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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. 

[No unsolicited guest blogs accepted, thank you]

What People Who Grew Up in (Relatively) Functional Families Know

What-People-Who-Grew-Up-in-Relatively-Functional-Families-Know
Have you heard the saying, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you likely don’t even realize all the life skills you lack and the viewpoints that those who were raised in more functional environments have that you don’t. So, here’s what you might not know but need to. You can trust people.       Obviously, you can’t trust everyone for everything. You can’t expect everyone to know how to fly an airplane, cut your hair, or advise you on investments. When we talk about trusting people, we usually mean that we can trust them emotionally: Are they honest, ethical, dependable and reliable; will they validate our feelings, be there for us and take care of us? Not everyone will, but many will try their darndest to do so.      If you grew up with parents who couldn’t (because of their upbringing)...
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Why You Can’t Use the Past to Predict the Future

Why-You-Cant-Use-the-Past-to-Predict-the-Future
Here are stories clients tell me by the truckload. “I never had any luck with dating, so I gave up eight years ago,” “I tried intuitive eating when I was younger and couldn’t do it,” or “I haven’t worked since I lost my last job because it was too stressful for me.” What do all these scenarios have in common? Each one uses the past to predict the future. Why do we do this? Although we’re the only animals we know of who have consciousness about our actions, our brains are still built to use past experience to guide current and future behavior. My cat knows that when she gets too near the pool she loves to drink from, she’s going to get a spritz of water in her face as a deterrent because she’s fallen in twice. This is how cat mind teaches itself what to do and not do....
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Healing from Parental Abuse

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Here are excerpts from a client’s letter showing her triumph over trauma from a highly abusive father. I hope her growth inspires you to continue on your path to healing. “I finally get it. I get that my father is incapable of loving me, feeling empathy by putting himself in my shoes, caring about my feelings, etc. I see that he is sociopathic and a malignant narcissist and it feels so very painful. I see that I have believed the lie that I am not worthy of being loved as he continues to put others needs over mine. I see that I have believed that I was crazy, wrong, a trouble maker, too sensitive, etc. I see that I have been abused. That my mother was abused and afraid and numb and couldn’t protect me. I see how I have been codependent in my relationships with men and friendships with women...
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Look for Answers to Today’s Problems in Yesterday

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“Boy,” said a client, “this childhood stuff really can mess you up!” I couldn’t help but chuckle. In fact, we had a long, shared laugh about the validity of this statement. What’s as true is that you might not realize in which ways and to what degree your upbringing is messing with you. The good news is that it’s never too late to learn. To do this, you must first erase blame from your brain. Your parents may have caused your problems, but they too had childhoods and parents, so it’s useless to point fingers at them. Who else is there, you might wonder, to blame, so you fault yourself for not realizing earlier in life that you’ve been barreling through it ill-equipped. Once you get blame out of your system, you can look objectively at how “this childhood stuff” might have messed with your head and heart. Here are some...
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When A Safety Net Turns Deadly

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I haven’t been able to get a phrase out of my head that a client said a few months ago. It went something like this: “. . . and then the safety net turns into a spider’s web.” As a writer, I found the allusion to be brilliant. As a therapist, it was chilling. Sadly, my client was talking about her marriage. It’s common for victims of abuse, especially women, to partner up with abusers in same sex as well as heterosexual relationships. The path starts in childhood when, through no fault of their own, they suffer abuse as children—physical, emotional, sexual or, worse, all three. Parents or other caretakers are emotionally unhealthy and more concerned with meeting their own pathological needs than rearing healthy children.  As children, these individuals have no idea that they are not causing the abuse and, instead, are perfectly normal and whole, while their abuser is...
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Choices Beyond Abuser or Abusee

Choices-Beyond-Abuser-or-Abusee
I feel fortunate that I learned so much in social work school (thank you Simmons College in Boston) that I use now. One of the concepts is about abuse and it’s very simple. I hope it helps you see the relationship dynamics around abuse differently. The child and parent form a dyad which is the smallest social unit. When a parent abuses a child, the child makes sense of it in a certain way. And try to make sense of it we do, as humans are meaning-making creatures. We think that there are only two positions in life: abuser and abusee. Not a pleasant thought, but one that helps us understand the relationship between people.  The abused child then perceives they have two choices. They have no reason to believe there are any others. There are actually four choices, but we’ll come to them in a minute. The first choice is...
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On Rugs, Anxiety and Eating

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One day I had two sessions in a row in which clients expressed fear that the “rug would be pulled out” from under them. One talked about how anxiety about things going wrong drove her straight to the cookie jar and the other shared that it made her go over and over things she’d done and planned to do to make sure things would work out. If you ever have constant fear that a rug will be whipped out from under you, read on. I also recommend that you read my blog Are You Often Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop. When either Mom or Dad is poorly attuned to their child’s needs, there may be loss of consistency, stability, security and predictability. Sometimes this is due to parents being narcissistic or ill-suited to having children. They tire easily with and become frustrated from having to meet the demands of...
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Do You Have Adult Post-bullying Syndrome

