Identity and Disorder

I thought I would try to write a blog. I have been in my PhD placement for just over one month now and before I started I read a series of articles, #PhDchat etc, suggesting that a blog was a useful way to maintain focus. 

So the purpose of this is primarily for me to reframe and reflect on one thing that I do, read, see or hear each week. 

I’m interested in identity – the way it is expressed through personality and the way both are displayed in adulthood and develop throughout our lives. What constitutes identity for example?


Differently normal

I received a TOC on new publications by Social Science and Medicine and found this paper – Guntram L. “Differently normal” and “normally different”: negotiations of female embodiment in women’s accounts of “atypical”sex development. Social Science & Medicine 2013.

It’s a paper by a PhD student in Sweden who has interviewed 23 women with “atypical sexual development” – mainly Turner’s syndrome or an agenesis syndrome affecting their uterus and whole or part of the vagina. I wanted to read the paper because of the potential background feminist framework (something I’m not widely read in academically) and also because it sought to explore the impact of diagnosis on the expression of identity. 

Basically the paper presented two themes relating to expression of sexual identity and one relating to the role of diagnosis. Women presented themselves as “differently normal” – that is the women identify strongly as women but are different owing to the impact of physical disorder, so still women, but slightly different. These differently normal narratives seem to highlight the corrective ability of medical practice. In contrast the “normally different” theme highlighted that variation is in fact normal, we are all different in different ways. I found the presentation of these second narratives stronger, firmer in their expression of identity – some of the participants found strength in their difference, for example a woman with Turner’s syndrome explained that she had been at an advantage in school with knowledge of sex expression through genetics beyond that of her peers, she was proud of this difference.

The role of diagnosis was interesting – diagnosis was empowering, removing feelings of responsibility for their current condition and allowing solidarity with others.


Mental disorder

So, I contrast this with mental disorder. What is the impact of mental disorder on personal identity? Consider Pat Deegan talking about the loss of identity with a diagnosis of schizophrenia here:

Pat Deegan – recovery

She describes her psychiatrist in providing the diagnosis as trying to overwhelm her own identity. Is there something unique about mental disorder that impacts on personal identity? The women with Turner’s syndrome were still women, as were those with an agenesis syndrome – some reported gaining strength from the knowledge that genetically they were “still a woman”. I don’t think that this is lost either in mental disorder, but I do worry that we may adversely impact on the person’s sense of self? I think Deegan’s talking about meaning is also significant, I think that meaning may be a representation of our own sense of identity – the stories we tell ourselves?



More reading I think. This was distinctly uncomfortable so I will be interested to see how long I manage to keep going for.

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