Karen's Blogs

Blogs are brief, to-the-point, conversational, and packed with information, strategies, and tips to turn troubled eaters into “normal” eaters and to help you enjoy a happier, healthier life. Sign up by clicking "Subscribe" below and they’ll arrive in your inbox. 

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Trauma Tolerance

Trauma-Tolerance
Many clients who’ve suffered dysfunctional childhoods either over or under respond to trauma. Easily stressed by typical family and work problems, when there’s major mayhem or abuse in their lives, they either don’t recognize it or act as if nothing’s wrong. The goal is to have a healthy window of tolerance for stress and stressors. Over-reacting to situations only causes more stress. For example, when you need to keep calling repeatedly to get information from a bank or doctor’s office, this is simply how life works. Bureaucracy takes time as well as a toll on us. But if you quickly get frustrated, you can make the situation worse by being verbally abusive or giving up on finding out information that’s crucial to your well-being. Alternately, when you let your Mom or Dad scream at your children for no good reason and make excuses for their abuse, you’re under-reacting which will cause...
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Want to Defeat Narcissists?

Want-to-Defeat-Narcissists
Clients often complain about the narcissists in their lives and I’ve written several blogs about coping with them. I was thinking about them when I was waiting for someone in a doctor’s office and clocked fellow A talking non-stop to fellow B for 40 minutes! I couldn’t believe fellow B sat patiently, injecting only a few questions. Nor could I suppress a silent cheer when fellow A finally stopped talking and fellow B said, “But, you never answered my original question.”  We needn’t become captive to narcissists, especially the ones who drone on and on (and on and on) talking about themselves. I recently read about a technique called “gray rocking” which is one tool to try out. According to Deborah Ashway, LMHC, the term describes the person on the receiving end of an interaction trying “to make themselves as boring and nonreactive as possible to decrease the amount of provoking...
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What Makes for a Great Childhood?

What-Makes-for-a-Great-Childhood
I blog a lot about adverse environments in child-rearing, but what makes for a great childhood is equally as important. This blog is as much for those of you who still blame yourselves for your lack of success or happiness as for those thinking about how to parent future generations. According to “Children Are More Likely to Succeed If They Live in this Type of Environment”, parents can go a long way toward ensuring their progeny’s success. The main ingredient, according to the article, is positive connection, based on these categories: care, support, safety, respect and participation. If you’re thinking about your own childhood, how did things measure up? Did you feel physically and emotionally safe and well cared for? Did you receive adequate and age-appropriate support? Were your opinions and needs respected and did family members treat each other respectfully? Was there a strong sense of belonging in spite of...
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To Take or Not Take Things Personally

To-Take-or-Not-Take-Things-Personally
We’ve all experienced the ouch of “taking things personally,” but what does the term mean? I saw a movie decades ago where someone told someone else, “Well, don’t take it personally” and she responded, “I’m a person, so how can I not take it personally?” The fact is that we can avoid doing so and will benefit from ditching this reaction. Taking things personally means being offended or upset by what someone says or does. However, we have a choice to not be offended or upset. We can avoid it by thickening our skin and giving a different meaning to what others say or do. As I’ve said a million times, just because someone says something to or about us—even if our name is attached—it’s about the speaker, the message sender, not us, the receiver. If someone tells me I’m a bad person because I drink alcohol and will burn in...
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Does Everyone Really Want Cake?

Does-Everyone-Really-Want-Cake-
I was at a birthday bash when, the birthday “girl” announced to some 60 guests that dessert would be served, urging everyone to get up and on line for it. “Who doesn’t want cake?” she asked. Her question reminded me of another blog I’d written about cake which got me thinking about what it is about this food that makes it such a draw. One thought is that cake is viewed as special, traditionally served on certain occasions only such as birthday, nuptial and anniversary celebrations and holidays. We think “cake” and it reminds us of happy times which usually involve friends or family or both. So, cake represents joy, coming together, and a festive mood. Who wouldn’t want that? Cake is also served at the end of a meal, leaving us on a high note, signaling that the meal is over and leaving us with a sweet taste in our...
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The Limits of Your Powers

