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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 Know If People Are Keepers or Not

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It may be difficult to know whether or not to keep someone in your life—significant other, spouse, friend, or relative. Do you want to remain close to them or with them at all? Many clients entertain this dilemma and unwisely rely on self-trust or intuition to make decisions rather than rational thinking. Worse, they decide out of fear and anxiety. Here are some examples. A client is deciding if he wants to divorce his wife. Another wonders if she can continue to live with her emotionally stunted sister. A third is trying to figure out if an alcoholic friend is worth the trouble. If we live long enough, we’ll all face similar dilemmas, some of which will stress us out enough to trigger emotional eating.  One way to know whether someone is a keeper or not is to make a list of what they need to do over time to stay...
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What Makes for Mentally Healthy Friends?

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It’s easy to understand why we’d have problems with parents whom we didn’t pick and bosses or colleagues about whom we had limited choice, as they usually come with the job. But ongoing problems with friends, people we freely elect to have in our lives? It’s not even one-offs that clients complain about. Rather they vent about the same one or two “buddies” who drive them crazy or why they can’t seem to find the kinds of friends they want. Here are some patterns I’ve observed from my caseload over the decades. Picking friends who are victims and complain constantly about being treated unfairly, taken advantage of and how they’re put upon. Clients tending toward victim-think feel right at home. Surrounded by a Woe Is Me Club that does little actual problem solving and are poor role models for empowerment, clients avoid being accountable. They only ditch this mentality when they realize...
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Does Your Family Focus on Problems?

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I often come across clients whose family focus is squarely on their problems. Everyone has to have some or there’s nothing to talk about. This is an example of the victim mentality, with each family member trying to outdo the others in calamities, debacles and bad karma. If this describes your family, it’s time to look at how you’ve been socialized and the negative impact it has on your life, as adults, even now. In families that overfocus on what’s going wrong in their lives, suffering is king (or queen). If your a/c went out, there’s a sister who’ll do you one better and describe not only how her a/c stopped working, but how the pool has some bacterial contamination that makes it impossible to take a dip. Then your mother will try to go you all one better and up the ante by describing how she had to be abulanced...
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Outgrowing Caring What Your Parents Think

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I was (finally) cleaning out my files and found an article and a quote I’d saved that weren’t meant to go together, but do, beautifully. They’re for those of you in adult bodies who still think and act like children vis a vis your parents—dwelling in the land of childish wishes, hopes and resentments when you are as old as your parents were when they were raising you—and who would be immensely happier and healthier if you took your rightful place alongside your parents as independent-thinking adults. Unfortunately, the first excerpts are from a book I can’t identify, from chapter 8: Why Can’t You Get Your Parents’ Approval. Here’s what the unknown author says: “In particular, when parents use love as a conditional reward, they set the stage for their children to become approval addicts and, consequently, people-pleasers. This is called conditional parental love and it can be devastating to children...
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Why You Get Stuck with the Wrong People

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Clients often ask why they have so many emotionally unhealthy people in their lives. “I’m like a magnet to jerks,” one client insisted. Another asked, “How do all the ass-wipes in the world find me? What’s wrong with me?” If you think this way, you can heave a sigh of relief: There’s nothing wrong with you. But there is definitely something wrong with the way you select people to be in your life.  Here's what’s going on. There are a multitude of unhappy, mentally unhealthy people in the world. Are there more of them than of their opposites? I doubt it, but sometimes it seems like that. My own estimation, with no scientific basis whatsoever, is that about one-quarter of people are absolutely terrific, about one-half are okay, and one-quarter are those we need to watch out for. Mind you, I’m not judging people in this quarter. They turned out how...
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Why Making Friends Can Be Difficult

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A complaint I often hear from clients is that it’s hard to make friends. I concur but believe that just how difficult it is depends on the meaning you give to the endeavor. As an only child with a very small extended family, I had to put great effort into making friends, so I know a bit more than most about the subject. Here’s what I’ve learned over the decades about why folks may not be interested in having a friendship with me. I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. People may not care for my personality or views on politics or religion, about which I’m quite upfront. While finding me pleasant enough, they might think that our values don’t mesh well enough to want to see more of me.People may not be looking to make friends. Most of the ones I meet and seek friendship from are really active and busy....
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Can Couples Therapy Fix What Ails You

Couples-Therapy
Couples therapy can be enormously helpful to partners stuck in unhealthy patterns, including dysregulated eating. It improves communication, enhances insight, reduces tension, and deepens intimacy. I’ve done a substantial amount of it over the decades and sing its praises. It may be just what you need to heal your eating problems. Couples come to therapy at different stages of their relationship and for various reasons. The initial stages of marriage or living together can bring up all sorts of major issues about dependence and boundaries. It can rekindle fears of abandonment and rejection as well as trigger traumatic memories. Having and raising children might also create tensions, especially about what it means to be a great parent and keeping intimacy alive within the couple. The later years of coupledom are full of transitions like children moving away from home and retirement or how to have a full, meaningful life without them—not...
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No Good or Bad People

