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Learning the Tools of Emotional Management: Guest Author

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foodandfeelings2People living with troubling eating patterns are all individuals with different vulnerabilities and strengths. You may need to hear many voices speaking to healing and recovery before you hear the voice that touches you and awakens you to your eating disorder recovery path. 

I'm happy to introduce you to the voice of Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. author of The Food and Feelings Workbook,  who shares her thoughts about learning skills for recognizing and coping well with your emotions. It's my pleasure to welcome Karen as a guest author blogger on Eating Disorder Recovery for Women.

 

 

Learning the Tools of Emotional Management

by

Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed.

 

If you binge, obsess about weight, or purge because you’re uncomfortable with your emotions, you’re not alone.  For many folks, maneuvering through an inner world of emotions is confusing and overwhelming, and feelings are scary, unidentifiable, unmanageable, or unbearable.  Fortunately, you can acquire emotional intelligence.

Like physical prowess and intellectual acuity, emotional intelligence comes with conscientious effort.  First, you realize that you’re missing an integral way of interacting with the world.  Then you identify the aspects of emotional management in which you’re challenged.  Next you set out to acquire the skills or proficiency you’re lacking.  And, finally, you practice, practice, practice.  Really, emotions are no different than learning any other skill set.

It’s also important to understand that you lack effective affective skills because you weren’t taught them.  I often ask clients, “Can you fly a plane?”  Most answer no.  “Why not?” I want to know.  Most answer that no one ever taught them.  This is precisely the problem you have with feelings.  If your parents and other early caretakers didn’t model and teach you topnotch skills in handling the ups and downs of life when you were a child, where would you have learned them?  They couldn’t teach you what they didn’t know themselves.

Now, like the rest of us, you’re scrambling to learn later in life what you weren’t taught earlier.  Trust me, we’re all emotional management trainees of one sort or another.  Some of us may have more grounding in the subject than others, but no one had a perfect emotional upbringing.  There’s no shame in pursuing skills, only in refusing to admit your ignorance and remaining unskilled.

Two vital components in emotional management are knowing when to contain or minimize emotions and when to share or amplify them.  Stiff-upper-lippers excel at one-half of the job:  controlling emotions.  Let-it-all-hang-outers have the other half down pat.  To manage emotions, you need both—to recognize when to talk about feelings and share them with others, unburden yourself and reach out for understanding, validation and comfort and when to use your own resources to put hurt into perspective, distract yourself from internal distress, and soothe your own pain.

When you can both share your most vulnerable fears and hurts appropriately and count on you to get yourself through the night when others aren’t around, you’ll have an easier time not turning to food or weight obsession when you’re in emotional turmoil.  Remember, there’s nothing wrong with you, no intrinsic deficit that makes you unable to function well without abusing food and your body.  You’re simply unskilled and can learn what you don’t know.  It helps to recall being unskilled in other areas—algebra, French, basketball free throws, calligraphy, whatever—and to note how through attention and practice you gained mastery and proficiency.

Put the same amount of attention and practice into learning emotional management, and you’ll find the world an easier and less painful place to live in and speed up your recovery.  If you’re looking for a safe place to start this process, give my book, The Food and Feelings Workbook: a full-course meal on emotional health, 2007, Gurze Books a try.  It offers a pre- and post-assessment, moves back and forth between talking about eating and emotions, has a slew of exercises for you to do, and will give you a great education on the subject.

 

Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed., is an expert on the psychology of eating—the why and how of it—a four-book international author, psychotherapist, national speaker, and eating coach with a worldwide clientele.  Visit her website at EatingNormal.com.

 

 

Comments  

PTC
0 # I don't think I was ever taught to exprePTC 2011-10-08 04:36
I don't think I was ever taught to express my feelings, therefore now I don't really have feelings. I'm really good at feeling anger. I can feel sad when something is wrong with my cats or something, but most of the time I have no idea how I'm feeling. I never talk about my feelings either.
pinkjoanna
0 # Dear PTC, I'm glad to be hearing frompinkjoanna 2011-10-08 10:33
Dear PTC,

I'm glad to be hearing from you again. Thank you for posting.

Here's the basics of my response to you. Please bear with me. Your response and my answer may relate to many people in your situation.

The unalterable fact is that you are a human being. I remember a client from many years ago who had a full on screaming tantrum in my office shouting, "I don't want to be human!"

We don't get to change species. We are human and so are you.

Human beings have feelings. We have an emotional life. Our emotions are useful. They connect us to other people so we can propagate and create needed community. Feelings show us, through fear, that we need to take care of ourselves.

Feelings provide us with so much more.

Anorexia is about withdrawing from the human condition. Think of how much is denied when anorexia prevails. You restrict food and companionship and sexuality and the exploration of what you truly care about. Your presence in the world gets smaller and smaller - not just your body.

The goal of so many women with anorexia is to become so light they are pure spirit. That means safety and freedom to them, but in actuality it means death. Human beings, like it or not, are made of flesh and blood. We, and you, need nourishment of all kinds.

You are emotionally connected to your cat. :-) (I'm emotionally connected to mine too -- Jack and Bodhi - two brothers, 3/4 Siamese, 11 years old.)

This emotional connection enriches your life. You know it does.

Can you find a way to begin to enrich your emotional life? Can you experiment with what brings you closer to your authentic feelings?

Karen's book might help you. So many ways exist to touch your emotional life. Poetry and stories can be a safe way to begin.

Please let me know how you progress. And, how is your cat?

:-)

J
PTC
0 # Hey Joanna, Thanks for your response.PTC 2011-10-09 05:08
Hey Joanna,
Thanks for your response. I'll respond more later, but to answer your question, my cats are doing well. They're 14. My mom was able to help me give one of them his IV yesterday, which was good. I can't do it on my own and my family was visiting and I don't know how, but we were able to do it and it was successful. I am home (parents house) until tomorrow, so I miss my kitties. They are always on me and sleep on my bed with me at night.

Okay, I'll respond more to the other stuff later. Gotta get going with my day. :-) You should post pictures of your cats! :-)
PTC
0 # I may restrict my food, but I don't thinPTC 2011-10-10 15:16
I may restrict my food, but I don't think I resrict my companionship. (whoops, I put a T instead of a P at the end of that). I don't really feel like my ED interfers too much with my life, although it's possible that I could be wrong, who knows.

My T always asks me if I'm an "alien." Your comment reminded me of that.

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JoannaPoppink Healing Your Hungry Heart: Recovering from Your Eating Disorder by Joanna Pop... https://t.co/Qe52clpjxu via @amazon
45mreplyretweetfavorite
JoannaPoppink This kids' worksheet is a perfect example of how implicit bias gets perpetuated. https://t.co/eDDXGZYwI6
50mreplyretweetfavorite
JoannaPoppink Thousands more migrant children likely taken from their families than previously disclosed, report says https://t.co/83nhTwzun6
9hreplyretweetfavorite
JoannaPoppink What warmer oceans mean for the planet https://t.co/IIzagF7ud6
10hreplyretweetfavorite
JoannaPoppink Latest Sustainable World online now. https://t.co/KYHbo2NHpk Thanks to @tcrpindia #actonclimate #oceans
10hreplyretweetfavorite

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