Therapy Student

Month: July, 2013

Online Dating and Deception

Note: The author recognizes the heterosexual focus of this article.

The online dating community has recently made finding a partner more accessible but not necessarily easier. According to Cataline Toma and Jeffrey Hancock (2012), men typically exaggerate their height and women underreport their weight in addition to posting less accurate photographs.

Since online dating allows individuals to interact without being physically present, Toma and Hancock (2012) found that a) individuals are inaccurate at detecting prospective partners’ trustworthiness based on their online profile and that b) lengthier self-descriptions were perceived as more trustworthy. The latter finding is important because revealing too much too soon creates a false sense of intimacy (Breunlin, Schwartz, Mac Kune-Karrer, 1997) but is also a pre-requisite of developing trust.

In order to come across as attractive and trustworthy, individuals tend to avoid topics on which they were deceptive in their profile and compensate by emphasizing other more truthful aspects. In other words, individuals tend to build trust and intimacy through deception about their physical appearance (e.g. height and weight) and compensation of achievements (e.g. career) or vice versa. The results confirmed previous research that a) more deceptive profiles contained shorter self-descriptions and b) daters appeared capable of strategically using language in avoidance of terms related to specific profile deceptions such as an inaccurate photograph.

Toma and Hancock (2012) further note that individuals relied on specific cues to determine trustworthiness:

  1. Increased inclusiveness of audience.
  2. Large amount of information disclosed.
  3. Language concreteness.
  4. Language conciseness.

While constructing a deceptive online profile may increase response rates, it will ultimately lead to an unsatisfying relationship and a negative interaction cycle. Instead of relying on an online profile creation service, which is an inaccurate representation, the best policy is to a) post an accurate recent photograph that positively reflects the “about me” section of the profile and b) practice patience because pervasive cultural expectations of immediacy affect the online dating community. It is not impossible to have successful relationship after meeting online, but always remember to fall in love when you are ready and not when you are lonely.


Breunlin, D.C., Schwartz, R.C., & Mac Kune-Karrer, B. (1997). Metaframeworks: Transcending the models of family therapy. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass Publishers.

Toma, C. & Hancock, J. (2012). What lies beneath: The linguistic traces of deception in online dating profiles. Journal of Communication, 62(1), 78-97.



Perfectionism is the The cursor blinks away as I attempt try to construct coherent and grammatically correct sentences in my head because they must appear perfect in the word processor. I start to feel anxious because nothing comes to mind. Sentences cannot can’t contain contractions and the first person perspective is absolutely unacceptable. What would the reader think? The American writer author Charles Baxter wrote that “when the details fit in perfectly, something is probably wrong with the story.” This post is going to be difficult because of its personal nature and because I’m will not will turn going to turn off the internal auto correct.

We all strive for perfection in one regard or another but rarely take time to understand its general definition – flawlessness. In that sense, striving for perfection is premeditated failure because it does not doesn’t exist despite the ancient Greeks’ consideration that perfection is perhaps the single requirement for beauty and high art. As a matter of fact, I have doubts doubt that Leonardo da Vinci, one of the most diverse individuals in history, was striving for perfection when painting the Mona Lisa.

I am In the process of co-authoring a journal article on raising academically gifted children I came across an article entitled Gifted High School Students’ Perspectives on the Development of Perfectionism. According to Speirs Neumeister and colleagues (2009):

“children may develop perfectionism in response to exposure to harsh environments, including physical abuse or psychological distress caused by love withdrawal, experience of shame, or chaos within the family” (p. 199).

It’s important to note that the definition of a harsh environment varies considerably and does not doesn’t have to consist of physical abuse or acute psychological distress. A more applicable definition is anything that is outside of the normative developmental path and/or disrupts functioning. The aforementioned hypothesis is then based on the assumption that perceived self-worth is contingent on high intellectual performance and the pursuit of perfection an attempt to preserve self-worth.

In layman’s terms, the attempt to preserve self-worth is an attempt to avoid shame. According to the American scholar and psychotherapist Brené Brown (2010):

“understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life…because…research has shown that perfectionism hampers success…and…is often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis” (p. 59).

