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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. 

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The Upside of Emotional Triggers

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More and more these days I’m noticing a troubling trend in psychotherapy involving tiptoeing around certain subjects and side-stepping the use of certain words in fear of offending or upsetting clients or readers. This seems to stem from a well-meaning desire not to trigger an audience of one or many. In either case, our goal should not be to fear triggering them, but to bring sensitive subjects out into the open so that we can understand and deactivate them once and for all.  In 13 Strategies to Deal with Your Emotional Triggers, David Richo, Ph.D. defines a trigger as “any word, person, event, or experience that touches off an immediate emotional reaction.” Triggers vary in intensity and can lead to either comfortable or uncomfortable feelings—or both. Looking at photos of myself as a child at sleep-away camp, for example, stirs delight that I had such a wonderful time there as well...
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Why We Dwell on Suffering

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During a session, a client mentioned a habit she was trying to break: conjuring up the worst possible scenarios she could imagine, in this case with romantic partners, and making herself totally miserable thinking about what dreadful things might happen. Although she recognized that she was spiraling down the rabbit hole, she said she felt as if she couldn’t stop herself from doing so and wondered why. Her words: “I’d sit on the floor and cry and feel sorry for myself 20 years ago, like in a dramatic movie, wishing someone could see me like that and feel sorry for how my boyfriends mistreated me. Now I feel like I get tough/angry/icy when I think about how my exes acted and realize that I allowed myself to be treated like that. I couldn't fathom how anyone could be so mean to me. But I’m learning that those people act the way...
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Missteps Not Mistakes

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I recently heard someone use the word “misstep” which sounded far better to my ears than what we usually call mistakes. Or than saying: I went off the rails, messed up, fell short or bombed. All these words sound dramatic and dreadful, as if the rest of our lives have been ruined. Or, worse, as if the world will never be the same. A misstep, on the other hand, sounds so minor, so insignificant, so oops. According to the Oxford Languages dictionary, it’s a step that is “clumsy or badly judged.” It implies you meant to do better, were slightly off balance, or made an error in perception. The great thing about misstep is that it doesn’t make you sound like the most ignorant, awful, defective person in the world. You were simply a bit off the mark or misguided.  There are many instances where you could use the term misstep...
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Authentic versus Hubristic Pride

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A common discussion I get into with clients is about the nature of pride. That’s because many of them think of it as boasting and some never think about it at all. Actually, it’s a pretty versatile and topnotch emotion. Feeling proud helps decision-making and it’s a great motivator when you’re challenged by pleasure that’s not in your best interest. Clients have often argued that the pride they learned about growing up was not something to be sought after because it had a negative connotation. It involved boasting and sense of superiority over others. The pride I’m talking about is when we feel good about our achievements or the achievements of others. We’re happy with them or with ourselves and give credit where credit is due. It turns out my clients and I were both right according to Christian Jarrett, PhD, author of Be Who You Want: Unlocking the Science of...
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Let Pride Replace Pleasure to Get Things Done

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If you’re basing your life on doing only what you like and what feels good and avoiding what you don’t like and doesn’t feel good, you’re not going to be very happy or successful for very long. So when I hear clients say they don’t enjoy or like eating healthy foods, exercising or going to the doctor, I know that my job is to help them find some other motivation for engaging in these essential activities. The first thing I focus on is the belief that they must like something to do it. Where does that assumption come from? Is that a belief their parents had and modeled or taught them? If so, how well did it serve them then and how well does it serve them today?  My client Rebecca was one of six children whose parents were rarely there to guide her through her childhood. When she put up...
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Victor or Victim?

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While I’ve blogged about how to stop being a victim and how to deal with people who act like victims, I haven’t written about the competitive nature of relationships between victims. This happens when two (or more) people have been victimized in childhood by abuse or neglect and carry their victimhood into adulthood where they become locked into a struggle for the biggest loser prize. Take this couple for example. Gail comes from a large family with an alcoholic, abusive father and enabling mother. Gail never had the love and connection she yearned for from Dad and watched as her mother complained but allowed his drinking and abuse to continue. She never had enough of Mom’s attention either, even when she was sexually abused by a cousin. The children were left unfairly unprotected and poorly attended to and Gail adapted by staying under parental radar as much as possible. She had...
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What Is Your Broken Record Playing?

