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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. 

Family Fiction Can Teach Us A lot

I’m a huge fan of novels. Mostly I enjoy literary fiction and mysteries. Family dramas, in particular, are engaging because they’re generally so psychological: why characters act in certain ways, the loving and hateful dynamics common to us all, how childhood shapes without our realizing it, what gets passed on from parents consciously and unconsciously. Well written novels act as mirrors for us all, normalizing what we feel, as well as helping us see aspects of ourselves we’ve been fighting not to see. Celeste Ng, the author of Everything I Never Told You (and Little Fires Everywhere) is interviewed at the end of her book and has some profound comments on families that are as true as anything I’ve read written by psychotherapists. I want to share some of her remarks with you so that you can reflect on them in terms of your own life. On sibling relationships. “You...
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How to Handle Difficult People

You know how certain people leave you tongue-tied or frequently seem to best you in arguments? They need to dominate or “win” every discussion—when you didn’t even know there was a battle going on. The more you go at it, the more your frustration grows, leaving you feeling helpless, frustrated and emotionally drained. The solution is to change the focus of your response and redirect the conversation by making a comment or asking a question about the process or dynamics occurring rather than by addressing content. To put yourself in the driver’s seat, instead of responding to a statement or question by responding to what a person is saying, address only what’s going on between you by questioning his or her motivation or the way he or she is coming across. Here’s an example. Note how a process response disrupts the pattern and shifts the power of the discussion. SOMEONE:...
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The Importance of Early Attachments

On a flight during my vacation, I was reminded of the importance of our earliest attachments in shaping our lives for better or worse. A girl of four or five was sitting across the aisle from me next to her slightly older brother. Although she was securely buckled into her aisle seat, shortly after takeoff, she started squirming around, twisting to look behind her, and making mewing noises. Her brother was ignoring her and, even after the seatbelt light went off, no one came to attend to her. While I was wondering where her parents were, she gave one final mew, unbuckled her seatbelt, and raced, crying, toward the back of the plane to where I assume her parents were. I never saw nor heard her again, but she remained on my mind, as I considered the feelings of a frightened young child. In the best of worlds at that...
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Struggles with Siblings

In therapy, clients sometimes discuss their struggles with siblings. From them, I’ve learned that siblings (for which this only child yearned in childhood) can be both a blessing and a curse, in youth and adulthood. Here’s are some of the problems I see. A common issue is competitiveness. Maybe you were the “golden” child or perhaps it was your sibling. If you were the favorite, your siblings might have felt neglected and treated unfairly. If one of your siblings was the favorite, you might have struggled with feeling you never measure up. Or maybe your parents didn’t have much inclination or time to shower you with attention, so that you all ended up vying for it then—and now. Another problem is when one sibling in the family gets all (or most) of the attention in childhood due to having had a medical or mental condition which generates a need for...
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How Triangulation Can Harm Relationships

Do you know what triangulation is in a relationship? It’s exactly what it sounds like—pulling in a third party or a behavior to avoid direct interaction in a dyad. “Triangulation is a manipulation tactic where one person will not communicate directly with another person, instead using a third person to relay communication to the second, thus forming a triangle.” ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triangulation_(psychology) , accessed 2/27/18)   Although the Wikipedia definition says “person,” the third “party” can be the family dog, drinking, eating, work, hobbies, children, etc. It happens when two people don’t communicate directly with each other, but use someone or something else to convey their messages. It’s based on avoidance of direct conflict by pulling in a third party to speak for you. Sometimes the behavior is obvious (a spouse having an affair due to an unhappy marriage) and sometimes it’s more subtle (partners who pay more attention to the...
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Why You Focus on The Things You Do (Including Weight)

If you think that everyone with a high weight puts a strong focus on it, you’d be wrong. Yes, of course, society—from media to medicine—is obsessed with thinness. But, much of what we put our attention on in life is what our parents taught us is important. In reality, it may or not be. Only we can decide as adults what we want to spotlight.   Here are some fictional examples of what families may focus on: Parental Unit A loves nature and animals. Their idea of a stellar day is to traipse through deep woods identifying fauna and flora and to travel extensively to see the natural wonders of the world. What’s important to them is volunteering at a local animal rescue center and spending as much time as they can hiking. Their children receive high praise for their kindness to animals and for their knowledge of the natural...
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How You Get Sucked Into Taking Care Of Others

Many of my clients who are dysregulated eaters have enormous stress from overdoing taking care of others. And, lopsided relationships are a top cause of their emotional eating. Although they may recognize that they shouldn’t be working so hard to take care of someone else, they don’t understand why they do it. Because our actions follow from our thoughts and emotions, it pays to work backwards to identify what’s going on. Lack of love. Clients may believe that making up for the love and care that’s been missing for someone who didn’t receive enough of it will transform him or her into a healthy, happy adult. While it’s true that in rare cases, love will make someone blossom, it’s not going to cure addiction or serious mental health problems. This is something that therapists learn early on. Simply showering clients with caring and going overboard doing for them is not...
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Is a Psychopath Triggering Your Emotional Eating?

