Psycho-Babble Psychology Thread 352524

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Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by Miss Honeychurch on May 31, 2004, at 20:20:02

I think this is an interesting topic and I'm starting this thread from reading Dinah's latest postings.

My T NEVER EVER EVER comments on my appearance. Like GG, I have cut five inches off my hair, gone in looking very adorable times, and other times gone in looking awful. He never comments. I even try to bring up some body image problems with him (in part to get him to comment on my looks) but he always glosses over this, and says one my self-esteem/self-respect improves so will my body image.

So, do your T's comment on your appearance? And do you think it belongs in the therapeutic relationship? I think this is a much more slippery slope between female clients and male T's.

I have friends whose T's comment on their appearnce all the time but never comliment their intelligence, creativity, bravery, etc. I get this all the time from my T and wouldn't trade those compliments in for the world for a physical comment.

Thoughts?

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy Miss Honeychurch

Posted by Pfinstegg on May 31, 2004, at 20:45:58

In reply to Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Miss Honeychurch on May 31, 2004, at 20:20:02

I couldn't agree with you more! My T. never makes any comments about my appearance, which doesn't actually change that much, although my feelings about it range from feeling pretty to feeling really unattractive- all due to inner feelings of mine, not to objective reality.

He doesn't actually give many compliments at all. Rarely, he'll praise something I did in the past, saying it showed strength, courage or generosity, but he doesn't offer any compliments or appraisals of anything going on in the present between us. I think I like it that way; he is very much *there* for me emotionally in our interactions- that is what means so much to me. A compliment might even seem a little distancing!

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by DaisyM on May 31, 2004, at 23:19:02

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy Miss Honeychurch, posted by Pfinstegg on May 31, 2004, at 20:45:58

My Therapist has commented on my appearance only twice -- the fir. st time I arrived in jeans, after six months in business attire and once when I was really, really dressed up after giving a speech.

I would find it hard to respond to comments on my appearance unless I asked first. But if it was something I was working on, I'm sure he would be willing to offer supportive comments. Or at least question closely my motives for wanting to change stuff.

In my business, we work with lots of kinds of families. With new home visitors we often remind them that if someone thinks you can make a judgement positively (a compliment) then they might also assume that you can judge negatively. So we are careful with compliments. I would guess the same holds true in therapy.

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by pegasus on May 31, 2004, at 23:43:20

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by DaisyM on May 31, 2004, at 23:19:02

My old T complimented me every now and then. Once he told me that a shirt I was wearing looked good on me. Once he said I had a beautiful smile (when he was pointing out that I was smiling while saying something really sad). Once he said I had beautiful hands, when he was asking about a new ring I was wearing. But that's about it, stretched over two years. I liked these appearance compliments, but didn't really need or desire them.

I never commented on his appearance either, come to think of it. I thought once about telling him which of his shirts was my favorite. He had this one that looked especially good on him. And I loved certain things about his appearance: his lips, his eyes. I never had much of a romantic/sexual thing for him, but it still seemed inappropriate to comment.

He complimented me on non-appearance things more regularly. He would say I was kind and intelligent and "wonderful" whatever that means. I lived for *those* compliments, but could never completely remember what he'd said afterwards.

Interesting question. I'm curious too about what others' experiences are, and whether they like compliments.

pegasus

 

Compliments in general

Posted by Racer on June 1, 2004, at 0:46:47

In reply to Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Miss Honeychurch on May 31, 2004, at 20:20:02

It's hard for me to hear the sorts of compliments I've gotten in my recent adventures in therapy. I suppose a lot of it has to do with not feeling as though the therapist knew the first thing about me, so her compliments -- about how 'strong' I was, etc -- never felt sincere. They felt like a bone being thrown to the pathetic rat of a dog. That therapist did make a few comments on my clothes, but never my appearance. She liked a pair of sandals I wear a lot -- but I think just wanted to know if she could buy a pair like them. She also commented on a top I made. That, too, felt like a 'let me give the poor, pathetic creature some reassurance', rather than a true compliment. (Especially since I wore a lot of other tops I've made with no comment. I thought and think now that she only said something because I had mentioned actually going outside the house alone to buy the yarn. She asked if I'd bought the yarn, and I said I was wearing it.)

Our marriage counselor does make complimentary comments at times, and those feel sincere and do a lot for me. I've broken down crying over the silliest things in there, too, because of it. But those compliments never feel empty, and always seem to be based on something I can point to myself, so they're harder to reject.

