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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Yes, You’re Allowed to Disappoint Other People

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Many people have the odd belief that they should never disappoint others. The belief runs rampant in the eating disorders community. While it’s clear to me how this irrational belief came about, the concept of it being okay to disappoint others often comes as a surprise to clients. If you’re an adult walking around the planet trying not to disappoint people, finding out that you no longer need to think this way may shock you too. Where else did you learn that disappointment is a no no but in childhood. Here’s an example. Say, you’re an amazing artist and an outstanding soccer player but not so great in math which disappoints your dad who hoped you’d grow up to become an accountant like him. He lets you know frequently that he’s sad/upset/disappointed and, as a child, this makes you feel terrible because you love Dad and feel like the cause of...
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How We Learn to Trust Others

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Do you trust people in general or are you wary that others won’t have your best interest at heart? Do you believe the world is a caring place or do you see it as fraught with dangers so that you need to remain on guard? Simplified, is the world safe or scary? A more relevant question may be whether you recognize that your view isn’t a matter of fact or fiction but simply what you learned from experience growing up. How else can we explain that Holocaust survivors still believe in the human capacity to be and do good or that some people will go to their graves believing that a dark cloud hangs over them although they’ve lived reasonably normal, uneventful lives?  Whether you view people as trustworthy or not and the world as safe or scary depends on what your family of origin was like. Here are some questions...
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The Good Enough Parent

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Those of you who read my blogs know that I’m all about “good enough.” No one needs to strive for perfection in parenting. Parents can be imperfect and still do a great job with their kids. In fact, The Good Enough Parent Is the Best Parent. The term “good enough mother” was coined by British psychoanalyst and pediatrician Donald Winnicott. Psychologist, scholar, public intellectual and author Bruno Bettelheim later expanded the concept to “good enough parents.” Here are some tips:  Don’t strive to be a perfect  parent or expect perfection from your children. Cut yourself and others slack and have compassion for yourself and others. Mistakes and failures are learning experiences, not character defects or self-worth arbiters. Respect your children and try to understand them for who they are. Good enough parents “see their children as complete human beings right now, and their job as that of getting to know those...
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Watch Out for These People

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Several times a week I have discussions with clients about being mistreated by others. This is because not everyone is as mentally healthy or as nice you are. If you often end up being mistreated by people, my guess is that you’re hanging with friends or family who are emotionally greedy or needy or both. Here’s an example of what I mean. Shawna runs herself ragged taking care of others who rarely extend themselves for her. Her grandmother calls her several times a week to complain about her life and many are the days that Shawna spends her lunch hour as a paralegal running errands for her. Then there’s Shawna’s car-less best friend who is constantly begging her to take her places. She frequently asks to borrow Shawna’s car or crash at her apartment when she has a row with her boyfriend. Shawna is the go-to person with family and friends...
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How Object Relations Theory Will Help You

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I often use object relations theory to help clients better interact with narcissistic people, especially their parents or bosses. It’s a complicated theory and I focus on one particular concept that fosters improved understanding of how others operate. The theory describes the internalized view we have of others: do we see and treat them as if they have their own needs and wants that may be different from ours or do we perceive them as objects (a part of us) to be used for our own gratification. Stop a minute and think about people you know and how you feel around them. If you feel seen, heard and valued by someone, they probably have an internalized view of you as a unique, separate person from themselves (good object relations). However, if you feel unseen, unheard and devalued, they probably objectify you (poor object relations). Here's an example. I had a client...
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Why Keep Asking Why People Won’t Change?

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Why questions can be helpful in understanding yourself and others. “Why do I think I need to eat watching TV?” and “Honey, why don’t you like historical novels?” are fine questions which will likely give you fruitful information But some “why” questions aren’t meant to seek new information and have a purpose which you’re probably not aware of.  “Why won’t they change?” may be the most frequent question I’m asked. What drives it is usually not avid curiosity and it may not even be a quest for new information. When you ask, “Why hasn’t he changed when I’ve asked him a million times not to talk about my weight?” or “Why hasn’t she changed when I’ve begged her not to hurl questions at me the minute I walk in the door from work?” what you really might be wanting to know is: am I worth someone doing things differently, don’t they...
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Time to Learn How to Detach

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Most clients think of detaching from others as breaking off a relationship or not caring about another person, but neither represents true emotional detachment which is another sort of animal. When we detach, we may or may not still care about the person, spend time with or live near them, or continue contact.  Detachment is a mental/emotional state of indifference and emotional disconnection. Have you ever read a book or watched a film in which you were mildly engaged with a character but didn’t greatly care about what happened to them? When we detach, we feel as if we’re seeing someone from a distance. Detachment is a neutral space where you don’t feel personally connected to someone’s actions or let them disturb you. Here's an example. My client Charles, 34, has a highly narcissistic father who expects complete allegiance and wants to control his life. Living within a few miles of...
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Do You Expect People to Read Your Mind?

