Understanding Gender Dysphoria

Gender dysphoria is an extreme discomfort that arises from a discrepancy between the gender that a person was assigned at birth and their experienced or expressed gender. People with gender dysphoria can experience severe anguish from the inability to relate to their assigned gender, leaving them to feel overwhelmed by a deep feeling of being trapped inside a body that doesn’t match the person they feel themselves to be.

On top of immense feelings of isolation, interpersonal conflicts, rejection, and judgment from family, friends, and society at large, dysphoric individuals struggle with intensely elevated risks of depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, self-harm, and suicide.

What Contributes to a Diagnosis?

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines gender dysphoria in children, adolescents, and adults as a marked incongruence or incompatibility between one’s expressed gender and their assigned gender, lasting for at least 6 months. Before diagnosing patients with gender dysphoria, most healthcare providers take into account the quantity and intensity of the following symptoms, especially if any of them are impairing the individual’s ability to function at school, home, or in social settings:

In Children

  • A strong desire to be a different gender or the insistence that they are another gender and the desire to be treated accordingly
  • A strong preference for wearing clothes that are typically associated with the expressed gender and resistance to wear clothing associated with the assigned gender at birth
  • A strong preference for cross-gender roles during make-believe and fantasy play
  • A severe dislike for one’s sexual anatomy
  • A firm conviction that they have the typical feelings and reaction of their expressed gender

In Adults and Adolescents

  • An incongruence between the individual’s expressed gender and their primary and secondary sex characteristics, lasting for at least six months
  • A strong desire to change or remove one’s primary and/or secondary sex characteristics
  • A strong desire for the primary and secondary sex characteristics of the expressed gender
  • A strong conviction to be and be treated as their expressed gender
  • A strong conviction that they have the typical feelings and reaction of their expressed gender

Finding Support for Yourself or Your Loved Ones

There are several ways individuals can receive support to help alleviate distress surrounding their gender identity. Most often, patients engage with an effective form of psychotherapy such as dialectical behavior therapy. DBT helps patients interpret and more effectively manage their emotions while also working with a therapist to validate and process their feelings. The therapist can also help a dysphoric patient develop effective coping skills designed to reduce risks of self-harm and suicide.

If an individual is experiencing mental health symptoms such as those associated with depression or anxiety, treatment for these symptoms can be incorporated into their DBT session, which can function as a combination of talk therapy and skills building. DBT can also serve as a great way for families to understand better and support their loved ones struggling with gender dysphoria.

How to Support Your Child

As a parent looking to support your child who may be struggling with gender dysphoria, it’s important to do your research and adopt the right approach. Some suggestions include:

  • Provide a safe space for your child to feel accepted and supported. You can do this by allowing your child to express themselves freely in front of you without judgment. Rejection and judgment are enormous obstacles for those suffering from gender dysphoria.
  • Be patient. Dysphoria is profoundly personal and can be intensely challenging to discuss with another person. Your child will come to you when they are ready. Be sure to let them know that you are there to listen any time they want to talk.
  • Do your research. If you’re reading this right now, chances are you are looking for ways to help yourself or someone you love. You’re doing the right thing. Look into which forms of support are available at your child’s school or from local services. Find supportive groups they can attend that can help reduce their sense of isolation.
  • Communication is everything. Listen to what they are saying and validate their feelings. You can serve as their biggest advocate by showering them with the support they need. Individuals with supportive families tend to have a decrease in mental health symptoms and reduced risks of self-injury and suicide.
  • Ask your child how you can better support them. They will let you know how they want to be addressed. Respect their wishes and do your best to adapt to their preferences.

Grappling with gender dysphoria can be a painful and confusing part of a person’s life. Having access to healthy sources of support can make an invaluable difference to your loved ones as they navigate their exploration of gender identity. The right forms of acceptance and assistance can lower mental health symptoms like depression and anxiety and reduce the risk of destructive behaviors like substance abuse, self-harm, and suicide. Learning the different terminology associated with gender dysphoria and gender identity can allow you to better process and understand what your loved ones are experiencing. There is a lot of information out there, so be sure to find trustworthy and factual resources. If you are unsure where to start or need any other kind of support, reach out to Achieve Concierge. Our team of professionals can help adults, children, and families on this journey. You do not need to figure this out all by yourself. Call us today at (619) 393-5871.

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