Although psychopaths (aka sociopaths or malignant narcissists) comprise only about 1% of the population, we’re bound to meet some of them during our lifetime. I have had a psychopathic boss and am acquainted with several psychopaths in the form of current or former husbands of several clients over the years. We also often see them in power positions in politics or business and, recently, as sexual harassers and predators.   They are the kind of people who turn your nervous system upside down and could certainly trigger dysregulated eating. They may make you feel, among other things, on guard, giddy with joy, frightened, in awe, or as if you need to walk on eggshells. Before you say that you couldn’t possibly have a psychopath in your life, read over the list of psychological traits below and, then, make up your mind. Along with the 1% statistic above, these characteristics were...
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A Client Faces Her Fears – And You Can Too

What keeps us from having romantic partners? Our childhood histories, genetics, life circumstances, trauma or abuse? These factors do play a part in reaching this goal, but most of all, we have our fears to thank for holding us back. I was so moved by a client’s blog on how she’s facing her fears of being a higher weight woman managing the dating scene, that I wanted to share her wisdom with you.         For awhile now, I have been become increasingly aware that, although I have said I don't want to be alone romantically, I have been doing several things to remain that way. Now I could absolutely point my finger at the people who said the painful comments to me growing up and that blame could honestly be justified. However, just like any other situation, after the blame has been cast, you have to find a way...
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Wanting to Belong is Not the Same as Wanting to Fit In

Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston, TED talker, and author of four bestselling books, can’t help opening her mouth and spouting wisdom. Being interviewed on NPR, she shared some interesting insights about a topic that often arises in treating dysregulated eaters: the need to belong. For more on this subject, read her interviews at https://www.cbsnews.com/news/author-brene-brown-social-scientist-new-book-braving-the-wilderness/ and at http://www.oprah.com/spirit/life-lessons-we-all-need-to-learn-brene-brown .   In both discussions, she talks about the difference between wishing to belong and wishing to fit in. You might think that they are the same or that in order to experience the former, the latter must happen. Not true. Instead, she maintains that people who have the truest sense of belonging are not those who try to blend in with others, but those who can stand up for their authentic selves and who are comfortable in their own skin.     Somewhere along the way (okay, in...
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Beware of Corrupt Power

If you frequently turn to food for comfort because you have a boss, parent, partner or someone close to you who abuses power, you may wonder why he or she acts that way. Or you, a nice person, may be shocked that others can be so mean and cruel. Either way, it pays to understand what power can do to some (but not all) people.   A Columbia University experiment helps us comprehend “how power corrupts the minds of those who possess it, more specifically noting how power changes the way people visually perceive others. According to the study, the most powerful people tend to perceive those who are less powerful as smaller in stature. In another series of studies , researchers observed how power increased moral hypocrisy. They found that powerful individuals tend to judge the powerless more harshly when caught in the act of cheating than when more...
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Not Everyone is as Nice as You Are

Some dysregulated eaters set themselves up for disappointment and heartbreak and turn to eating for comfort because they believe that everyone is as good, kind, nice, caring, trustworthy, reliable and honest as they are. This perception often leads to emotional eating. If this is an issue for you, it’s time to recognize and accept that there are malicious, callous, cruel people in the world who are very invested in staying that way. Here’s are some of the reasons you might not be able to see them clearly. Maybe you were raised to see only the good in people and told never to be judgmental. As a child, when you said something critical about someone, you were told that, “You need to be understanding” or “You shouldn’t say things like that.” In this way, you came to believe that you were wrong or bad if you acknowledged traits in people that...
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When Parenting is a Foreign Language

If your emotional and mindless eating is often caused by the stress of parenting, you’ll want to read "When Parenting Is A Foreign Language: A Child Therapist’s Guide to Speaking Your Child’s Language" by Diane Ross-Glazer, PhD. This gem of a book provides a quick study that gets right to the heart of effective parenting and is written in a casual, humorous style to engage and enlighten any frustrated mother or father who is ready to learn some simple guidelines for improving their relationship with their children.   Whereas most child-rearing books focus on what to do to prevent and respond to misbehavior, "When Parenting Is A Foreign Language" addresses the missing connection between many mothers and fathers and their children, one that is felt from and made with the heart. The book gets you to put aside your thinking and zero in on what you and your child are feeling...
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Beware of People Who Work Too Hard to Take Care of You