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Many clients with eating disorders report that they were bullied in childhood. Are you one of them? Are you sure you even know what bullying is? Truth is that many people minimize the mistreatment they had at the hands of peers or family members and don’t realize that what they endured is bona fide bullying.  Kate Baggaley in “How Being Bullied Affects Your Adulthood,” says this about adult post-bullying syndrome, or APBS (not a clinical diagnosis): “Bullying is corrosive to children’s mental health and well-being, with consequences ranging from trouble sleeping and skipping school to psychiatric problems, such as depression or psychosis, self-harm, and suicide.” She says that “roughly 1 in 3 students in the United States are bullied at school” and that “Years after being mistreated, people with adult post-bullying syndrome commonly struggle with trust and self-esteem, and develop psychiatric problems . . . Some become people-pleasers, or rely on...
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How We Become Who We Become

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It will help your emotional and social development to recognize the stages you’ve gone through to get to be who you are emotionally today. More importantly, it will help you understand that you can, within obvious limits, pretty much be whoever you want to be now and in the future. The point is that you can change, so why continue to struggle and suffer. Why not invent the self and life you want? Stage 1: Your thoughts and actions are determined by your parents and other adults—by what they say and don’t say and do and don’t do      When we are children, our parents and other adults seed our minds and the seeds simply, naturally grow into something we accept as us. They believe that people aren’t to be trusted and we believe it too. They act as if their needs are more important than ours and we accept...
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Why Updating the Meaning of Old Events is Crucial to Mental Health

Why Updating the Meaning of Old Events is Crucial to Mental Health
Until you make correct meanings of old, distressing events, you’ll be stuck in a mental time warp and at risk for emotional eating because you won’t feel in control when you’re triggered by them. Triggers are no more than old perceptions that something is wrong. Nothing need actually be wrong, but we think it is. Here are two examples. You were the middle child among five siblings. Your older brothers were close in age  and hung around together, your younger sisters were bubbly extroverts, and you were and remain an introvert. Your siblings teased you (though lovingly) about your shyness and mostly left you alone, and you grew up feeling invisible as if you weren’t interesting or important. When you socialize now, you view every rebuff as proof that people don’t want to talk to you or find you likable. You mostly do things alone but yearn for friends.  You could...
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How a Dysfunctional Childhood Impacts Your Behavior Today

How a Dysfunctional Childhood Impacts Your Behavior Today
Although biology and genetics play a huge role in our development, the way we were treated in childhood is foundational to our emotional well being. Here are some startling statistics from “Resurrecting therapy: putting Big Pharma on the couch” by Erick Kuelker, PhD (Psychotherapy Networker, Sep/Oct 2019, pp 45-49) showing that when it comes to mental health, we hardly grow up on an equal playing field, that is, some of us really are far more unlucky and unfortunate than others.  Such as, “Someone fortunate enough to have grown up in an emotionally healthy home had an 18% chance of developing depression by middle age. But having just one adverse child experience (ACE) boosted the risk by 50% . . . three to 84% and five or more to 340% greater risk.” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study by Robert Anda). Children of angry, narcissistic, unpredictable or poorly emotionally regulated parents...
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Conspicuously Absent

Conspicuously Absent
Conspicuously absent, that is what I’d call the care, attention and love that’s missing in the narratives of many dysregulated eaters toward themselves. I know this because clients come in talking about all they’re doing for everyone else in their lives and, if or when they shift to a self focus, it’s to talk up their shortcomings. I can almost see the outpouring of energy that they give to family and friends and feel how parched they are for care and attention. This manifests itself in several ways. One is that we may give others what we want but fear asking for (https://www.karenrkoenig.com/blog/giving-others-what-you-want) either because we believe we shouldn’t need it or are ashamed that we do—we give in the hope we’ll get back, rather than ask directly for help, support, care, or attention. The other issue is that people who tend to take care of others and not themselves are...
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When Old Memories Co-opt the Present

When Old Memories Co-opt the Present
A client and I spent a session getting to the roots of an upsetting reaction she couldn’t shake after a dinner out. Her intense feelings are typical of what happens to us when events that are over and done with rear their ugly heads in the present. We’re unsettled in two ways: first, by whatever happened to cause our distress and, second, by the immensity of our distress over a situation that we know intellectually is no big deal.  Here’s what happened. My client had dinner with friends at a restaurant she loved but hadn’t visited in a while. She enjoyed her selection—mahi-mahi corn tacos with jasmine rice and vegetables—and ate mostly the fish because she craved protein, thinking she’d take the rest home and eat more of it during the night or save it for another time. Satisfied and pleasantly full, she asked the waitress for a doggie bag. At...
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Trauma Can Make You Freeze Up Emotionally

