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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]

How to Gain Resilience After Trauma

Although they may not recognize it, many dysregulated eaters are trauma survivors. I can sometimes intuit a history of trauma when clients see themselves as having something gravely wrong with them that makes them irrevocably defective. For those of you who view yourselves this way, here’s how to get beyond trauma to resilience. The central question you must ask and answer is: Is there something wrong with me or did something bad happen to me? Take a moment to notice if your first reaction is that there’s something wrong with or bad about you. Don’t judge your reaction; simply allow yourself to be curious about it. In fact, what you’ve internalized as self-badness or defectiveness is nothing of the kind. The truth is that bad or, maybe, terrible things did happen to you. Through no fault of your own, you were the recipient of poor parenting through abuse or neglect or mistreatment from...
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Sexual Harassment and Abuse

For both men and women, being sexually harassed or abused can take a toll on your psyche and trigger emotional eating as a way to relieve stress or to numb feelings. Your eating problems may be connected to violations caused by sexual harassment or abuse and eating is how you’ve been trying to cope with your feelings about it. “Harassment can include ‘sexual harassment’ or unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical harassment of a sexual nature…it can include offensive remarks about a person’s sex. For example, it is illegal to harass a woman by making offensive comments about women in general…Although the law doesn’t prohibit simple teasing, offhand comments, or isolated incidents that are not very serious, harassment is illegal when it is so frequent or severe that it creates a hostile or offensive work environment or when it results in an adverse employment decision (such...
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Post-Traumatic Growth

I bet all of you have heard of Post-traumatic stress, but I wonder how many of you know about Post-traumatic growth. We so often think of the downside of trauma—depression, hypervigilance, anxiety and flashbacks—but it turns out that there’s an upside to it as well. The term, post-traumatic growth, was first used by Richard Tedeschi, Ph.D. and Lawrence Calhoun, Ph.D. in 1995 at the University of North Carolina to describe the positive changes that they saw in patients  who had been affected by and were struggling with trauma. If you are someone who’s been impacted by trauma, you might find it hard to believe that there’s anything positive about it, but research tells us that there is. "People develop new understandings of themselves, the world they live in, how to relate to other people, the kind of future they might have and a better understanding of how to live life," says Tedeschi....
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Another Option Besides Being Blind-sided or Hypervigilant

One of my clients mentioned that she feared letting down her guard around people because of the many abusive people who’ve been in her life. Although she understood that she could pick more appropriate, mentally healthy people now, she wasn’t quite sure she was ready to. What she said she was ready to do is to give up her emotional eating when these people got her upset. Her comments led me to thinking of how many dysregulated eaters I’ve met are often too trusting and open with those who hurt them repeatedly, but hyper-vigilant and closed off from folks they actually could benefit from being more vulnerable to. Somehow, they got things exactly backward. The fact is that these are patterns learned in childhood that get carried into adulthood when we don’t regularly need either type of behavior any more. Sometimes people evolve to swing between both operating styles so that sometimes...
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Are You Often Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop?

Do you ever feel as if things are going swimmingly in your life—even as you’re waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop? If you frequently feel this paradoxical tug of simultaneous joy and fear, let me explain this dynamic and what you can do about it, the goal being that you lose the fear and keep the joy. That’s what you want, isn’t it? Somewhere along the way (okay, probably in childhood), you weren’t in charge of making yourself happy and had to share that job with parents, siblings and maybe even other relatives. Perhaps you’d be right in the middle of some joyful activity and something not so good would happen to pull the rug out from under you. In this way, you learned to become wary of feeling too good for too long because you figured that that there was a shoe out there ready to drop and end...
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Hyperarousal and Dissociation and Emotional Eating

