Karen's Blogs

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Learn from Experience

I had two conversations with clients in one week that prove how vital it is to learn from and live by our experiences. This can be a difficult task for a number of reasons, but it’s the only way to get through life effectively. When we pay attention to our own experience, we make better choices, reduce stress and distress and, therefore, set ourselves up for making healthier decisions around food.

One client, a dancer, described ongoing problems with her husband also a dancer, who interacted with many attractive women. She agreed that his dancing with them was no threat to her but, as someone who’d been abandoned early in life by her father, she was super-sensitive to the possibility of a man leaving her. When her husband went to dance with a particular (generally good-looking) partner, my client would demand that he dance with her. The more she “freaked out,” the more adamant he became that she couldn’t tell him who to dance with. Paradoxically, she found that when she told him to dance with whomever he wanted, he usually—happily—picked her.

Another client from a dysfunctional, abusive family asked if I thought it was okay that she steered clear of her “totally toxic” grandmother. We talked about how she’d arrived at this decision from decades of experience with the woman. She said she’d tried hard to be around grandma, but found it wasn’t worth the effort when she always came away feeling as abused as she’d been in childhood. Her problem was family pressure to make nice with grandma which generated guilt in her. I whole-heartedly supported her decision to stay away unless and until she felt more comfortable around grandma.

More often than not, we really do know what’s best for us. The first example above is typical. When we yank people closer, they often edge farther away from us to prove their autonomy. We tug and they keep backing up. When we stop tugging, they move toward us. A somewhat complicated dynamic, but we know it when we experience it. The second example is also typical: family pressure to do something that doesn’t feel right because our experience is either different than that of the rest of the family or other members aren’t behaving in emotionally healthy ways and we are.

Consider situations in which you know how to achieve a positive outcome for yourself, but habitually act in ways that produce a negative outcome in spite of your experience. Think about what you can learn from this dynamic and how to do what’s best for you. Trust your instincts, then go out and do what’s needed. That’s what experience is for.

When Food Is No Longer the Center of Your Life
When You Eat Makes a Difference

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