I guess it really depends on how genuine the compliments feel to me. I'm that way outside of therapy, too -- I just don't take compliments well in general. The compliments I love to get, though, those that mean the most to me, are based on INFORMED JUDGEMENT. Someone who says something like, "Oh, knitting is way too complicated, I could never do it -- wow, you MADE that? It's wonderful!" That just doesn't cut it, it feels too much like, "wow, a trained monkey" to me. On the other hand, when someone who knits says something like, "Oh, what a clever edging on that top!" That's a compliment I can take in, and gratefully.

Dunno quite if this relates to the question, but it's an answer to something, I guess.

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by tabitha on June 1, 2004, at 1:32:56

In reply to Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Miss Honeychurch on May 31, 2004, at 20:20:02

Mine always comments if I wear something new, change my hair, or have on makeup. I'll go forever and wear the exact same couple of outfits, so any change stands out, and I think she sees change like that as a positive sign for me. I like getting the comments. To me it's a little girl thing-- a little girl wants folks to notice her new dress or her new hair ribbon and tell her she looks pretty.

My T always dresses elegantly herself, and I comment on her things. She thanks me but doesn't dwell on my remarks.

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by babbgal on June 1, 2004, at 2:13:57

In reply to Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Miss Honeychurch on May 31, 2004, at 20:20:02

Funny, my psychiatrist always points out when I wear sneakers, which is very rarely. I typically wear black Doc Martens boots, which he has commented on a few times -- "cool shoes." He's a few years younger than me, so I give him a hard time..."Dr. X., you always comment on my footwear!" He laughs.

My T. has never commented on my appearance, whether I go into session in jeans and sneakers or a skirt and boots. He is very free with other compliments, which I appreciate because I know he's being honest and not dishing them out frivolously...he has said positive things about my intelligence and creativity that I will never forget. Those comments have meant a lot to me.

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by cubic_me on June 1, 2004, at 6:29:14

In reply to Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Miss Honeychurch on May 31, 2004, at 20:20:02

My T has never commented on my appearance. I tend to wear a lot of different stuff, and whether I go smart or casual depends on what I've just been doing or am about to do. Near the beginning I would go in sometimes looking a bit of a mess, but she never commented. It doesn't really bother me that she doesn't mention what I look like, I'm sure she takes it into consideration in her judgement of me, but chooses not to say anything. Once she mentioned that I was attractive, which is a nice comment to make, but I didn't feel like I needed her to say that.

It's interesting seeing what other T s make of their client's appearance. I have wondered whethere she would pass comment if I came in with purple hair or just in a bikini, but my feeling is that she would just smile and carry on!

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by lucy stone on June 1, 2004, at 9:11:21

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by cubic_me on June 1, 2004, at 6:29:14

My T has never commented on my appearance either positively or negatively. This is good because I would take a negative comment very hard. I have a very difficult time accepting compliments so a positive comment would also be hard. We have talked a great deal about why compliments are so hard for me. He sometimes compliments me on things other than appearance but is very cautious when he does so. I am always trying to please him, just I like I try and please everyone else in my life and we are working on that. He wants me to know and act on my own desires, not on the desires of other people. If he gave me compliments I would think that I had succeeded in pleasing him and he doesn't want that. He says he will never infantalize me. I have given him two presents I bought for him on vacation, one small and one a bit larger. He says thank you and that's it, no follow up on whether or not he enjoyed them. I gave him a box of cookies last Christmas and he told me that his entire family enjoyed them, although we had to talk about why it was important to me that they liked them. I often comment on his appearance because I like the way he dresses. He buys his clothes at Lands End and LL Bean and dresses much like my husband does. Sometimes he wears a suit because he has meetings to attend and I really don't like that. I always comment on it and and we have to talk about why I don't like it. It's upsetting to me for several reasons.

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by antigua on June 1, 2004, at 12:42:56

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by lucy stone on June 1, 2004, at 9:11:21

My T compliments me and vice versa. I know I mentioned it before, but sometimes we wear the same color combination so that has come to be a joke if it happens. She has beautiful clothes and I like the variety and comment on it. She usually points out something new I have--hair, clothes, shoes, etc. I like it, it makes me feel like she's paying attention.
antigua

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by Poet on June 1, 2004, at 14:39:26

In reply to Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Miss Honeychurch on May 31, 2004, at 20:20:02

Mine once said she liked my earrings, but that's about it. She doesn't usually say anything about my appearance, but since I've lost weight in the last month, she keeps saying I look thin and asking if I'm eating. I guess she notices baggy jeans, but not baggy shirts that are inside out as mine was last week.