The-Limits-of-Your-Powers
It’s time to accept that you have tremendous power to manage your behaviors, thoughts and feelings and very little to govern the lives of others. Unfortunately, too many people have this paradigm backward: they feel and act powerless and believe they’re responsible for others’ actions. Here are two examples, one clinical and one personal.  A client described how a neighbor had been harassing her for months when she was walking her dog. He seemed to pop up wherever she went, even when she changed her route to avoid him. A gentle soul, she only hinted that she didn’t want his company on her walks and didn’t want to date him. One session she came in all upset. “He got hit by a car,” she exclaimed, referring to her neighbor, “and died!” Then she went on to explain how it was all her fault because he was probably out trying to find...
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Characteristics of Dysfunctional Families

Characteristics-of-Dysfunctional-Families
It’s sad when clients don’t know they’re in or grew up in dysfunctional families. It’s often in therapy or through self-help books that they learn how seriously dysfunctional their families are or have been. Here are some characteristics, though I likely left some out.  Addiction kills relationships—alcohol, drugs (recreational or prescription), shopping, pornography, work, etc. When addiction comes first, it leaves family behind and some of these behaviors can change parents’ personalities for the worse.It’s unhealthy when there’s triangulation in a family which involves one member pulling in another member to discuss an issue that’s really between them and someone else. When Dad tells you to tell Mom to clean the house, he’s avoiding conflict by not telling her directly.Keeping secrets is debilitating to a family because children sense there’s something wrong but are told nothing is. I know a family in which an uncle took his own life, but the...
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How to Say Goodbye to Grievances about Your Parents

How-to-Say-Goodbye-to-Grievances-about-Your-Parents
Usually, Thanksgiving through New Year’s is the time clients grow most anxious about dealing with their parents and freak out about seeing—or not seeing—them. This year, parental panic popped up right before and after Mother’s Day, perhaps because the COVID pandemic prevented in-the-flesh get togethers until then.  So, wherever you are on the continuum of emotional separation from your parents, here are guidelines for growing yourself into having a mature, healthy relationship with them. Accept that your parents were or are anywhere from mildly to tragically flawed. Many of them suffered through rough to horrendous childhoods which left them ill equipped and unprepared to be wise, caring parents. They can’t give what they didn’t get.You deserved far better parents than you got, even if you had pretty good ones. You were an innocent child who was 100% dependent on people who may have had a hard time taking care of themselves, never mind...
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Power Over or With

Power-Over-or-With
We all want to feel powerful to greater or lesser extent and there are different ways of achieving that goal. Some people build their inner resources, grow themselves to the best of their ability, and aim to share power with others. Other people try to dominate whoever they’re with to gain power over them.  Graeme Stuart says that power over “is built on force, coercion, domination and control, and motivates largely through fear . . . on a belief that power is a finite resource that can be held by individuals, and that some people have power and some people do not . . . Power with is shared power that grows out of collaboration and relationships. It is built on respect, mutual support, shared power, solidarity, influence, empowerment and collaborative decision making . . . Rather than domination and control, power with leads to collective action and the ability to...
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How Embitterment Will Ruin Your Life

How-Embitterment-Will-Ruin-Your-Life
One of my clients mentioned how resentful his wife always seems to feel, as if life had dealt her a terrible hand and that was that. The word “bitter” came to mind when I thought of her and I realized what a powerful but rarely talked about emotion it is. When food tastes bitter, we scrunch up our faces in distaste and think “phooey” or “yuck,” as if we need to expel even the thought of something so awful. Think for a minute about what it would feel like to carry that kind of bitterness around with you wherever you go. My client’s wife’s did have an awful childhood. Dad was demanding, controlling and abusive, while Mom was passive and made excuses for his bad behavior. Nothing she did was ever right enough or good enough for Dad and he clearly favored his son over his daughter. Since she was smart...
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Stop Emotional Flooding to Avoid Dysregulated Eating

