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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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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...
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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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Making the Unspeakable Speakable

It’s not unusual, if you follow my blogs, to learn that I sometimes write about themes which emerge in my practice. One such theme is adult clients expressing the wish that their parents were dead. This is not an uncommon reaction toward parents who’ve been abusive and neglectful. Clients who acknowledge this wish shamefully believe that they are alone in feeling this desire. Far from it. There are several reasons that we’re not (culturally) supposed to express this wish: ·One is the childhood belief that our thoughts are so powerful we can make things happen. This occurs when a child wishes harm to a parent and something bad befalls him or her—a car accident, a fall, or the like. The child’s undeveloped brain immediately thinks cause and effect, as in “my thoughts made this happen.” Science tells us that this is utter nonsense. But if you were a child who wished your...
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How Approval-seeking Distorts Relationships

I have too many clients who worry about what others think of them and, therefore, get themselves into trouble in various situations. There are several ways that approval-seeking can harm you and shape your decision-making in self-destructive ways. Here are the key problem areas. Undermining self-trust. Clients often ask how they can develop self-trust. Every time you overvalue what someone else thinks, you automatically devalue what you think. One of the major ways to develop self-trust is to know what you’re thinking and why you’re thinking it, recognize that you know yourself better than others do, and act on your own healthy and irrational thoughts and feelings. This doesn’t mean eschewing others’ opinions. It does mean making up your own mind to acting deliberately in your self-interest and others be damned. Becoming dependent on others’ approval. Sometimes I’ll ask a client what she thinks, and she’ll say something like this, “Well,...
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Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

The saddest part of my job is treating people in or trying to extricate themselves from abusive romantic relationships. Many of them have been with abusive partners for decades and often question why they didn’t see the signs or get out earlier. Then they blame themselves for this oversight which often compounds the problem. In brief, we make decisions based upon what is familiar to us from childhood but generally make these decisions unconsciously. They just feel right. Suffice it to say that if we had parents (or caretakers) who were abusive to and neglectful of us, we are used to mistreatment which leads to lowered self-esteem and this dynamic becomes the template for future intimate relationships. This happens often to children whose parents are narcissistic, sociopathic, and/or have mental health or substance abuse problems. For more on how we get set up to pick abusive partners, browse my blog archives...
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Make Family Out of Friends

The day after my husband and I had a couple we know quite well over for dinner, she emailed her thanks, including the heartwarming sentiment that they enjoyed spending time with us because we felt like family. I was enormously touched. Growing up as an only child, this was as meaningful a compliment as she could make and it got me thinking about how important close friends are in our lives—and, often, to our eating. Too often, intimate friendships are sadly lacking in the lives of dysregulated eaters. Many complain of being lonely and so they eat to feel better. As adults halfway through life, many don’t want to stay as (overly) attached to their parents as they are, but can’t seem to break away because they have so little outside support. Some have never known how to make friends while others have been so burned by disappointments and betrayals that...
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The Benefits of Rupture and Repair in Therapy

You might think that the word “rupture” couldn’t possibly be included in the lexicon of therapeutic terms. “Repair,” sure, because that’s the business of therapy. But, rupture? In fact, “rupture and repair” is an often-used clinical phrase, which applies to a breach in the therapeutic relationship followed by its restoration and positive continuation. A rupture may be caused by an overt disagreement between therapist and client, a client holding onto negative feelings about something a therapist said or did or didn’t say or didn’t do, or any disturbance in their cordial equilibrium. This dynamic is not something that client and therapist need to avoid. In fact, it’s something they should both welcome as proof of the strength of their connection and bond. Moreover, the repair part of the process is not only about fixing what’s gone awry with therapist and client. It’s a way of illustrating through new, healthy experiences that...
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The Best Parenting Style for Children

I don’t generally treat children, but I am asked a good many questions from clients about how to feed kids. I’m glad they ask because it means they understand that how they feed their children may cause or deter their progeny from developing eater disorders. Here are excerpts from a great article on nourishing children. In “Of the four parental 'feeding styles,' only one is good for kids' health, experts say,” nutritionist Lisa Drayer provides descriptions of feeding styles and why they are or aren’t useful for teaching kids how to be “normal” and nutritious eaters. ( https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/04/health/parenting-food-drayer/index.html , accessed 10/5/18) The Authoritative style is characterized by controlling what children eat—insisting that they eat certain foods and amounts of them. This style pulls children away from their natural appetites and, instead, teaches them to eat to please others (aka parents). Another control method is restricting what or how much kids eat...
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Stop Trying to Change Your Parents and You’ll Have a Better Holiday

Want to improve your eating during the holidays? Then stop trying to change your parents’ views or their distress about your views. Heed the wisdom of New York City writer Joan Reisman-Brill, who responds to ethical questions for The Humanist.com in “The Humanist Dilemma”. Here’s her response to a letter writer asking how to get his views accepted by his parents who believe they’ve failed him because he doesn’t think as they do about religion (Issue 771, 8/10/18). “The first thing you have to do is recognize that you can’t control what your parents believe any more than they can control what you believe. You can wish they’d see things your way, just as they can wish you’d see things their way. But wishing doesn’t make it happen, and maybe nothing can. Regardless, you need to live your life, let them live theirs, and make the best of whatever intersection there...
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How to Create Emotional Safety in a Relationship

How do you create emotional safety in a relationship? It’s not a 1-2-3 process, but it’s also not so complex that there aren’t guidelines for making it happen. Obviously, you want to avoid sarcasm, accusations, name-calling, defensiveness and offensive body language. Read on for guidelines on what makes for genuine emotional intimacy. Most couples come to see me and want to jump right into talking about major relationship problems: he doesn’t spend enough quality times with the kids, she’s negative and critical, she hoards every penny, he can’t spend money fast enough. But talking about differences can’t be done in a productive way without feeling safe enough to share your honest emotions and thoughts openly. That can happen only if you believe that no harm will come to you in doing so—not only physical harm (that goes without saying), but emotional harm as well. If there’s a fear of any type...
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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 have...
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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: I...
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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 age,...
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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 trips...
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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 family...
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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 world....
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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