Many dysregulated eaters bounce back and forth between two states: wildly emotional or detached and unfeeling. Both are a product of traumatic experiences and can lead to mindless, emotional and binge eating. By understanding why this happens to your mind/body, you will be better able to recognize these states, cope with them more effectively, and manage your eating more appropriately. These states, often the result of emotional, physical or sexual trauma, are hyperarousal and dissociation. The former is what we call the “fight or flight” response and is defined as “a state of increased psychological and physiological tension marked by such effects as reduced pain tolerance, anxiety, exaggeration of startle responses, insomnia, fatigue and accentuation of personality traits.” (“Hyperarousal” by Eileen Bailey, Health Central, http://www.healthcentral.com/anxiety/c/1443/159977/hyperarousal/). Hyperarousal occurs when you’re highly agitated and so overwhelmed with emotion that you can’t think straight. Hyper-vigilance, or heightened fear, often goes along with hyperarousal. Dissociation...
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Imagine Yourself With a Different Childhood

May 22 Imagine a different childhood
Image by Debbie Digioia The other day I got to thinking about what many of my clients lives would be like if they’d been more valued and loved growing up. Relentlessly down on themselves, they harbor strong feelings that something is inherently wrong with them and that their defects are unfixable. The fact is, however, that they have no more flaws than the rest of us and lots fewer than many folks. There’s not a thing basically wrong with them, but everything wrong with the meaning they made of their value because of how they were treated in childhood. I raise this subject because feeling defective, more often than not, comes before eating problems. Clients describe it as experiencing a sense of not belonging, that others fit in better than they do, as not being adequate or good enough, as walking around with a stigma that they are less than and that nothing...
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Trauma Survivors and Emotional Eating

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 Image by Debbie Digioia If you were a victim of trauma in childhood, it’s essential to understand that you may have a more complex set of problems than a dysregulated eater who hasn’t had traumatic experiences. This fact was brought home to me while I was reading “How Trauma Can Make a Victim a Victimizer: Using Empathy to Help Abusers Make Amends” by Noel Larson (Psychotherapy Networker online 7/12/16). Childhood trauma—including neglect and sexual/emotional/physical abuse—more often than not, produces a dysregulated nervous system. Larson tells us that, “When the primary caregiver is unwilling or unable to regulate an infant’s stress through attunement, the child suffers extreme anxiety, even terror. The child who doesn’t get the message that everything’s going to be all right can grow up unable to regulate his or her own affect. Without attunement, the infant’s brain has two major options: hyperarousal or dissociation. A hyperaroused child’s world is dominated by...
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Book Review – Healing from Hidden Abuse

Every so often I come across a book that’s not about eating, but whose subject matter may cause us to turn to food for solace. Healing from Hidden Abuse: A Journey through the Stages of Recovery from Psychological Abuse by Shannon Thomas, LCSW is such a book, and I’m grateful that a client recommended it to me. If you’re in any kind of relationship with a toxic person who abuses you psychologically—friend, colleague, boss, family member, lover, spouse, neighbor—you need validation, understanding of the dynamics that are occurring, and practical solutions, all of which this book provides. Thomas, an abuse survivor, calls hidden abuse “chronic and repetitive secret games being played by an individual, or a group of people against a target. These actions are so well disguised that their venom frequently goes unnoticed” by others while crushing its victim. This happens when someone is “present physically but checked out emotionally,”...
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Harsh Parenting and Risk of Obesity

Let me tell you at the outset that this blog reports on disturbing news, and that the research and conclusions of a study I’m going to tell you about ring absolutely true to what I’ve encountered during 30-plus years of treating people with eating and weight concerns. The article summarizes the conclusions of a study about parenting and childhood obesity (article: “Parents’ harsh tactics raise child’s obesity risk,” Futurity Health and Medicine, 4/20/16; study: “Harsh parenting, physical health, and the protective role of positive parent-adolescent relationships” by Schofield, Conger, Gonzales and Merrick, Social Science and Medicine, vol. 156, 5/16, pp. 18-26). “Harsh parenting may increase a child’s risk for poor physical health and obesity as they get older. And attempts by one parent to counterbalance the harsh behavior are not always effective in lessening the risk. Harsh parenting was defined as parents who reject, coerce, are physically aggressive, and are self-centered,”...
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What Keeps People Stuck in Abusive Relationships?