  Common reactions to trauma include flight or flight. But many trauma victims and survivors also react with a freeze response. According to Stephen Porges, professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, what we call the freeze response is immobolisation, “…the critical point of the experience of life-threat trauma events.” (“Stephen Porges: ‘Survivors are blamed because they don’t fight,’” by Andrew Anthony, The Guardian/The Observer Psychiatry, 6/2/2019, accessed 6/6/19). He describes it as “… this inability to move, the numbness of the body and functionally disappearing.” When you ask trauma survivors what they felt going through an initial trauma or reliving it through later threatening experiences, they’ll often say they felt paralyzed or dumbstruck. For example, a client whose childhood and marriage had been filled with emotional abuse underwent psych-testing with a large, rather boisterous psychologist who kept firing questions at her without giving her time to think or...
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The Child’s versus the Adult’s View of Events-Part 2

  In order to stop being triggered by painful memories, we need to recognize that our stories about events change as we age and learn. Fortunately, our brains mature and add new features that make us see things in a different light. When we’re 4, we may believe in Santa Clause, but this is unlikely at 14 because we understand and know more about life. If you’re older than 25 and still buy into an interpretation of harsh events you formed as a child, it’s time to update your story to better sync with reality. Our interpretation of events at any age drives our actions adaptively to survive. Childhood interpretations are simplistic, naïve, and lack complex, critical thinking. Because our frame of reference is narrow due to circumscribed life exposure, especially before we enter school, we often know little more of the world than our family’s dynamics—we generalize and conclude that...
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The Child’s versus the Adult’s View of Events-Part 1

  If painful memories trigger you turning to food for comfort, recognize that your memory of an event is a recording of how you perceived it at whatever age it occurred—4, 11, 15. The memory is your immature brain’s interpretation or story of and feelings about the event at the time. The mature brain, which develops in the late 20s, provides a more realistic and valid explanation of human nature and mental health and reinterprets painful events more rationally and accurately. Here are examples of childhood events and their “immature child” and “mature adult” interpretations, meanings and emotions. You’re 7 years old and Dad has promised to take you to the circus—again. You’ve rarely seen him since your parents’ divorce, begged him for weeks to get circus tickets, and are excited about the outing even though Dad didn’t want to go and yelled at you to stop nagging him it. Driving...
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Gaslighting

Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break Free Image of Gaslighting: Recognize Manipulative and Emotionally Abusive People--and Break Free Reviewed by: Karen R. Koenig (Originally published at New York Journal of Books) https://www.nyjournalofbooks.com/book-review/gaslighting “Although this book might be painful to read for gaslighting victims and survivors, it will bring them out of the darkness and into the light, helping them heal . . .” With or without our knowledge, most of us have met a gaslighter or two at some point in our lives or know someone who has been deceived by one. The scary truth is that these master manipulators are often our neighbors, friends, spouses, children, siblings, parents, co-workers, bosses, or political leaders. We may call them difficult, challenging, crazy-making, morally corrupt, narcissistic, power-hungry, or abusive because we don’t know enough psychology to give them the more precise label they warrant. The term gaslighting, a type of psychological...
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How to Snap Out of Traumatic Memories

I often blog about Rapid Resolution Therapy to treat trauma memories, and encourage readers wishing to resolve old issues quickly, or simply improve their lives, to learn more about it at http://www.rapidresolutiontherapy.com. In the meantime, try this practice next time you’re upset or don’t want to feel so emotional. Some background: We often feel distress when we confuse actual events going on in the present with emotion-laden memories of events that are stored in our amygdala. Its job is to automatically warn us of incoming threats by being alert to situations and events which are similar to ones we’ve experienced as fearful and disturbing. Casting an ultra-wide net and using general criteria, it triggers a warning every time an event in the present comes close to being like a scary one from the past. The problem is that when the amygdala gets triggered, memories from previous painful situations flood through our...
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What Jane Fonda Has to Teach You About Mental Health

Whether or not you’re a fan of Jane Fonda as an actress or an activist, she has a lot to teach us about recovering from bulimia and body image disorder, discovering and expressing one’s authentic self, and achieving self-esteem. At 81, she’s far from past her prime and actually may just be reaching it. Or, so I thought, after watching Jane Fonda in Five Acts (https://www.hbo.com/documentaries/jane-fonda-in-five-acts). Growing up in a highly dysfunctional family, she was a sad child. Her father, the actor Henry Fonda, was far from fatherly and she wanted nothing more than to please him. Her mother suffered from depression and died by suicide when Jane was 12. Jane says that her perfectionism began at a very early age, based on the belief that if she did everything right and flawlessly, she would please and get the love she needed from her parents and others. Toward this goal of...
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How Do You View Feeling Broken?

How do you view your “broken” spots? Are they embarrassing areas of your life that you can’t bear to think or talk about? Do they make you feel less than and as if you’ll never see yourself or be seen as normal? When you think of your mistakes and failures, do you cringe and hope that no one ever finds out about them? I seriously hope not, but if you do, this photo and the explanation that goes with it may shift your view and make you feel a whole lot better about yourself. This beautiful bowl is unique because of its fractures. I love that idea. For example, part of my uniqueness (and, oddly, my professional success) comes from having had eating disorders galore—chronic dieting, overeating/emotional/compulsive eating, and bulimia. At the time, I felt horrible about my behaviors and incredibly defective and broken. Now I look back and proudly think...
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