No Good or Bad People
Even while writing the title of this blog, I thought to myself, “Really, Karen, there are no bad people?” I could feel the pull of wanting to make that damning appraisal: He’s bad or she’s just no good. But, truth is, that approach is not a very effective, sophisticated or enlightened way of thinking about the world or ourselves. We are primitive beasts at heart, tribal and territorial: People are either friend or foe and to survive we’d better know the difference. Humans developed this approach when life was rife with danger. Sure, now, occasionally you hear footsteps behind you late on a dark night and feel frightened. But generally we don’t need to make snap judgments about whether someone will make us feel safe or sorry. Our lives are more nuanced. We learn this all-nothing way of assessing others in childhood. If our parents saw themselves as good or bad,...
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The (Paradoxical) Attraction to People Who Are Controlling

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Ever wonder why you or people you know choose controlling, demanding, full of themselves bullies, particularly for mates? The answer is more complicated and paradoxical than you might think. The people who make these choices generally grew up with a parent or parents who dominated their lives. The parent had to always be in charge, brooked no arguments, was critical, and dominated the relationship. One might think that children who endured this behavior would have had enough of it growing up and be turned off and shy away from controlling intimates in adulthood. Instead, they often seem drawn to them. This attraction goes beyond the behavior simply being familiar or clients disbelieving they deserve better, beyond being used to people treating them poorly and expecting this will always happen because there’s something defective about them.  Another reason is that being cared for by domineering people, particularly coupling up with them, makes...
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Really, You’re Allowed to Hurt Other People’s Feelings

Really, You’re Allowed to Hurt Other People’s Feelings
The theme of not wanting to hurt other people’s feelings runs rampant through therapy sessions. In fact, I doubt I’ve met a dysregulated eater without this mindset which goes along with people-pleasing and approval-seeking. When I tell clients that being emotionally healthy means sometimes hurting other folks’ feelings, they’ll often say something like, “Well, I know it’s okay, but” and then describe why they believe, deep down, that it isn’t. Occasionally, they’re gobsmacked, as if they’d never heard such an off-the-wall idea or considered it an option.  Bulletin: It’s okay to hurt someone’s feelings. Emotionally healthy people know this and expect it to happen. They do it when necessary as appropriately as possible and may feel bad but not guilty and they don’t freak out when someone hurts their feelings.  Many dysregulated eaters have learned to stifle their needs and desires or tolerate emotional hurt because they believe they deserve what’s...
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How to Deal with People Who Act Like Victims

How to Deal with People Who Act Like Victims
Clients often come to sessions totally exasperated at having had dealings with someone who acts like a victim when they truly are not one. These clients are frustrated and angry, feel victimized themselves and helpless to change others. In fact, they’re so stuck in the problem that they’re not really interested in my solutions. In a dysfunctional emotional domino effect, I end up both frustrated that clients aren’t listening to my solutions and helpless and spent because I don’t seem to be able to help them. When I have this “poor me” experience in a session, I know that therapy has gone awry and it’s time for me to reflect on what’s going on because victimhood can be a contagious condition if we let it be. Person A complains to person B so much that B feels put upon and needs to vent to person C. Person A usually feels better...
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Stress Eating Due to Caring for Elderly Parents

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One of the major stressors my clients encounter is caring for aging parents needing help due to paring down belongings and moving, sickness or surgery, or simply managing tasks they can no longer do as they grow older. Even if providing help doesn’t drive clients to eat emotionally, it’s certainly a drain on their emotional resources. In the best of relationships between parent and child, this endeavor can be time-consuming and energy-sapping. In the worst, it can feel like a downright burden.  If you were well-loved and well treated by your parents, you probably have similarly positive feelings toward them. You want them to feel safe, secure, and happy and don’t much mind doing whatever you can to make that happen. Although grocery shopping, taking them to medical appointments, taking over bill-paying or calling or visiting them more frequently may take time out of your busy schedule, you don’t begrudge doing...
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Loving Rather Than Needing

Love and need
When we say we love someone, we may believe that we need them in order to be happy which is not necessarily true. We can go on to be fine when we lose someone we love because loving and needing are not the same animal.  In my view, love develops into mutual caring and allows two people to value each other for being their authentic selves, while need pressures people to be a certain way and not change. Love flows outward toward others, while need pulls others toward us (whether they want to move toward us or not). Love is other-oriented and generous while a need is restrictive and deprivation. When we confuse need and love, we’re usually seeking someone to complete us in a way we may or may not be conscious of. Let’s say . . . We’re painfully shy and socially awkward and find someone who’s gregarious and...
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Reimaging Your Childhood