How could it be a problem when people wish to take really good care of you? Isn’t that a positive trait in a person? Doesn’t that make them ideal as a partner or friend? How could care-taking ever be something to be wary of?   Let me explain. Some people are looking to take care of you because they’re natural caregivers and others do it because they love you and want the best for you. But, there’s another aspect of a care-taker who has motives, albeit generally unconscious, that are neither benign nor healthy. That is the person who needs you to be sick or stuck because then you can be accountable to them and needed by them. These kinds of people create in you an unhealthy dependence on them that only keeps you from becoming healthy and empowered.   Here are some examples. One of my clients was seeing...
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Beware of Unhealthy Advice

We can’t be expected or expect ourselves to always know what’s best for us. That’s what family and friends are for, right? Well, not exactly. Sometimes their input is useful and sometimes it’s just about the worst baloney that we can hear. The key is to figure out when it’s right on and when it’s way off base.   Here are three examples I heard recently of clients asking family or friends for help and getting advice. See what you think of what they were told.   Case #1: A client who’s been trying to become a “normal” eater, yet hasn’t lost the weight she’d like to asks her mother how she just lost 90 pounds. Her mother tends toward narcissism, is known for her all-or-nothing thinking, and has suffered from serious depression. Since she’s been on anti-depressants she takes much better care of herself and is easier to get...
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People Who’ll Drive You to Eat – And How to Handle Them

During the holidays, you’re likely to be around difficult people more than usual. If so, remember that they’re not going to change and that, if you’re not prepared, interacting with them will drive you to unwanted eating. Beware of people like these:   Controllers want complete power over you and everyone else—what to wear, eat, cook, buy, etc. They pressure you into doing things their way because they’ve never considered that anyone else’s way is right or acceptable. Around them, you feel unheard, silenced, invalidated, and easily may end up doing what they want rather than what you want. You want to take a walk after the holiday meal, and they insist that you sit and chat with Uncle George. You politely decline seconds of pumpkin pie, and they shove a slice onto your plate anyway.   Critiquers will judge you and everyone else by focusing on what’s wrong. A...
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How Critical Parents Hurt Their Children

Most, if not all, of my eating dysregulated clients had at least one parent who was highly critical of them. The majority often don’t make the connection between how critical a parent was and their negative self put downs. In some cases, grandparents and aunts and uncles, too, frequently criticized one another or other people, so, for my clients, this type of behavior was simply the norm, that is, what people do.   They’ll say, “Yeah, Dad was hard on me but I know he loved me” or “Mom always expected so much of me because she loved me so much.” These statements may hold truth, but they’re hardly the entire story. Loving a child leads to wanting the best for them and wanting them to succeed and be happy (whatever happiness means to the parent or caregiver). However, it’s confusing for a child to feel hurt or stung by...
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How Having a Parent with Alcoholism Can Impact You and Your Eating

Many of my clients who are dysregulated eaters are children of parents who had problems with drugs or alcohol. A few are savvy about being an Adult Child of an Alcoholic (ACOA), and some even attend their group meetings. But many are unfamiliar with how this type of upbringing might effect them—and their relationship with food.   According to “Adult Children of Alcoholics: Healing Lifelong Scars” by Batya Swift Yasgur, MA, LSW (Psychiatric Advisor, 5/30/17, accessed 6/6/17, http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/addiction/adult-children-of-alcoholics-select-alcoholic-partners/article/664832/ ), “It is estimated that there are 28.6 million children of alcoholics (COAs) in the U.S… Compared with individuals who were not raised by an alcoholic parent, adult COAs are more likely to experience depression and engage in behavioral disengagement, denial, and substance abuse…and are 3-4 time more likely than non-ACOAs to select partners who are alcoholic.”   It is crucial to understand the profound impact that being raised by someone with...
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What’s More Important – What People Say or What They Do?

One of the easiest traps to fall into is to put more faith and hope into what someone says rather than what they do. This is virtually how most victims of abuse remain mired in hurtful relationships. If you’re paying more attention to how people say they’ll be than to how they really are, these scenarios may be (sadly) familiar to you. You repeatedly believe the excuses that people give for their behavior: You just happen to catch them smoking their only cigarette of the day; They’re late because the alarm clock didn’t go off again; They couldn’t say no to having a drink though they’d promised to give up alcohol; They keep texting with a former lover because he or she keeps emailing them and they don’t want to be rude and not respond. They make the same promises repeatedly for months, or worse, years and you want to...
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What to Look for in a Lover or Mate

I often talk with clients about what they’re looking for in a long-term romantic partner. More often than not, they will share only a list of attributes rather than say what kind of relationship qualities they’re looking for. And these are two quite different animals.   Here’s what you might consider for attributes. You might assess the interests someone has or activities he or she enjoys: biking, reading poetry, opera, or travel. You might look for someone whose passions have a good deal of overlap with yours or prefer someone who would bring new and interesting learning into your life. Maybe you’re seeking a potential beau who enjoys exploring new countries, when the farthest you’ve ever gone is across your home state. This difference between the two of you may be a plus or a minus in your book. You certainly would want to have enough common interests to share,...
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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