Poet

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by LG04 on June 1, 2004, at 15:20:26

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Poet on June 1, 2004, at 14:39:26

My therapist compliments me a lot, both on things I am wearing or a haircut, etc, and otherwise (kind, intelligent, etc.). I compliment her a lot too, in the same ways (more on the "otherwise," less on the appearance). I've never really thought about it actually. It feels fine to me, feels natural. I think I agree with Antigua, that to me it means she notices the whole me. I have told her that I am very sensitive about my weight and don't want her to compliment me if I lose, or comment (obviously!) if I gain. She forgot and asked me the other day if I've lost weight, because I had lost a bit. But I overlooked it. We've talked about my weight issues and she has reassured me many times that my being overweight doesn't matter one iota to her, and I do believe her. (my mom was obsessed with my weight so it's an issue for me) She has told me a couple of times that she thinks I am pretty. That made me feel good since she has to look at me for more than two hours a week...:) At least I know she's not suffering!

I do know that I think about what I am wearing when I go to see her usually. But I think that's an issue that comes from a lifetime of a mother who obsessed over my appearance. It hasn't been a big enough issue for me to bring up with my therapist, there are always more pressing issues to talk about. Maybe someday we'll get to it.

LG

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by Miss Honeychurch on June 1, 2004, at 16:22:06

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by LG04 on June 1, 2004, at 15:20:26

Seems to be a lot bigger issue between female patients and male therapists. Seems the female T's as a rule have no problem with physical compliments.

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by Dinah on June 1, 2004, at 21:53:42

In reply to Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Miss Honeychurch on May 31, 2004, at 20:20:02

Well, you all know that my therapist has negative countertransference about my appearance, and so does mention it whenever he gets a chance.

He also compliments me from time to time on an outfit or on bright colors. I guess he thinks they look cheerful and may reflect my mood.

He comments more on the pictures of younger me that I bring in every once in a while. He always seems surprised that I once looked not half bad. But most people do. I look so different in my younger pictures that most people don't connect it at all to the person I am now, and are thus surprised.

I never ever make physical comments about anyone's looks, hair color, hairstyle, weight gain or loss, etc. I've got this internal code that to comment on such things isn't terribly polite. Well, maybe things like hair style. I might say, I really like that outfit. Or you got your hair cut (or you shaved your beard). It looks nice! To me, complimenting someone on their weight loss implies that you thought they previously were overweight. And ditto on most other looks comments. I would never dream of mentioning even the most obvious hair color changes. I stick to a generic "You look chipper (happy, glowing, nice, whatever) today if they look better, and polite silence implying that I don't notice if they look worse.

But I've got lots of silly internal rules about politeness that don't really match those of the outside world.

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by lucy stone on June 1, 2004, at 22:17:42

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Dinah on June 1, 2004, at 21:53:42

I like your rules. I am 6'2" tall, and people have always commented on my height. I was 6' tall in the 8th grade and I hated, absolutely hated, people who asked me how tall I was. I already felt like a freak, and having random people comment about it made it worse. If i reacted in a negative way they would get offended and usually offered a comment how they always wished they were tall. Maybe they did, but I never saw what that had to do with me. I certainly didn't give them the right to ask intrusive questions about me. Since then I have been extremely cautious about commenting on people's appearance. You never know what people are sensitive about.

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy Dinah

Posted by gardenergirl on June 2, 2004, at 9:26:10

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Dinah on June 1, 2004, at 21:53:42

Dinah,
I like your politeness and rules. It always bugs me when someone says, "You look nice, today." Was I that bad yesterday? And every other day?

I know that is not what they meant, but adding that "today" does imply that you look better than your usual presentation. And I am usually pretty satisfied with the usual (except for the weight, sigh.)

Take care,
gg

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by gardenergirl on June 2, 2004, at 9:33:56

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by lucy stone on June 1, 2004, at 22:17:42

I forgot about a couple of appearance-related interpretations my T made that made me laugh. These are the only times he has even hinted at something about my appearance. I think I have posted this somewhere in the past, so if you have heard it before, sorry.

