Overvalued ideas and a deeply held belief about identity

Sometimes we can see our children’s immersion in this new identity as a sort of delusion: the unshakeable belief in something that is untrue. Previously intellectual young people, often with a love of science, are suddenly taken with the concept that they are somehow the opposite sex; and may assert that they always have been. Despite the claims by particular strata of the mainstream media, the vast majority of the population believe that you are born male or female (we will not cover intersex conditions here, but they do not prove that sex is a spectrum as each can be categorised as male or female). Hence the belief that our male child is somehow in possession of the wrong body, or that our female child has always, in fact, been our son can strike any parent as a little off the wall.

But it is not widely held or accepted that these beliefs are delusional in nature. It is more akin to an overvalued idea. This concept has been around for a long time, having first been described in the early 1890s, and plays a part in many psychological conditions.

Overvalued ideas about one’s weight can contribute towards the development of anorexia, an overvalued idea about the presence of a physical deformity (dysmorphophobia) can lead to sufferers pursuing medical and surgical alterations to their bodies. They are often rooted in prior experiences of the individual, so a young man who has lost several family members to lung cancer may become convinced that the condition is contagious. In the same way that many parents can look at their child’s experiences (bullying and ostracisation for social non-conformity and not fitting in, likes and dislikes not conforming to stereotypes because of autism) could lead a child or young person to believe that their sense of ‘otherness’ could be because they are born in the wrong body.

To read more about this topic with regard to issues of identity and a cognitive behavioural approach to these beliefs, this article by David Veale of Kings College, London is very good.