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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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Are You Desensitized to Abuse?

When awful things are going on around you, do you ever feel disconnected from them, as if what’s happening has nothing to do with you? Do friends or family ever try to get you to see that you’re being grossly mistreated and you insist that everything is fine or will be? These are both cases of having become desensitized to your painful emotions.  Desensitization occurs when you suppress (consciously) or repress (unconsciously) feelings of fear, anxiety, hurt or anger which are meant to warn you that something in your life is very wrong. I often blog about the difficulties of feeling too much and being too reactive in situations. Desensitization is the opposite, when you don’t feel enough. For example, a client we’ll call Don, who’s separated from his wife, has two teenage sons who frequently act out, screaming at each other and cursing their parents. Once, son #1 threatened family...
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Let Pride Replace Pleasure to Get Things Done

If you’re basing your life on doing only what you like and what feels good and avoiding what you don’t like and doesn’t feel good, you’re not going to be very happy or successful for very long. So when I hear clients say they don’t enjoy or like eating healthy foods, exercising or going to the doctor, I know that my job is to help them find some other motivation for engaging in these essential activities. The first thing I focus on is the belief that they must like something to do it. Where does that assumption come from? Is that a belief their parents had and modeled or taught them? If so, how well did it serve them then and how well does it serve them today?  My client Rebecca was one of six children whose parents were rarely there to guide her through her childhood. When she put up...
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Victor or Victim?

While I’ve blogged about how to stop being a victim and how to deal with people who act like victims, I haven’t written about the competitive nature of relationships between victims. This happens when two (or more) people have been victimized in childhood by abuse or neglect and carry their victimhood into adulthood where they become locked into a struggle for the biggest loser prize. Take this couple for example. Gail comes from a large family with an alcoholic, abusive father and enabling mother. Gail never had the love and connection she yearned for from Dad and watched as her mother complained but allowed his drinking and abuse to continue. She never had enough of Mom’s attention either, even when she was sexually abused by a cousin. The children were left unfairly unprotected and poorly attended to and Gail adapted by staying under parental radar as much as possible. She had...
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Setting Up Rules for Family “Normal” Eating

I’ve been talking with a client about moving herself and her family away from unhealthy eating to a more “normal”, healthy lifestyle. As I told her, it’s quite simple but not quick and easy. What I mean is that there are concrete actions to take, but that doesn’t mean that everyone will be on board right away. Here are my suggestions for making the transition from a way of eating that doesn’t serve your family to one that does. Be clear on your goals: If you’re generating the transition, think long and hard about your goals and how you got to the place you’re in with food. Notice that I’m not using the word “switch” which implies going from here to there quickly. It’s better to think in terms of transition over time. Write down five goals for your family, for example: Eat together as a family X number of times/week,...
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Why We’re Afraid to Hurt Other People’s Feelings

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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What People Who Grew Up in (Relatively) Functional Families Know

Have you heard the saying, “We don’t know what we don’t know.” If you grew up in a dysfunctional family, you likely don’t even realize all the life skills you lack and the viewpoints that those who were raised in more functional environments have that you don’t. So, here’s what you might not know but need to. You can trust people.       Obviously, you can’t trust everyone for everything. You can’t expect everyone to know how to fly an airplane, cut your hair, or advise you on investments. When we talk about trusting people, we usually mean that we can trust them emotionally: Are they honest, ethical, dependable and reliable; will they validate our feelings, be there for us and take care of us? Not everyone will, but many will try their darndest to do so.      If you grew up with parents who couldn’t (because of their upbringing)...
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Where Are You on the Mental Health Continuum?

Many decades ago when I’d just started social work school in Boston, a friend became very sad after his wife left him for another man. I knew them both and their situation and assumed my friend was suffering from betrayal and grieving the loss of his marriage. When he continued to feel down and exhibited other distress symptoms, I finally realized that he was suffering from depression with which he still struggles to this day. With my clinical experience now, I would have seen that he was depressed more quickly. But, even with clinical experience, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between someone simply suffering through a difficult time and someone who has mental health issues that need to be treated. And if I’m not sure of the truth as a seasoned therapist, it’s even harder to discern for people without my experience. This dilemma is the focus of...
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Strategic Silence

Anyone who knows me well would use the words chatty, highly verbal, or strongly interactive to describe me in a relationship—unless I’m employing a technique that therapists call strategic silence. It’s used to help clients sit with and expand feelings by helping the therapist from getting in their way of doing so. This blog is not about how strategic silence is used in therapy. It’s teaching you how to use this technique to improve your interpersonal skills dealing with difficult people. Social discourse generally involves one person saying something and another saying something in return. A back-and-forth volley of words is expected as in playing tennis. When your opponent hits the ball over the net, it’s assumed you’ll hit it back.  To learn to use strategic silence effectively, you must realize you’re breaking a social norm and feel okay about it. You also need a conscious reason for doing so which...
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How Not to Stop Emotional Eating

Have you ever heard of “Mindful Emotional Eating”? I hadn’t until a few years ago when books and articles started popping up on the subject. I even wrote a blurb for a colleagues’ book about it based on the belief that if someone is going to regularly engage in emotional eating, why not make it more mindful. But the more I read about it, the more the concept simply doesn’t make sense to me.  Assuming that someone is trying to end a pattern (key word here) of emotional eating, let’s definitely encourage them to have compassion for themselves when they seek food to deal with the blues or the blahs. Let’s help them understand that there should be no guilt, shame or judgment involved because they are not doing a bad thing; they’re actually trying to make themselves feel better! They’re doing what they know and what most of us do...
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How to Use Incompatible Response Training to Change Habits

While reading a mystery book, I came across a child psychologist character describing his use of Incompatible Response Training, briefly explaining to his companion that it works by substituting one emotion for another. I thought the concept interesting and useful and Googled it to learn more about it. Habit Reversal Training, as it’s also called, involves substituting one habit for another. Why not use it with emotions? So I tried out this strategy with a client that afternoon. She’s very anxious, struggling to overcome perfectionism and people-pleasing, and looking for ways to dissolve her anxiety as she eagerly takes on more challenges in life. Raised by a shame-based mother and an insecure father who demanded she overperform to receive his approval, she grew up as the consummate overachiever and with sky-high anxiety. Both due to genetics and socialization, she couldn’t have turned out any other way. We talked about two large...
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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