I am not attractive

Like a skinny bird, she sat hunched over in the leatherette Ikea chair, beaming despair as if asking me not to hurt her. But how could I, I struggled hard not to be too protective and find the right professional approach. She told me about her history of eating disorders. Slowly, in successive sessions, she revealed more about herself, telling me about the sexual abuse she had endured as a young teenager. I felt overwhelmed and considered referring her to a knowledgeable colleague. However, she immediately trusted me as a professional because of, as she said, my calmness, openness and warmth. And even if she didn’t say it, I also think through a certain lightness of my approach, sometimes enjoying a laugh or joke.

Her choice of words intrigued me. As she spoke, I heard a talented psychology student with an interest in sociology. With depth, analytical skills, a passion for the profession and a wide vocabulary (slightly larger than mine because we spoke German, which is not my native language). What could we do? Because I felt trusted by her, I decided to take a leap of faith. I let her be my teacher. Relying on her growth potential and my ability to help her reflect on her feelings. This is where the adventure began.

Each session I let her set her own goals, determine what she wanted to work on. She felt valued as an individual as I worked to build her confidence in her intellectual abilities and perhaps more relevantly, the fact that she was worth listening to. Because she was almost the same age as my daughters, I felt extra for her if she sometimes succumbed in everyday life to the idea that her only skill was in sexual acts. She visibly struggled with this deep-seated negative self-image and feared the men she met would notice. And as it may happen, she was sometimes subtly guided in this direction by strangers. In some summer sessions, she wore clothes that showed a lot of her skin. Intuitively, I decide never to talk about it and only pay attention to her reflections, ambition and growing self-knowledge.

Over the months, I noticed a certain lightness in her appearance and she began to make concrete plans for an academic career. I have an academic background myself and her plan sounded very believable. She wanted to postpone her parallel dreams of becoming a therapist, for which she still felt too vulnerable. With her newfound confidence, she began a relationship with a man a few years older than her, which initially made her very happy. Unfortunately, partly because of him, she fell back into older patterns and the relationship became one-sided to her disadvantage. She broke up with him. And at her request, I referred her to a colleague for what she called deeper work to get to the root of her problem.

She ended our therapeutic relationship on a positive note, grateful for what it had brought her. She told me, as she later also wrote in her review of our journey, that the memories of our conversations would guide and sustain her in life. And me, what have I learned? I had learned to sit back, trust and rely on her, as a young person with the potential to offer something of great value to the world in general and vulnerable girls or young women in particular.

1 thought on “I am not attractive”

  1. I let her be my teacher.
    Relying on her growth potential and my ability to help her reflect on her feelings.
    Spot on Matti! This is the work of a true and sincere psychologist.
    Can’t wait to read more!


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