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Most of us think of mind readers as entertainers who insist they know what you’re thinking and go to great lengths to make you think so. That is not the kind of mind reader I’m writing about here. This blog is about a family dynamic in which members are supposed to be able to read each other’s minds and are chastised for not doing so. For instance, my client Jay-Lynn’s mother asked her to pick up a gift for her own father’s birthday. “You know the kinds of books he likes, sports and stuff,” her mother told her. Jay-Lynn wasn’t sure exactly what to get him, but she squeezed out some time from her busy schedule to pop into Barnes and Noble to search for something that seemed appropriate. She was excited when she arrived home to show her mother her purchase. When she held up the book her mother said,...
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How to Be Like and Unlike Your Parents

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I had two sessions in a row in which clients were talking about how they in no way wished to be like their mothers. Neither one had to worry in the least that they’d become like them, yet each had this deep-seated terror that it might happen. Let me explain how they came to this kind of faulty thinking and how we fixed it to be more reality-based. If parents take good care of us, we yearn to be like them and internalize their goodness. We model ourselves after them and learn by imitating what they do and say. If parents abuse or neglect us, we may vow early on that when we grow up, we’ll be nothing like them. In fact, we swear we’ll do our darndest to be the opposite of them because being like them would mean doing to others the awful things they did to us. One...
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Why We’re Afraid to Hurt Other People’s Feelings

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A major problem for many dysregulated eaters is stressing themselves out to avoid hurting someone’s feelings. They try too hard or do too much, over-focus on others’ needs and under-focus on their own—and end up feeling angry and resentful. I’ve blogged before on why and when it’s okay and not okay to hurt people. This blog is to explain the reasons it’s so difficult for some of you to cause others pain. The first reason is that we recall how hurt we felt as children, forgetting that children and adults have very different nervous systems and abilities to regulate and cope with emotions. As children, our frontal lobes (used for clear thinking and problem-solving) are still developing and we cope poorly with hurt feelings because we lack the physiological components to do a better job. We can’t think rationally and put what’s happening to us into a larger, correct context. Although...
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Asking the Wrong Question in Abusive Relationships

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What do you think is the most common and persistent question clients ask me about their abusive relationships? And what’s the most unhelpful question they could ask themselves? The answer is the same question: “Why is my abuser doing this to me?” If this question doesn’t initially strike you as off-base, take a moment to consider why that might be. Unless you’re someone’s therapist, the problem isn’t why someone does something hurtful to another person. It’s why someone who’s frequently hurt by another person puts up with abusive behavior and continues the relationship! Here’s an example. I have a client who’s adult sister is always causing trouble in the family. My client’s mother was alcoholic when she and her sister were growing up and is sober now. However, she’s still narcissistic and critical. My client’s sister and her mother have constant friction. And when they do, the sister blames my client...
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The Stress of Estrangement

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One of the many stressors that can lead to dysregulated eating is loneliness due to estrangement from family members—when adults disconnect from relatives or families disconnect from them. This kind of problem can decrease a sense of belonging and, too often, lead to emotional eating.  Family estrangement: Why rifts happen and how to cope with them explains the causes of alienation, why it has increased over time, and what to do if it happens to you. The article’s author, Jen Rose Smith, maintains that alienation is far more common than it used to be for several reasons. When abuse is involved, rather than turning the other cheek, more and more abusees are comfortable letting go of toxic relationships, a view reinforced by American culture’s individualistic, rather than family, orientation. Although I’ve known a few people over the years whose parents shunned them for their life choices, it’s more common for me...
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What Love Is and Isn’t

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Love is one of the mysteries of the ages. It’s a term bandied about so much that most of us have lost sight of what it means and, more important, what it doesn’t mean. We also assume that when a person says they love us, their actions will automatically align with this message. Unless we fully understand what love means, we’re bound to fall into trouble in our interpersonal relationships.  To consider its meaning, let’s go back to 1956 and the publication of psychoanalyst Erich Fromm’s seminal work, The Art of Loving (which I highly recommend reading). He says that “What matters is that we know what kind of union we are talking about when we speak of love. Do we refer to love as the mature answer to the problem of existence, or do we speak of those immature forms of love which may be called symbiotic union?”  “Infantile love...
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How to Know Whom You Can Trust

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It’s not surprising that dysregulated eaters, who often have little self-trust, also have difficulty with knowing whether or not to trust others. Knowing who to trust is a learned ability, a skill. One way to assess trust is through verification. Another is by recognizing what people do when they feel guilty. I had a client when I worked at a Boston methadone clinic who stored his stash of heroin under certain railroad tracks, convinced that no one would ever catch him burying or retrieving it. When I probed for fear or a sense of guilt if he got caught, he insisted he’d be fine, that his clever plan would work. Fast forward to when he finally got arrested at those very same tracks digging up his stash and was frantic with guilt when I visited him in jail. He kept repeating how stupid he’d been and how guilty he felt that...
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Beware of Becoming the Family Therapist

