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Saturday, June 23, 2018

Outbreak: On Transgender Teens and Psychic Epidemics


By Lisa Marchiano,
Psychotherapist and Certified Jungian Analyst


Having lived through both World Wars, Jung was aware of the dangers of what he termed “psychic epidemics.” He discussed the spontaneous manifestation of an archetype within collective life as indicative of a critical time during which there is a serious risk of a destructive psychic epidemic.

Currently, we appear to be experiencing a significant psychic epidemic that is manifesting as children and young people coming to believe that they are the opposite sex, and in some cases taking drastic measures to change their bodies. Of particular concern to the author is the number of teens and tweens suddenly coming out as transgender without a prior history of discomfort with their sex.

“Rapid-onset gender dysphoria” is a new presentation of a condition that has not been well studied. Reports online indicate that a young person's coming out as transgender is often preceded by increased social media use and/or having one or more peers also come out as transgender. These factors suggest that social contagion may be contributing to the significant rise in the number of young people seeking treatment for gender dysphoria.

Current psychotherapeutic practice involves immediate affirmation of a young person's self-diagnosis, which often leads to support for social and even medical transition. Although this practice will likely help small numbers of children, there may also be many false positives.

The earliest written record from the town of Hamelin in Lower Saxony is from 1384. It states simply, “It is 100 years since our children left.” Historical accounts indicate that sometime in the 13th century, a large number of the town's children disappeared or perished, though the details of the event remain a mystery. “The Pied Piper of Hamelin” is, as far I as have been able to determine, the only Grimm's fairy tale that is based substantially on a historical event. Both the actual event and the Grimm's tale suggest an archetypal situation in which adults have allowed children to be seduced away into peril. This tale is a disconcertingly apt metaphor for various social contagions that have overtaken collective life throughout the centuries.

Having witnessed the destruction and horror of World War II, Jung had much to say about what he termed “psychic epidemics.” Several times throughout The Collected Works, he stressed that such “mass psychoses” are the main threat facing humanity today. “The gods have become disease,” Jung famously wrote. “Zeus no longer rules Olympus but rather the solar plexus, and produces curious specimens for the doctor's consulting room, or disorders the brains of politicians and journalists who unwittingly let loose psychic epidemics on the world”

(1967 Jung, C. G. (1967). The collected works of C G Jung. Vol. 13. Alchemical studies. (H. Read, M. Fordham, G. Adler, & W. McGuire, Eds.; R. F. C. Hull, Trans). Bollingen Series XX. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. [Google Scholar], p. 37). When we smugly imagine ourselves above the influence of contents from the collective unconscious, then we are most susceptible to possession by them.

Read the rest on Taylor & Francis Online.

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