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For those of you who know what a record is and have heard them being played, you might remember what happens when one has a scratch that causes it to play the same thing over and over. You never get to hear the rest of the song because the needle of the record player is stuck in the groove made by the scratch. Hence the term broken record which means saying the same thing over and over. Why do we get stuck repeating the same messages to ourselves when they’re not moving us forward, but keeping us caught in some ancient time warp? Here’s an example of what I call “broken record syndrome,” which is usually an unconscious pattern of self-talk which keeps you from focusing on yourself and changing your life. A client was telling me about her yearning for a stable man and how all she’d ever chosen were...
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How Temperament Affects Us

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As a therapist, I think about temperament a good deal—mine and that of the clients I treat. I often joke that I got the “happy genes” from my dad or am amazed at clients who’ve suffered greatly in life and yet remain hopeful and upbeat. We are the fortunate ones when it comes to temperament. In “How Temperament Influences Support Given to Loved Ones With Eating Disorders,” Dr. Laura Hill, Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, The Ohio State University and Voluntary Assistant Clinical Professor, Department of Psychiatry, University of California, San Diego explains what temperament is and its importance: “Temperament impacts the cost of one’s daily emotional expense.”  She goes on to say that “Temperament is the biological basis of our personality. It is created by one’s genes which set the framework for brain circuit development that evolves and functions over one’s life span. Temperament consists of one’s personality traits....
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Being Okay Being You

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“If you’re always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be” is yet another wonderful quote by US author and poet Maya Angelou. I use the term normal here, not the way I usually do as in “normal” eating which follows four rules, but in the quest some people are on to be like everyone else. Being themselves won’t do, and instead many of them want to be anyone but themselves. Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde tells us why that’s impossible via one of my favorite quotes: “Be yourself; everyone else is taken.” And, after all, what the heck is wrong with being the one and only you? We learn that we are basically not okay and defective from our families and culture. If our parents are always comparing themselves to the proverbial Joneses, we’re going to grow up thinking that this is how one...
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There’s Much More to Life Than Instant Gratification

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I had a really interesting discussion with a client about how to lift her mood other than through instant gratification. An accomplished woman as well as someone who had used drugs in the past and was still using alcohol to boost her spirits and regulate her emotions, we were trying to figure out what would help her remain clean and sober. I threw out some positive states of being and we talked about their nuances and how she could incorporate them into her life. I share them with you, so you can stop chasing amorphous happiness and start enjoying these emotions to improve it your life.  Joy aka delight and jubilation is not meant to be a lasting feeling. It’s a momentary ping that bubbles up in you on special occasions. It’s what you feeling when you’re doing an activity you love or when someone you adore shows up on your...
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Balancing Sameness and Variety

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Pandemic aside, how many of you lead a balanced life? Do you have too much sameness without knowing how to spice it up in a healthy way? The need to have enough of each of these polarities is not so different from trying to get the right measure of structure versus freedom. Many people enjoy sameness, while others abhor it. Often if you had an unpredictable childhood—parents marrying, divorcing and remarrying or the family moving from place to place—you crave sameness. You want to keep your old friends, live in the same house or apartment and never move, spend your annual vacations at the same spot, visit tried-and-true restaurants, and avoid what’s new and different. Alternately, if your parents ran a household where change was looked at with horror because it made them anxious, you might have developed an itch for variety. For you, doing the same old thing is boring,...
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Finding Your Pleasures

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Although everyone seems to strive to be happy, not everyone knows what will generate that feeling for them. And until we know what brings us joy and satisfaction, we can’t pursue it—which means remaining unhappy. And round and round we go. What seems a simple question to answer, “What makes me happy?”, is not. Once we get past defining the word, next comes recognizing when we feel it. On the road to happiness, we must also understand the forces that shape it, including family and culture. Let’s say your parents want you to become a lawyer and the law seems like a drag to you while nothing thrills you like ballet dancing. Or you grew up in a country club culture that insists feeling good comes from looking good, but what floats your boat is driving around the country in your ratty camper dressed like a vagabond. In my Twenties and...
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Pay Attention to Your Inner Wisdom to Live Better

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Many clients feel as if they walk around with a dark cloud over their heads, are a magnet to unhealthy people, and are doomed to be unhappy. Nonsense. My take is that they don’t listen to their inner wisdom when it would benefit them. Instead, they listen to the voice that overrides it or to friends who have little wisdom of their own to share. Here’s what I mean. When talking about whether or not to leave her husband, I asked a client how much time she wished she’d given him to see if he would change. She said six months and I agreed that this would have been long enough. Now, 12 years and two kids down the road, she faces a much harder decision. She said she kept hoping and wishing he’d change, just as she had with three previous abuse boyfriends, and that she listened to her friends...
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How to Be Less Emotionally Reactive

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I took a Rapid Anger Resolution workshop presented by the founder of Rapid Resolution Therapy, Dr. Jon Connelly, in February. If you either work with me or read my blogs regularly you’re likely familiar with the recall-reality connection posited by him. The workshop was on stopping resentment reactions, which Connelly calls “anger in retro,” and responding to difficult situations by being “alert, strategic and creative.” When you’re dealing with a controlling boss, critical spouse, or bossy neighbor, how do you react? If you’re like most humans, you feel wronged and mount a defense or attack. Does that work for you? I know it doesn’t for me. As Connelly explains, this is a normal animal response, but we are the only animals able to change it and handle situations more appropriately and effectively.  He makes a few suggestions: Aim to reduce hostility. Unfortunately, we usually wrongly react from what we think is...
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Taking Political Action to Combat Helplessness