Brown is absolutely right in that striving for perfection is a shield against shame and pain from the past. As a refugee and immigrant, I personally struggled with perfection because it was simply unattainable in the past. I grew up impoverished and cut-off from family, which led to a continuous strife to prove that I’m worthy of attention. It even shifted to my educational pursuits and manifests as impostor syndrome, a belief that one is unqualified in his or her profession and awaiting discovery as fraudulent by colleagues.

As I’m writing this, a professionally dressed young man across catches my attention with his leather-bound notebook, neatly organized highlighters, and near-perfect demeanor. In admiration of his discipline I can’t help but wonder whether others’ perception is worth suffering the socioemotional pain of seeking answers to questions one is afraid to ask.


Speirs Neumeister, K.L., Williams, K.K., & Cross, T.L. (2009). Gifted high school students’ perspectives on the development of perfectionism. The Roeper Review, 198-206.


Brown, B. (2010). The gifts of imperfections: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, MN: Hazelden.

Flett, G.L. & Hewitt, P.L. (2002). Perfectionism: Theory, research, and treatment. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.



Since the popular media often misconstrues mental health information, I will publicly answer mental health and relationship questions from members while maintaining privacy – note that questions will be answered in the order they are received.

Please submit questions to

Men’s Body Image

As an athlete and generally health conscious individual, it is easy to recognize societal expectations on body image. The name of Adonis, a Greek god of beauty and desire, is applied in modern times to handsome men. A spontaneous Google search of “Adonis Effect” immediately produces images of men with muscular physiques, forum posts on supplement advice, and an advertisement on transforming one’s body “…into the irresistible form sane women just cannot keep their hands off.” While it has generally been accepted that girls and women are exposed to a tremendous amount pressure in regards to body image, there is an increasing trend of boys and men facing identical challenges. According to the American Society of Plastic Surgeons (2011), men are accounting for a significant increase in cosmetic surgery procedures.

Professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association’s Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinity have long advocated for the examination of masculinity but popular men’s magazines such as Esquire and GQ continually perpetuate stereotypes as they are easily accessible to the public. Ryan McKelley, Ph.D. (n.d.) notes that there is a real need for clinicians and researchers to take another look at men’s issues relating to masculinity. Adriana Young, M.A. and colleagues (2012) note that societal expectations dominate popular media for boys and men by often representing unattainable muscular ideals. Internationally, Stella Chia and Nainan Wen (2010) interviewed Chinese college students and noted that perception of media effects on the self was positively associated with body dissatisfaction. Additionally, the perceived effects on the self also triggered intentions to engage in body image improvement behaviors such as dieting, regular exercise, and even cosmetic surgery.

Men’s body issues are not an isolated incident because they impact interpersonal relationships and ultimately functioning. Restrictive dieting and immoderate exercise can slowly deteriorate interpersonal relationships, lead to a diminished quality of life, and a diagnosable mental disorder. While partners may not understand their significant other’s ongoing struggle for a variety of reasons, one of which is that it may not be apparent, there must be a conscious effort to normalize their feelings through a safe environment.


American Society of Plastic Surgeons. (2011). Men fuel rebound in cosmetic surgery. Retrieved from the American Society of Plastic Surgery:

Chia, S.C. and Wen, N. (2010). College men’s third-person perceptions about idealized body image and consequent behavior. Sex Roles, 63, 542-555.

McKelley, R. (n.d.). Psychology professor discusses men’s issues on weeklyradio show. Retrieved from University of Wisconsin at La Crosse Campus News:

Young, A. F., Gabriel, S., and Hollar, J.L. (2012). Batman to the rescue! The protective effects of parasocial relationships with muscular superheroes on men’s body image. Journal of  Experimental Social Psychology, 49(1), 173- 177.


Pope, H. G., Philips, K. A, and Olivardia, R. (2000). The Adonis complex: The secret crisis of male body obsession. New York, NY: The Free Press


While Princeton University defines psychotherapist as one “who deals with mental and emotional disorders,” the modern image of a psychotherapist is drastically different. As relationship specialists , marriage and family therapists are trained to assess , diagnose, and treat individuals, couples, families and groups.

Since the process of understanding and conceptualizing relationships is complicated, this blog is dedicated to personal thoughts of a doctoral student.


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