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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]

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

Attraction-to-Controlling-People
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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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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