddy’s attention, somehow feels that by dressing or becoming that person, they may get the other parent’s attention, they may consequently become what we call fixated or obsessed with playing out this role – but unfortunately they can also become stuck emotionally.
But what does this mean?
In wanting to take on the role of either their mother or their father, what should remain as an unconscious working though ‘who belongs to whom’, some become fixated on the actual role itself, hoping to become that parent – in order to get daddy or mummy’s attention or to find out what it is about mummy that mesmerises daddy or visa versa. This is when a child may begin to carefully study how a parent dresses and how they behave so they can emulate and copy them.
Or, if they believe that as, say as a boy, their father prefers girls, then they may try to behave or dress like the girls daddy so adores. This would of course be similar for girls emulating and dressing like boys, if they feel this is who daddy will love and appreciate more.
And we know that for many centuries, many children have felt that a parent would have preferred a child of the opposite sex and in order to please a parent, many try to become the child the parent had hoped for.
But also, because the particularly age of between 3-6, is also a stage where children, especially girls, do fantasise about being like mummy and dressing like mummy, often this period is thought of just ‘a phase a child is going through’. It can also be rather sweet to see a little girl walking in her mummy’s high heel shoes with lipstick drawn all over her face and pearls strung around her neck.
But some kids don’t grow out of this stage. Some can remain stuck and fixated.
But it’s not just about how a child dresses, it’s also about how they identify with one or the other parent and in doing so, they can become fixated on that identity.
And even though the fantasy of that identity, with the creativity of dressing up and all that it involves, can seem like fun – it can become embedded into the personality of some children. And depending on how deep the emotion needs are, a particular fixation can become buried in the very psyche or indeed in the unconscious.
Then over time, and as the person matures, this phase may be continued, expressed through dress or behaviour, and so on. And it may even be considered as a natural part of a child’s personality. And it is.
But how does this occur?
The fixation can become internalised and as a result, it can become part of a child’s emotional makeup. Eventually there can be no distinguishable difference between the real or the fantasy.
Consequently, and if this is not addressed or understood, the child may continue behaving according to how they perceive they will be loved right, into adulthood.
This can however, become very worrying for some parents, especially if a boy remains stuck, still wanting to dress in mummy’s clothing or a girls starts dressing in boys clothing.
In certain societies this may even be entirely unacceptable: A child may begin to seem different and this may either be accepted or rejected within the family or a society. As a result, this can become frightening for a child as they sense that they’re being told that there is something wrong with them. This can be traumatic and it can cause massive emotional problems. Not being accepted can be very hurtful and it can result in all sorts of emotional problems from self-worth and self-harm issues to depression and even suicide. And sadly, this could also lead to bullying and excommunication within a community or indeed the family.
And many have experienced horrendous violence, taunting and teasing. And this can lead to further depression and feelings of victimisation.
Often this occurs, because parents are often are unaware of the mixed messages they may be sending their children.
But also there is often no knowledge of psychology or in particular and once again – there is no understanding of Sigmund Freud ‘s Oedipal Stage and how it pertains to child development. Often the stage is either forgotten, or it just doesn’t get taken into account and as a result, many areas often remain unnecessarily perplexing or mystifying – especially for the families involved.
And sadly too, once adulthood is reached and a child leaves home they may again be confronted with society’s expectations and often many have to hide their predispositions. And many have to keep things secret even from their partners.
But I have also witnessed for example, men who have gone on to marry ‘motherly types’ – often in caring positions or indeed women in areas requiring authority. Sometimes this is because a parent was either emotionally or physically unavailable.
But most importantly, if the Oedipal stage had not been worked through, this then provides a further opportunity to continue working through the unfinished or incomplete stage.
Unfortunately relationships are not a form of therapy, so the fantasy that a healing might take place is often thwarted, leaving some feeling very disappointed and let down.
However in some relationships, two people may collude or they may find that whatever one another has to offer is enough. Many can be happily married but others may find it unnerving or even impossible to live with, especially if they never knew that their partner was going to lean in directions that they may find uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this can then lead to a rather sad outcome for both partners and the fixated partner may continue to feel isolated, lonely and possibly never understood.
2) Transitioning, Detransitioning – and the realities:
Sometimes people can declare that they wish to change their gender completely. This is called transitioning. This is when someone changes their gender presentation and/or sex characteristics to match their internal sense of gender. Detransitioning is the halting or reversal of a transition.
Many who have transitioned are happy with the outcome. However for some, this has not been the case. Silencing this reality, doesn’t help others thinking about the process. Every angle and all aspects, including the positives and the negatives, need to be explained and put forward, so that no one remains in the dark. Also, this is a new area and all learning should be pooled as this serves a community best. Most people don’t like it when information is withheld and most people appreciate being told the truth.
So far in the Uk and in Europe most cases put forward are girls wanting to transition. One has to ask why?
In Blog 95 I wrote about the damaging effects of social media and in Blog 90 I touched on the effects of the mother wound, which can elevate the roles of men in preference to women. In Blog 47 I wrote about the expectations of women and the ‘body beautiful’ requirements in the world of pornography. In Blog 57 I wrote about obesity, bulimia and anorexia nervosa.
In all 4 blogs, I wrote about the difficulties that young girls now face. In many ways, it was ever thus. Many cultures all over the world and for centuries have found women to be a burden and men an asset. Baby girls are drowned or left in the open to die, whereas boys are prized and nurtured accordingly.