What keeps people stuck in abusive relationships? One answer is that we’re all rats at heart. No, not bad people as in calling someone “you dirty rat.” I mean that, like the rats in psychologist B.F. Skinner’s conditioning experiments, we form behavioral patterns through experiencing reinforcement of pain and pleasure. On the positive side, rats fed food pellets will continue to seek them out, and humans who are loved will come back for more. On the negative side, rats who receive electric shocks will turn tail and run away, and humans who are mistreated (well, most of us, anyway) will say game over. But what happens when rats receive intermittent reinforcement, if sometimes they get food pellets while other times they get shocked? What do you think they do then? The drive for food is so strong that they remain hopeful and continue to head for what they hope is the...
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How Trauma Can Lead to Personal Growth

Most of us think about trauma as just about the worst thing that can happen to us. And for many, it is. Even if you’ve survived trauma, you still may be dealing with its physical and emotional aftermath, which perhaps includes emotional eating. How, then, can trauma ever have an upside? In “How trauma can change lives—for the better,” Jim Rendon, author of Upside: The New Science of Post-Traumatic Growth, says yes, indeed, it can (TIME 8/3/15, p. 29). Therapists and the general public have long been schooled in the notion that trauma is terrible and nothing more, he says, one that changes peoples’ lives for the worse and stays with them to death. Post-traumatic stress disorder, with its nightmares, hyper-vigilance and flashbacks, can be frightening to experience or live with in a loved one. What, then, is science telling Rendon that makes him believe that trauma sometimes can be anything...
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Strong Correlation Between High Weight and Bullying

“Being ‘fat’ is the most common reason children are bullied” according to Roni Caryn Rabin in “Extra weight makes kids a target for bullying” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 7/28/15, E20). I’m blogging on this subject for two reasons. The first is for readers who were bullied as children because they were fat to get validation on how hurtful and damaging it was. The second is so that readers can talk to their kids about what to do about such bullying whether they are perpetrators, witnesses, or victims of it. According to the article, fat as the most common reason for bullying comes from a study of “thousands of adults from four countries who, when asked why children are bullied, said the most common reason was not race, religion, physical disability or sexual orientation, but weight.” Most state anti-bullying laws don’t protect children of high weights, nor do federal laws “guarantee equal treatment of...
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Responding by Not Responding to Verbal Abuse

My previous blog about the stages of abuse (http://eatingdisordersblogs.com/?p=4864) will help you understand this one. Read it first, then return here to learn how to detach from hurtful comments in abusive relationships. In a Stage One response, you placate the abuser, believing you are at fault and this will stop the abuser. If he or she says something unkind about you, you mistakenly make the meaning that it is true. You think that the other person is right that you are “whatever” he or she says you are and respond by trying to correct this person’s negative view of you by acting nice—agreeing with him or her, promising that you’ll change, or apologizing because you’ve been bad. You reinforce the legitimacy of his or her illegitimate words by responding to them as if they’re true when they’re really false. In Stage Two, tired of being nice, turning the other cheek to...
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Standing up to Abuse

In 2009 I wrote a blog, Stages of Relationship Health, that I often refer to when discussing abuse. I suggest that you read it before reading this one. The blog describes three stages people move through to get out of an abusive relationship: 1) passivity and compliance, 2) anger, and 3) leaving the relationship. Talking with a client about anger at her narcissistic, abusive daughter and son-in-law, we established that she was moving from stage 1, passivity and compliance, to stage 2, anger, fluctuating between the two. Moreover, she was now thinking a good deal about stage 3, detaching from these relationships, a new focus. We discussed her shifts between stages 1 an 2 and what generated each response. She agreed that when she was in recall, an emotional state of fear triggered by memories of parental and spousal abuse, she became passive/compliant. But when she was in reality and in...
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More on Trauma and Eating Disorders

We have long known that a correlation between trauma and eating disorders exists, and now the picture is becoming clearer and clearer according to “The Power of Treating Eating Disorders and Trauma Simultaneously” by Megan Ross, Director of Program Development and Trauma Awareness at Timberline Knolls Treatment Center (Eating Disorder Hope’s March 2015 Professional Newsletter). There are two types of trauma: big “T” and little “t.” The former includes catastrophic events such as physical abuse or injury, sexual assault or abuse, or natural disasters. The latter are not so much about the severity of an occurrence, but about its painful, repetitive nature, like bullying and emotional abuse by parents or relatives. According to Ross, “Big ‘T’ trauma is more likely to be associated with bulimia, while little ‘t’ trauma is often associated with anorexia” and “the earlier the trauma occurs, the more intense the outcome. This is due to the state...
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Choose the Meaning of Events, Even Traumatic Ones