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Many clients express and complain about their helplessness but do nothing about it. I was fortunate to have a life-changing experience in my twenties which made me realize that I had a lot more power than I thought I had and which forever politicized me and made me believe that, sometimes, we shall overcome. You may know the song 9to5 by Dolly Parton or the 1980 comedy by the same name in which she starred with Jane Fonda and Lilly Tomlin. Well, before the movie and the song there was 9to5, Organization of Women Office Workers on which both were based. Back then I was working as a typist at the Massachusetts Teachers Association in Boston. I’d moved from New Jersey where I’d been a third-grade teacher and when I couldn’t find a teaching job in Boston, I took one as a typist in their typing pool. I was shocked to...
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The Paradox of Your Discomfort

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I was talking with a client about how she manages emotional discomfort and realized a strange paradox which is not only applicable to her, but which crops up a good deal in my practice: While people shy away from emotional distress because they deem it too uncomfortable to bear, they also go out of their way to upset themselves in mega ways. Here's are some examples.  An adult client lives with her rather dysfunctional family. She’s done an amazing job recovering from substance abuse and is bright and insightful. Currently she’s on disability for mental health issues but says she’d like to return to work to gain some independence. When I bring up the subject, though, she says it’s uncomfortable, that she doesn’t know what she’d do for work, and wonders if she could even get a job. Alternately, she ruminates way too much (her take on it) when she sets boundaries with...
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Social Phobia May Contribute to Your Eating Disorder

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Some dysregulated eaters suffer from social phobia, which escalates anxiety in certain relationships or socializing in general. Someone who has it is at risk in social settings, especially where they may feel judged, and it may cause them to eat unhealthfully before, during or after being in these situations. Criteria include:  "Marked fear or anxiety about one or more social situations in which the individual is exposed to possible scrutiny by others.The fear or anxiety is out of proportion to the actual threat posed by the social situation and to the sociocultural context.The social situations almost always provoke fear or anxiety.The social situations are avoided or endured with intense fear or anxiety.The fear, anxiety, or avoidance causes clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning.The fear, anxiety or avoidance is persistent, typically lasting for 6 months or more.The fear, anxiety, or avoidance is not attributable...
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Stop Eating Away Your Cognitive Dissonance

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I’d wager that one of the major unrecognized causes of runaway eating is cognitive dissonance. You may not know the term, but you sure know the feeling. We all do.    David Denniston, CFA describes cognitive dissonance in 7 Signs You Exhibit Cognitive Dissonance as “the distressing mental state people often feel when they find themselves behaving in ways which don't fit with their self-image, or having opinions that do not fit with other opinions they hold.” Here are some examples from my practice: mixed feelings about whether to leave a spouse or partner, how to set boundaries with children, parents or adult siblings, choosing to change jobs, and deciding to retire. Of course, these are the big internal conflicts we encounter. Smaller ones include what precautions and risks to take during a pandemic, exposing emotional vulnerability, and how to spend your money. Denniston explains that one reason for cognitive dissonance...
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Just Kidding—Not

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Occasionally a client reports that someone said something unkind to them and then insisted they were joking. These clients tend to minimize the pain of these interactions, sometimes going so far as to swear that their feelings weren’t hurt. I don’t buy it. As I’ve said to them, they wouldn’t mention these incidents if they weren’t bothered by them. The fact is that a pattern of someone being rude or unkind to you in any way then denying that they were serious and being adamant that they were joking is a form of immaturity and emotional abuse. Yes, emotional abuse. You may not like to think that it is, but that makes no difference to what is true. Here’s an example. You’re dressed up for a party and are about to go out the door when your partner says, “You’re not wearing that tonight, are you?” You look at them aghast...
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You Are Never the Only One

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One characteristic that many clients have in common is believing they’re the only ones who feel or think a certain way. How many times a day do I hear, “Well, I’m sure no one else thinks this way, but . . .” or “You’ll probably think this is really weird, but . . .”? My response to these questions is always the same: “Many, if not all people, think the way you do” or “I don’t think that’s weird at all. Why would you?” This kind of distorted thinking that clients have is due to several causes. One is that their parents told them that their thoughts or feelings were crazy and wrong and that no one believed or felt such things. The second is that, fearing being invalidated, shamed and ostracized for their innermost sentiments, they never bothered to share them with others to find out they are not alone....
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