Stop-Emotional-Flooding-to-Avoid-Dysregulated-Eating
Back in the days when I was a world-class emotional eater, I was also highly reactive to my feelings. I was easily hurt, took things more personally, and wanted to lash out at others to defend myself. I still can be more reactive than I’d like to be (sigh), but I’ve learned to manage my feelings better and express them differently or even not at all. The psychological term for what happens when we’re over-reactive is emotional flooding which happens when an emotion builds up and takes over your brain. You’ve all experienced flooding—when something happens and you’re infused with an emotion while the the rest of the world falls away. It’s as if you’re seized by the feeling which is why the reaction is also called being hijacked by your amygdala.  Here's an example. You’re in a rush and have been waiting several minutes for a parking space at the...
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Pleasure Minus Pressure

Pleasure-Minus-Pressure
Once more a similar issue keeps cropping up in sessions, which got me thinking about a sticking point in growing and healing. This time it was how little pleasure many dysregulated eaters have in their lives, while exhibiting a seemingly infinite capacity for pressuring themselves. Here’s what I mean. We all have activities or chores we’d like to get done today, tomorrow or this week. We have formal and informal deadlines and requests and demands that others rightfully make of us. Mostly, if we want to get paid, work is required. If we have children, they come with the need to be taken care of. It’s natural to feel mild pressure about getting things done. Pressure gets us up and moving. However, if we never stop feeling pressure—because there will always be more to do—it will drive us mad. Those relentless “gotta do, gotta do” thoughts can ruin our lives if...
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Why It’s Hard to Reject Unhealthy People

Why-Its-Hard-to-Reject-Unhealthy-People
One recurrent issue with clients is helping them in choosing intimates who are more emotionally evolved than they are so they can grow into better versions of themselves. For example, Jarelle works hard in recovery from alcohol, drug abuse and to overcome a childhood of sexual and emotional abuse. He’s thoughtful, insightful, a college graduate, and wants badly to have a happy life though he feels hindered by PTSD and depression. His major problem is choosing people who wind up hurting him and then feeling victimized by them. Freud called this the repetition compulsion: people try to master past traumas by recreating a painful childhood relationship in the present in order to orchestrate a better outcome—which does not happen. Instead, Jarelle picks people similar to his parents, an act we call self-sabotage.    Part of the problem is that Jarelle’s parents (nearly his entire family) weren’t very kind and caring about...
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What Are We Looking for When We Fight with Others?

What-Are-We-Looking-for-When-We-Fight-with-Others
Many of my clients seem to argue alot.  A husband and wife bicker about almost everything, a divorced client and his former wife go at it over raising their daughters, and a mother and daughter are constantly at each others’ throats even as they swear they want to get along better. I’d attribute their behaviors to the COVID pandemic, but their battles started long before then and are still going strong.  At any rate, this got me thinking about why we argue (and that “we” includes me). It takes so much energy and effort, causes such grief, and often doesn’t get us anywhere. Why do we do it and what do we hope to accomplish when we get into verbal fisticuffs? We want what we want or for things to be a certain way: the toilet seat up or down, a vacation always by the shore and never in the mountains,...
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I Promise I’ll Stop

I-Promise-Ill-Stop
I was reading an “advice” column letter from a woman saying that her actively alcoholic boyfriend “promised to stop drinking.” I sighed when I read his words, thinking about all the times they were my words about food and all the times I’d heard clients make the same promise. Famous last words or maybe we should call them famous lost words, because somehow their meaning and importance gets lost in the shuffle of life. Let’s take a closer look, or as they say these days, a deeper dive into the meaning of this promise and what prompts us to say it. I know what I was feeling when I swore to myself that I would stop noshing and overeating, turning to food when I was upset or bored, and living my life for my next meal. I was beyond frustrated with my terrible relationship with food. I was exasperated, in dire...
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The Necessity of Connecting to Self