First, one day I did not have to go to work, so I went in jeans and a more casual hair and makeup. I never get to wear jeans, it seems, so I take advantage every chance I get. He said, "it seems like you are loosening up." Lord. I suppose I could have felt like I had to dress professionally for my appt., but why would I do that?

Second, one day I was wearing boots with a long, full skirt. He said, "When you are going to wade through the muck (meaning deal with difficulty and stressful stuff), you have to protect yourself (i.e. put your Wellie's on?)".
Fashion, dude! Fashion!

Now that I think about it, when I brought him a picture that I call my inner geek (three years old, on Thanksgiving day, with awful seventies clothes, bad haircut from Mom, cat-eye glass, grinning like a goon, you get the picture), he commented on "what brilliant smile" I had. Um, yeah, brilliant. Although the smile is about the only thing you can pick out to compliment in that picture unless you were a fan of seventies fashion. Or just think the kid is so weird looking that she's cute. (That's what I think. I really like my inner geek.)

I have complimented my clients at times, on a new haircut or a color. I tend to do it more automatically versus think much about it (I'll have to think about that....). But I don't think I have ever complimented my male clients on appearance. Especially the last one, who was a very good-looking 19 year old, charismatic boy. That would not have been therapeutic for him. And it would have felt really odd to me, versus easy like with the female clients.

Interesting thread.

gg

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by tinydancer on June 2, 2004, at 10:08:35

In reply to Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Miss Honeychurch on May 31, 2004, at 20:20:02

This is a really interesting topic, Miss Honey! I liked hearing about the differences from each and every one of you. I have a male therapist, and he actually isn't much older than me (I think 5 years or so?)

When I have appointments I am always dressed in my best or newest outfit (but of course!) and I am really happy if he comments, but he doesn't make a habit of it. I'm really into fashion and trends and stuff so sometimes he comments "Wow, your earrings match your socks!!" He's said a few times, "Look at you!" when I'm really fancy. He told me once that I had a very nice smile. (That's actually such a nice compliment, isn't it?) Also, I've asked him if he thinks I'm pretty. But I've also asked him if he thinks I'm boring, smart, if I talk to much, if he is proud of me and so on, so for me its just part of the territory really.

I think it just varies from T to T. I don't think it is a problem to give people compliments. In fact I was discussing this at my T today: the fact that giving someone a compliment is positive, sort of like, "Share the love!" I understand Dinah's dilemma and agree that it is usually best to just comment on how they look "especially nice" today or something, without implying that they don't always. I recently commented to someone that they looked thinner forgetting she had once had bulimia. Woops...Slippery slope indeed!

 

Re: Comments on Therapist's Appearance

Posted by Racer on June 2, 2004, at 13:02:29

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by tinydancer on June 2, 2004, at 10:08:35

Today I noticed that I can give and receive compliments with our marriage counselor. I do kinda deflect her compliments, but at least I do it silently.

She's quite heavy, and I did comment once that she looked to have lost some weight. Obviously, before reading some of the comments here, which would have made me uncomfortable doing so. She was excited by it, told us about her weight loss plan a little (while walking to the office, not in session), and today we talked about her skirt. (It had pompon fringe, and I mentioned always wanting to put that on a skirt, but being afraid I'd be too self-conscious about wearing it.) And I do 'ask' for her approval at times, by wearing things I've made and pointing them out to her. Today, I wore a top I'd made -- sewn, not knit -- and told her about dyeing it with a technique I'd never used before.

Did I deflect that compliment? "Oh, people who don't know how to sew always think it's so amazing, but only because they don't know how easy it really is. Unless, of course, you make it harder for yourself the way I do. And the dyeing is no big deal anyway, even if you've never used that technique before. Besides, I'm only OK with the way it turned out." Yeah, I deflect compliments.

You know what the difference is, though? The things she says in the sessions about me, about my reactions to things, feel so True -- in that "what oft was thought, but ne'er so well exprest" sort of way that Pope was referring to. The larger Truth, that revelatory Truth that leads to therapeutic breakthroughs. So, when she says something nice, it feels as if it must also be True in some sense, and it's very calming and validating.

Great topic, by the way.

 

bikini! cubic_me

Posted by crushedout on June 2, 2004, at 19:36:20

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by cubic_me on June 1, 2004, at 6:29:14


oh, i've thought about going in in a bikini many times! i want to! you don't think she would mind? alright, the truth is i'd be waaaay too self-conscious.