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I’ve blogged about being the problem in your family and now want to talk to those of you who’ve taken on the role of family therapist. I don’t mean you went out and got yourself a degree in psychology, but that you’ve volunteered for the thankless job of solving the problems of everyone in your family. In truth, you may think you’ve volunteered, but my guess is that you’ve been recruited in subtle ways and are actually sacrificing your own well-being in order to fix the lives of your parents and siblings. When You Become the Family Therapist: Avoid these amateur psychology mistakes when tending to loved ones’ emotional needs by Kelsey Ogletree (AARP Bulletin 11/20, pp 36-39) explains the downside this situation poses. When you’re constantly trying to put out family fires—Cousin George’s drinking, Grandma’s depression, your parents contemplating divorce, or your sister self-harming—you run the risk of exposing yourself...
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A Crash Course on Avoiding Unwelcome People

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A subject that gets a major blast of air time in sessions is clients picking unhealthy people and suffering the consequences. They either complain (rightly) about being mistreated or are desperate for advice about how to get out of unhappy relationships. I spend so much time explaining how to identify mentally unhealthy people that I thought it would help to blog about them. Here are three easy steps to use to evaluate whether people are emotionally healthy enough to let them into your life as friends or lovers. Notice traits. Avoid rushing into a relationship and instead give it time to evolve. While that’s happening, observe the other person. Stop worrying so much about whether or not they’ll like or love you and focus almost exclusively on what kind of person they’re turning out to be. By nature, are they kind, generous, and thoughtful not only to you—and this is crucial—but...
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Is It Hard Being the Mentally Healthy Person in Your Family?

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Most clients get very excited when they start to get psychological insights into how dysfunctional their family is. They’re determined to recover from past trauma, heal their wounds, and become more emotionally healthy. What they may not realize is that this is not necessarily what other family members want to happen. Parents and siblings might view this new-found wisdom and altered behavior as rocking the boat and upsetting the homeostasis of the family. In fact, what clients often find when they attempt to do what’s best for them is not support but a circling of the wagons and a tsunami of resistance.  So, instead of being cheered on, these clients are overtly and covertly pressured back into their old ways. Sometimes it comes as a surprise to them that they’re not getting pats on the back and other times they anticipate and are bracing themselves for such push-back. Either way, it’s...
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From Rapture to Rupture

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When we fall in love we generally believe it’s until death do us part. What we feel is a grand rapture. My mother used to tell me that love is the feeling you feel when you’re about to feel a feeling that you never felt before. Not very helpful for a teenager trying to understand her emotions, but most of us recognize what my mom was trying to tell me: romantic love is special, unique, like nothing else we’ve experienced. It's a kind of rapture, a state that both courses intensely through every cell of our bodies and also feels dreamlike and surreal. Love roots us in every aspect of the present while feeling as if it will last forever and that nothing ever came before. Let me give you an example. My client Ella, seeing me for marital problems, told me about when she first met her husband Lyle in...
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You Gotta Have (a Group of) Friends

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As an only child, friends were my lifeline to fun, connection and learning about myself. I can’t imagine my life without not only individual friends but belonging to a group of like-minded people. Granted that I’m an extrovert, but I know introverts who also enjoy the benefits of belonging to a band of friends.  Not every group of friends is right for you. Peers can lead you astray, down paths you might not have chosen without their influence and would likely not have traveled alone. If they’re doing unhealthy things and you hang with them long enough, you’ll end up doing them too. Like going out to eat with friends who all binge and overeat. If you’re not anchored to being a “normal” eater—especially if you’re trying to become one—you’re probably dooming yourself. Also, in a group you could become the scapegoat, the one that gets teased and blamed for all...
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Beware of These Traits in People

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Whether we like it or not, we all have what’s called a dark side, when we’re not putting our best foot forward and resort to irrationality and immaturity. But for some people this side is their only side. Their personality is composed of mostly unhealthy traits. “The Dark Core of Personality” highlights ones to watch out for and steer clear of in people. A team from Germany and Denmark calls these traits the General Dark Factor of Personality or D-factor. Morten Moshagen, professor at ULM University, describes it as “the basic tendency to maximize one's own utility at the expense of others, accompanied by beliefs that serve as justifications for one's malevolent behaviors.” These people are anywhere from selfish to narcissistic to psychopathic. The nine factors that compose the D-factor are: “Egoism. The excessive concern with one's own pleasure or advantage at the expense of community well-being.Machiavellianism. Manipulativeness, callous affect and...
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