The-Necessity-of-Connecting-to-Self
I’ve had several recent discussions with clients about their male partners who are emotionally walled off, though women too are often disconnected from their feelings. This very human problem learned in childhood has sad ramifications in adulthood. One problem, as many of you know all too well, is that you’re disconnected from both emotions and appetite. You recognize you want food even when you’re not hungry but not what you’re feeling underneath, usually some sort of discomfort you’d prefer not to experience. Distancing from your emotions is bound to mean trouble because what is the function of emotions if not to move you toward happiness and away from pain.  One of my clients frequently laments, “But I don’t want to be uncomfortable.” As if she has a choice. What she means is that she doesn’t want to feel certain feelings because they make her feel badly, in her case, leaving her...
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How to Know You’re Stressed

How-to-Know-Youre-Stressed
Not a week goes by when a client doesn’t tell me a story about their overeating without adding, “I was stressed, and I didn’t even know it.” This is a common problem for many of us in this culture, being out of touch with feeling stressed and only finding out we were after the fact, often when we’ve eaten to try to reduce it. The problem is two-fold, being poorly connected to ourselves emotionally and physically and not respecting the signals we send ourselves when we’re stressed. A client and I were talking about this very issue. She’s a busy mother with a part-time job she does at home and raising two children pretty much alone because her husband travels so much. While we were discussing the difference between being busy (which she enjoys) and stressed (which she, of course, doesn’t), I started thinking about how any of us can recognize...
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Book Review – Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food

Let-Go-of-Emotional-Overeating-and-Love-Your-Food-Arlene-Englander-MA-LCS_20220919-192200_1
I’m always interested in reading a book by a seasoned psychotherapist who, like me, has also recovered from emotional overeating. It’s the perfect combination to educate and counsel people who want to manage both their emotions and relationship with food. In Let Go of Emotional Overeating and Love Your Food, Arlene Englander, MA, LCSW, offers a 5-point plan that, when diligently and joyfully followed, will change your relationship with food. She describes emotional eating as “eating neither to satisfy hunger nor for enjoyment, but in a desperate attempt to distract oneself from painful thoughts and feelings.” In short, when we emotionally overeat, we not only abuse food but also mistreat ourselves. To help readers understand and identify with what she says, she shares experiences from her own emotional eating days and uses case examples from her clinical practice.  Her major focus is to teach readers how to connect with themselves and...
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How Co-dependence Wrecks Your Life

How-Co-dependence-Wrecks-Your-Life
Care to guess what percentage of my current clients are co-dependent? A whopping 76%. I made this count after reading an article (written for clinicians) on the subject: “The Neuroscience of Codependency for Client Understanding and Treatment.”  Due to learning maladaptive patterns in childhood, you are co-dependent if you: are overly selfless and trusting, repeatedly put others’ needs first at your expense, over-empathize and over-identify, often are taken advantage of and victimized, and surround yourself with your opposite type—narcissist or sociopath. The article’s author, Mary Joye, maintains that, “Abandonment, abuse, neglect, parental addiction, death of a parent or any childhood trauma can result in a lifetime of grasping for love like a frantic infant or to become submissive to a narcissistic or demanding partner.” Sound familiar?  Joye explains the neurobiology of co-dependence, that is, how it affects people emotionally, cognitively and physically from infancy on: “If a child does not experience...
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You’re Only as Healthy as the Company You Keep

Youre-Only-as-Healthy-as-the-Company-You-Keep
I’m often amazed to hear about clients’ unhealthy friends—substance abusers, unstable people with mental or physical health problems who refuse treatment, dangerous risk-takers, perpetual victims in abusive relationships who won’t acknowledge problems or leave, and narcissists who take advantage of clients financially or emotionally or both.  Clients tell me story after story about these “friends” and come up with all kinds of reasons they keep them in their lives: feeling sorry for them, having been friends for years or since childhood, their possessing many redeeming qualities, or friends having no one to care for them. Clients accuse me of being coldhearted when I suggest that these so-called friends don’t add much to their lives and take away a lot.  I explain why it’s hard to detach from friends or at least reduce contact or closeness with them. Sometimes clients have too much compassion for them. Or they overidentify with them. Or...
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