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy Dinah

Posted by crushedout on June 2, 2004, at 22:13:31

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Dinah on June 1, 2004, at 21:53:42


I don't think those are silly. I also don't mention weight loss -- well, certainly not as a compliment. i might mention it if i'm worried about someone's health, but it would have to be a good friend. I hate when someone tells me "you're so skinny -- you look great" -- what an anorexic mentality. i feel like saying, "you should be ashamed of yourself." especially when i'm severely underweight as i have been. now that i've gained about 20 pounds since i quit drugs and cigarettes are they gonna tell me i'm fat? it's a setup. not real smart.

 

Re: bikini! crushedout

Posted by cubic_me on June 3, 2004, at 4:37:25

In reply to bikini! cubic_me, posted by crushedout on June 2, 2004, at 19:36:20

>
> oh, i've thought about going in in a bikini many times! i want to! you don't think she would mind? alright, the truth is i'd be waaaay too self-conscious.

I'd never have the courage to do that - tho' at least she would see that I do have enough flab to be complaining about...damn the fattening meds!

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy Dinah

Posted by karen_kay on June 3, 2004, at 8:08:47

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy, posted by Dinah on June 1, 2004, at 21:53:42

dinah, about weight loss..... i've trained myself to say it. but i still hate to hear it. if someone says 'oh karen, have you lost weight?' i hear 'you used to be fat and now you aren't' so, we are in the same boat there. but, i only make comments regarding weight to my close friends and family, those who i wouldn't mind commenting if i lost weight.

my boyfriend's parents used to comment on my weight loss often (my weight goes up and down often) (and never anything negative of course, just the basic 'you look like you've lost weight, ect.). i finally told him that if they persisted, i wouldn't visit anymore. i think he told them, because i've not heard another comment about it. or perhaps i just haven't changed my weight?

 

Re: Comments on weight

Posted by Racer on June 3, 2004, at 8:48:13

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy Dinah, posted by karen_kay on June 3, 2004, at 8:08:47

Reading karen_kay's post brought up comments about my weight, and how they tend to make me feel. A former girlfriend, who knew me when I was not experiencing any sort of disordered eating, saw me for the first time after it started up again and said something like, "I know you say you're underweight, but I think this is the best I've ever seen you look." Since I was underweight, and knew it, that was a bit of a stunner.

And my family is notorious for totally inappropriate comments about my weight. When I've gained weight from the drugs, they'll come after me constantly with 'jokes' and critical comments. (usually framed as, "You know I love you, so I want you to know you've gained too much weight.") The one time I said that it was from the drugs, I was told that I should, therefore, stop taking the drugs. (After all, if I couldn't or wouldn't say what I was depressed about, then I wasn't really depressed. Just lazy, weak, and displaying bad character.) Now that I'm restricting my eating again, I get the comments about being too thin. I've said, a number of times, that my weight needs to be off limits, that it's not a topic for conversation, but that just means that they change their strategy: "I know you don't want to talk about your weight, but you could start drinking Ensure to gain some weight..." or "I know you said we couldn't talk about your weight, but you need to hear this..." That sort of thing. (In other words, I was spawned by a family of human steamrollers.)

I'm pretty careful when I comment on others' weight. Usually, I only say something when I *know* that someone has been dieting or exercising to slim down, and it really shows. And I never comment to anyone who hasn't already heard my mini-lecture about women looking better with their natural curves, and health being more important than appearance or a number on the scale.

The other thing that I react to with comments on my weight is that I doubt very much that many people realize how much/little I actually weigh. I am not that thin right now, despite what my family is saying, but I know from the scale that I'm probably 10 or 15 pounds less than most of them would guess. That means that most comments strike me as being based on something other than me -- notice any sort of a theme to my life? Comments on my weight usually add to that feeling that I'm actually invisible, and that people are seeing something with no relation to me.

OK. 'Nuf rambling

 

Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy

Posted by Dinah on June 3, 2004, at 9:34:53

In reply to Re: Comments on Appearance in Therapy Dinah, posted by crushedout on June 2, 2004, at 22:13:31

I'm glad to hear that this particular set of rules isn't one of mine with no basis in reality. I agree with what everyone has said. Weight comments are especially tricky. I don't like getting them either.

And Karen Kay, a family member once commented on my extra weight at a time when I really wasn't overweight, just not super slim. I've been told that I have a manner of freezing people with a look when I'm offended and I must have utilized that. I never heard another word about it. Even when I got really overweight.


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