  A big psychological shift that dysregulated eaters can shoot for is to understand that, no matter how they coped with family dysfunction in childhood (and how maladaptive these behaviors are now), no child could have done a better job. A different job, maybe, but not a better one. When you understand that you couldn’t have done anything differently than what you did, you’ll stop berating and shaming yourself and start changing your coping mechanisms in the present. Say you were the oldest child of five children born into a financially distressed family. Your physically abusive father was hardly ever in the picture—you all were better off that way—and your narcissistic mother could barely take care of herself, never mind kids. Mom brooded, angered easily, and mostly wanted to go out and party, leaving pre-adolescent you in charge of your younger siblings. You took your responsibility very seriously and did the...
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To Understand Yourself, Understand Your Legacy

  Most of us receive some sort of legacies from family members—a ring from Mom, Dad’s fishing pole, or Grandma or Grandpa’s car which is old but still running. These are obvious inheritances. The ones I’m talking about aren’t tangible or material. They’re the experiential legacies of the people who raised us. One of my clients was reading an old classic I’d loaned her, Dr. Patricia Love’s The Emotional Incest Syndrome, and started thinking about her mother’s mixed bag of a life growing up. Another client brought her father into therapy to improve their relationship and sessions often consisted of her hearing for the first time about the horror of Dad’s early years in foster care. Another client discovered that her aunt was actually her sister because her grandmother didn’t want anyone to know that Mom had an “out of wedlock” child when she was only 15 years old (a shocking...
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How Parents Harm Children

Whether it’s done heartlessly or from too much love, certain ways of parenting will likely ruin the parent-child relationship (and the child). It pays to know the no no’s if you’re a parent raising children, one whose progeny have left the nest, or are an adult dealing with your parents. Here are some harmful behaviors that parents engage in from “How to Get Your Kids to Hate You” by Judith Newman (AARP Magazine, Apr/May 2019, pp 58-61), along with some ideas of my own added in. The no no’s: · Don’t maintain appropriate boundaries and demand that your children share every aspect of their lives in detail. Micro-manage all their decisions and make sure to repeatedly give them your opinion when they do something you think is wrong. · Hold your children hostage to the gifts you give them. Whenever you give them one, let them know that they owe you....
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The Wrong Things You Learn from Parents

We cannot afford to underestimate the effect our parents have on us when we’re growing up. Why? Because our undeveloped brains look to them to teach us how to understand the world and make it right. As adults, they seem to know everything and do whatever needs getting done. As children, we know we’re dependent on their knowledge and their actions. I was reminded of this dynamic reading an article about a teacher asking his students to take some actions in class which were morally wrong. When asked about the incident, one student replied that she thought what she did was okay because what was asked “came from an adult.” This child’s thinking tied in perfectly with the message that offending parents gave their children in this year’s college admissions scandal: it’s okay to cheat to get what you want. And also relates to a story a friend from a wealthy...
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What is Self Differentiation and Why Is It So Important?

Self-differentiation is a word you probably don’t hear in everyday usage. But it’s a crucial process to living (and eating) well. It’s happening when you hear people speaking their minds with thoughtful conviction even though others might disapprove. It’s lacking when someone spends her life rebelling against the views and values of her parents and clinging to their opposite. It’s missing when someone stifles his feelings and thoughts in fear of hurting others or being rejected or shamed by them. Get the picture? Murray Bowen, MD developed the self-differentiation theory which applies to human development and family dynamics. His theory has two major parts. 1) “Differentiation of self is the ability to separate feelings and thoughts. Undifferentiated people cannot separate feelings and thoughts; when asked to think, they are flooded with feelings, and have difficulty thinking logically and basing their responses on that. 2) Further, they have difficulty separating their own...
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Parental Blame versus Self-responsibility

A major blunder in all-or-nothing thinking is that your dysregulated eating or other unhealthy behaviors are either the fault of your parents or because you aren’t doing enough to clean up your own act. Neither position is the true one. The explanation for why any of us do what we do is far more complicated, and you’ll have a better shot at changing your thinking or behaving if you understand why. Part of the problem is confusing cause with blame. Cause is a neutral term, while blame is a negative one, implying fault or wrongdoing. Although seeking to identify the roots of behavior is useful, it works against us when we hold onto feelings of hurt or anger that come with assigning blame. Moreover, though there may be a correlation between, say, our eating and how we were raised, it’s too simplistic to point a finger and say with 100% certainty...
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Widen Your Perspective

One reason that many clients don’t resolve their eating or other problems or progress as quickly as they’d like to is due to having a narrow perspective. They think they’re defective or unlovable, that a diet will keep weight off them if only they tried harder, that they are the problem in their marriage or romantic relationship, or that it’s better to rely only on yourself than on other people. Although I understand how they acquired these irrational, incorrect views, I can’t keep nagging them to change. My job is to lay the groundwork for helping them develop intellectual curiosity so that they can find new solutions to old problems themselves. For instance, when clients are giving me a history of their lives, I automatically do a mental check off of experiences which could derail them from living happy, healthy lives—parents with addictions, mental health problems or personality disorders; having been...
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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