But now 3 areas have been added to women’s difficulty.
1) The slim and perfect body image is often preferred and glossy magazines continually underline this requirement by photo shopping its models.
2) As women chase the feminine ideal the need for cosmetic surgery is growing. As a result, the world of fillers, botox etc, has become a million dollar business.
3) The pornographic world has insisted on women having the right labia, the right bottom and bosom. And young girls seeing pornography on the Internet are made to think that their bodies are ugly and imperfect. And of course sadly, boys seeing these girls perform also now think that this is what they can expect.
4) Many young and vulnerable girls have been teased or bullied on social media for not having the right body image or indeed, for obtaining enough ‘like’s on Instagram.
Sadly, unless parents start a conversation very early about these issues, often children don’t speak out, because they don’t always have the emotional language the adults have. They feel things, but often they are unable to articulate exactly what they feel. Often what they feel is as result of what some kids at school has said about them and because they are still learning about their bodies and who they are they are not mature or comfortable enough to articulate how devastated they may feel especially if what has been said is true.
Worse still, there are Internet sites that are not helpful. They suggest suicide as the only solution and now gender transition sites are offering another solution: Reverse your role and you won’t have to deal with any of this. It’ll be easier. The pressure will be off.
Finding womanhood too difficult, too disgusting or too dangerous any alternate seems like a relief.
Women are seeing the problem inside themselves rather than the problem lying with society refusing to conform to feminine norms.
And mothers who are constantly dieting or older women who refuse to accept their ageing bodies – are also sending conscious or unconscious messages to young girls that our bodies are ugly and unacceptable.
No young women should be asked to conform to any sexualised role in what is now our hypersexualised culture. Yet very young girls are already listening to girl bands, wearing lipstick and mini skirts and going to parties. If parents dare to question this they are often confronted with a melt down. In other words, parents are now confronted with a whole new culture that many have no idea how to deal with – and even therapists and so on are still learning about it too.
High rates of sexual abuse, bullying, harassment, self-harm, rejection of lesbianism or homophobia all add to this problem. And single parenting can’t be helping either – as both sexes act as a role model and can help provide girls and boys with feedback and a sense of who they or what they represent, which I wrote about in Blog 94 which deals with the realities of single parenting.
I suspect assessment needs to be more thorough and helping accept one’s body should be part of the process first especially if the person is underage so that the right choices are made from the start, providing a better comprehension of what the process involves and what the alternative might be. This should be offered along with long-term therapy.
What I have witnessed is that often parents are utterly shocked when children declare a wish to transition:
I have witnessed that this sudden decision, is not so sudden at all.
Sometimes the feelings and desires have just sat dormant, and as I keep saying – buried feelings will out but when, is anyone’s guess.
However, I suggest that in all these cases, an understanding of the past is investigated along with the present and any mixed messages that have been received, especially via social media.
Sometimes therapy too can also provide a forum enabling the unhealed wounds of any fixation and fantasy to be fully understood and new choices reached that involve a deeper acceptance of any chosen identity.
What any transition can and should involve:
– Altering anyone’s sex – may involve a surgical transition and the whole procedure may take time. It can be arduous, very painful and it usually involves taking medication and various types of hormone therapy for the rest of their lives. Unfortunately, the whole area of transgender medicine is also very under researched and for some this is worrying.
– In some cases, not enough therapy is offered and this may result in people struggling to get emotional support whilst they transition or in a few cases, they may even regret their decision to transition.
– But also, not all therapists are equipped to help in this area. Finding the right therapist may prove difficult too.
– It is also becoming evident that more research is required in order to offer the right knowledge and the right help. There is a lot of quantitative research but not enough qualitative research being don in this area.
And, unfortunately, some people choose to transition without fully understanding exactly what is actually involved.
And in some cases, even if the transition is reversed, some still prefer to transition once again.
b) Transitioning can be due to an earlier negative experience.
– This can refers to anyone who has been sexually abused or sexually harassed.
– Transitioning may be a way of dealing with the abuse. Transitioning into someone else becomes a way of leaving behind the trauma and therefore the transition was a way to escape the past.
– In these cases, long-term therapy would also be advisable especially when isolation, depression and anxiety have been experienced.
c) The role of social media:
Sadly, social media has created echo chambers consisting of groups of people with similar interests. On one level this can provide an important support network of people with similar issues. However, this can also lead to narrower views about certain topics – and it can cut out critical thinking. As a result, it can divide thinking and it can cause division which in turn can lead to death threats, fury and anger. This is certainly not constructive, and neither is it supportive.
If you are a participant on any of these groups, please also ask for professional advice. Speak to your doctor about getting into therapy or try to attend support networks.
We also know that the Internet is full of trolls and people who do not have our best interests at heart. And therefore any drastic measure that is going to remarkably change our bodies needs to be carefully considered and done with the right support.
I repeat: Many who have transitioned are happy with the outcome. However for some, this has not been the case. Silencing this reality, doesn’t help others thinking about the process. Every angle and all aspects, including the positives and the negatives, need to be explained and put forward, so that no one remains in the dark. Also, this is a new area and all learning should be pooled as this serves a community best. Most people don’t like it when information is withheld and most people appreciate being told the truth.
However, it seems that therapy is vital to anyone considering transitioning. It won’t do any harm but it will hopefully help support and shed some light on the process and in so doing, it may even make the process easier.
© 2018 Deidré Wallace All rights reserved.
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