We’ve all had “bad” things happen to us and some of you have had “terrible” things or many “terrible” things befall you—sexual/verbal/physical abuse, poverty, neglect, rape, bullying, accidents, and other events which were out of your control. Does that mean you must experience pain and suffering due to these events? You likely believe that pain and suffering are inevitable by-products of such happenings and cannot be separated from the distress you (or anyone) will experience in their aftermath. If so, you’re wrong. Fact is, the meaning we make of trauma and “bad” things happening to us is the sole determinant of how much, if any, pain and suffering we experience. Michele Weiner-Davis, MSW, LCSW, proves this point by relating the story of Sally, a single, outgoing, 35-year-old friend of hers. An avid runner, Sally was attacked by a knife-wielding, masked man on the way into her apartment building after a run....
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Trauma, The Body and Eating

Many disregulated eaters never learned to regulate affect. Knowing what happens to the nervous system due to major trauma or chronic family dysfunction may help you understand why you now turn to food when you’re upset and can teach you effective ways of re-regulating. Let’s start off by accepting that humans have very fragile and finely tuned nervous systems whose goal is to keep us out of harm’s way. When the system is triggered, we not only feel distress, but may lose the ability to deal with reality in a way that keeps us safe and healthy. Below are some wonderful insights from the May/June 2014 issue of Psychotherapy Networker on why we emotionally disregulate and ways to re-regulate to reduce distress. “We know now, without a doubt, that trauma affects the developing nervous system. When the primary caregiver is unwilling or unable to regulate an infant’s stress through attunement, the...
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Tolerating Abuse

If you’re often mistreated by one other or many others, you may have a high tolerance for abuse. This happens when you learn to put up with abuse to survive as a child. As an adult, not allowing yourself to be abused is certain to improve your eating. For example, one client complained about a life-long battle with her brother who had never liked her and always tried to push her around. These siblings grew up with abusive parents, so I wasn’t surprised that one of them grew up to be an abuser and the other to be an abusee. My client put up with her brother turning up at all hours of the night demanding to crash at her place, stealing money from her (he didn’t even have the excuse of being a drug addict), and using her as a dumping ground for his misery. Mostly she used our therapy...
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Finding Purpose

Reading an article about vets finding a way out of post-war depression, anxiety, and PTSD, I got to thinking about disregulated eaters’ fanatic absorption in food and weight obsessions and how they would benefit from finding a greater purpose in order to be done with that obsession. You don’t want your tombstone to read, “Spent a lifetime struggling to eat ‘normally’ and lose weight,” do you? Believe me, I understand the pain of compulsive eating and being or feeling overweight. But it cannot remain the be all and end all of life as some of you have made it. Although I encourage you to read my books and blogs and join my Food and Feelings message board, I’d rather see you out there doing things you’re passionate about which gives you a sense of satisfaction, belonging, and a focus greater than yourselves. There’s something highly unhealthy and excessively self-absorbing about spending...
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This website is owned and operated by Karen R. Koenig, M.Ed., LCSW. It contains material intended for informational and educational purposes only, and reasonable effort is made to keep its contents updated. Any material contained herein is not to be construed as the practice of clinical social work or of psychotherapy, although adherence to applicable Florida States, Rules, and Code of Ethics is observed. Material on this website is not intended as a substitute for medical or psychological advice, diagnosis, or treatment for mental health issues or eating disorder problems, which should be done only through individualized therapeutic consultation. Karen R. Koenig, LCSW disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained on this website. This website contains links to other sites. The inclusion of such links does not necessarily constitute endorsement by Karen R. Koenig, LCSW who disclaims any and all liability arising directly or indirectly from the use of any information contained in this website. Further, Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, does not and cannot guarantee the accuracy or current usefulness of the material contained in the linked sites. Users of any website must be aware of the limitation to confidentiality and privacy, and website usage does not carry any guarantee or privacy of any information contained therein.  Privacy Policy