Managing the Self-Esteem Crisis of Dysphoria

My ex has always lived with a deep crisis of self-esteem. Before we lived together he once covered an entire poster board with statements about how much he hated himself and hid it under his bed. I found it on accident while looking for something I’d left at his apartment.

His self-esteem crisis only deepened when he came out as transgender (though he often says otherwise to people who didn’t have to experience the hellish fallout of that revelation).

Here’s a fail-proof recipe for a self-esteem crisis:

  • I am x
  • Yet I am terrible at being x

This is not only cognitive dissonance, which is never any good for anybody, but it’s a cognitive dissonance that leaves the sufferer with no way to succeed at, or even escape the shame of, just being.

I have experience with this as I had a fucked-up childhood. However, I learned to get past it at a very young age. My ex used to ask me how to have better self-esteem, as mine is remarkably good.

He started out feeling that he was a man and that he didn’t make a good man (he wasn’t good enough at sports, he disappointed his dad, the usual stuff).

Then he moved into feeling that he was a woman and now fights a constant feeling that he doesn’t make a good woman (he doesn’t look right, he isn’t accepted by everyone, and so forth).

In light of this dilemma, it’s a wonder more people don’t land on “nonbinary” and stay there, where it would seem they could not fail. The pernicious reach of patriarchy, I guess: everyone must conform to male supremacy or join the sexay ranks of female submissiveness.

Below are the two choices of a person in my ex’s position.

The solution to the first is to learn to love thyself. This has always been the psychology field’s solution to all self-esteem crises, save transgenderism which somehow seems to make itself the exception to every rule.

The solution to the second is a literally insurmountable (point 7), sometimes irreversible (point 2) list of tedious (point 3) actions that must be performed by the sufferer forever. Is it any wonder that solution hasn’t improved outcomes for dysphoria sufferers?

The Old Dilemma The New Dilemma
  • I am a man
  • I am bad at being a man
  • I am a woman
  • I am bad at being a woman
The Assessment
  • Recognize dysphoria as a mistake in thinking, as with anorexia
  • Recognize dysphoria as an indication of a mistake in the body
The Proposed Solution
  • Learn to accept both the mind and body, however “mismatched” they may seem
  • Reject the body
  • “Correct” the body with hormones and/or surgery, developing a lifelong dependence on medical intervention
  • Take on new habits of grooming, makeup and dress that must be continuously maintained
  • Create a new paradigm of thought by revising the definitions of woman, female, lesbian, penis, etc; creating a contrived explanation of sex as a spectrum/as unknowable; redefining the dynamics of sexual orientation as based on “gender” rather than sex, etc
  • Blame/correct/silence everyone with an interest in biological sex differences or who otherwise threaten the new paradigm: random general dissenters, women seeking privacy, radical feminists and others who study class-based oppression, lesbians, conservatives, children, sex educators, journalists, desisters and detransitioners, scientists/ researchers
  • Confront all evidence of sex differences with an ever growing catalog of exceptions (some women are 6′ tall, some have adam’s apples/large hands/broad shoulders, some are infertile, some don’t menstruate, some have high testosterone, some have penises, some have traditionally male careers and hobbies, some rape, etc)
  • Attempt to alter the speech of all other people to reflect the paradigm
  • Revise/erase/hide your past, change your name, alter your legal records, live with constant inconvenience/fear of exposure
This isn’t easy, but is it really worse –> …than this?

7 thoughts on “Managing the Self-Esteem Crisis of Dysphoria

  1. I also loved this. Something in your post sparked recognition in something I went through. I had the opportunity to camp alone for a month a short drive from a beautiful coastal town. During that time I had minimal interactions with other people (just at the coffee shop or whilst surfing etc) and I noticed that all the things i’d thought I did for ‘me’ suddenly seemed less important. I stopped shaving, wearing bras, even looking in mirrors etc (and i never really started again!) I wonder if someone with gender dysphoria, or someone who is trans had a similar opportunity would they gain some insight into how they really feel most comfortable in their bodies..

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Self-esteem” is idiotic. Yes, I know all the “experts” say “we” need it for “positive health” & all that but when I was growing up, nobody talked about self-esteem at all, they talked about behavior & being a good person. I was a grown-up before I heard about “self-esteem” & at the time, I thought it was a good idea but now I am thinking differently … it seems to me that it is just causing trouble. Forget about your stupid self-esteem & just focus on being the BEST PERSON YOU CAN BE. Which is to say, be a great student, be a great musician, be a great whatever the fuck it is. Find your niche & do it.

    I personally think the whole self-esteem movement has made the bullying problem worse. I was bullied & I never cried about it. I fought back. But I wasn’t WORRIED about my stupid self-esteem. I was worried about getting the shit kicked out of me. & when the other girls were calling me names, my mother (who wasn’t always the nicest person in the world, either), told me to IGNORE THEM. Which I did. Like they weren’t even there. Which really confused them & after a while, they left me alone. Really strong magic, which I never forgot. I have used that many, many times. People really do get confused when you don’t engage in their BS.

    This goes for Trans people too. My attitude is now, hey, you’re trans, that’s fabulous! Be trans, be proud! Don’t say you’re a woman (or a man) but be proud of your trans-self! Be proud of WHO YOU ARE.

    If you can’t be proud of who you are, it isn’t about self-esteem, it’s about SOMETHING ELSE. Dysphoria, self-hatred, whatever you want to call it. But to me, it’s about immaturity. Grow the fuck up already.


    • “Forget about your stupid self-esteem & just focus on being the BEST PERSON YOU CAN BE.”

      Agreed, although I might argue that the ability to forget about your stupid self-esteem is in fact a sign of good self-esteem. It’s the ability to realize that there are more important things in the world than yourself and whether you’re “good enough” for whoever or whatever, which is, to your point, an ultimately selfish and immature concern.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Great post! I really disagree with the commenter above who implied that ignoring bullying makes it go away. I’m glad it worked for you, but that was the advice I got from my mother too, and it didn’t work at all. I was bullied all through childhood and adolescence, savagely, and 40 years later I am still dealing with the impact on my personality and willingness to trust others. I had advanced verbal ability at a young age and I wish I had been taught and encouraged to use it against the people who were asking to be put in their place.

    With that said, though, I do agree that the current focus on self-esteem at all costs is ridiculous and we can see where it is getting us – down the rabbit hole.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Good point and I’m glad you articulated it. Sometimes, the bigger, meaner kids just win, despite the prevalent idea that those being bullied can stand their ground or take other actions and prevent that outcome.

      Liked by 2 people

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