Compulsive overeaters are individuals who suffer from an obsession with food and a compulsion to eat despite the resulting negative effects on their physical and emotional health and well being. They eat to satisfy an emotional hunger, whether this hunger is for love, for comfort or for a sense of control over something in their life. Compulsive overeaters may be a few pounds overweight, or over a hundred pounds overweight. The defining factor is not how much they weigh, but the underlying reasons that they eat.
Compulsive overeating is one of three major eating disorders, the other two being anorexia and bulimia. Compulsive overeaters are addicted to food in the same way that alcoholics are addicted to alcohol. It is their substance of choice. Like an alcoholic, their addiction to food as a way of self-medicating to relieve stress, loneliness, emptiness or boredom, can make their lives unmanageable and result in major health problems.
Compulsive overeating is a difficult addiction to treat, because unlike addictions involving alcohol or drugs where the addict must totally abstain from these substances in order to recover, we all have to eat in order to live. Eating in moderation in order to satisfy physical versus emotional hunger becomes the challenge. People may overeat compulsively for a variety of different reasons. Obesity can be something to hide behind, like a protective fat pad. It can be a way of hiding one's sexuality or avoiding intimacy. This is especially true for individuals who were emotionally or sexually abused as children. Eating compulsively can also be a way of stuffing feelings of rage, depression and dissatisfaction with one's own life. Overeating results in feelings of guilt and shame, and often self-hatred. Overweight individuals are frequently the butte of negative stereotypes and are often labeled as dumb, inefficient or lazy, which further damages their self-esteem. Their activities can be severely restricted. It can become difficult to participate in sports, or even to get up from a chair. Obese individuals suffer from job discrimination. They are ostracized by society and criticized by loved one's, family and friends.
Psychotherapy (often in combination with a 12 Step Program such as Overeaters Anonymous) provides a safe, nonjudgmental environment that can help individuals in their recovery from compulsive overeating. Getting to the root causes by working through underlying emotional issues, along with helping individuals change their relationship with food and their bodies, can lead to recovery.
Codependency is a complex condition that negatively affects one's ability to be healthy in relationships. Codependent individuals have difficulty setting healthy boundaries, saying "no" or being genuine in their dealings with others. They are afraid to have an "I', a "me" or a "self" in their relationships.
Codependent individuals lack a strong sense of self. They feel afraid or guilty when they say no. They are afraid to be genuine out of fear that they will "hurt" the other person, and that as a result, this person will become angry and reject or abandon them. For this reason they tend to do or say what they believe others expect them to.
When individuals grow up in a dysfunctional family where love is conditional, they often are discouraged from developing a strong sense of self. Dysfunctional parents often expect their child to be an extension of themselves and discourage their children from having thoughts or feelings that differ from their own. When this occurs, they withhold love and approval from the child, or actively show disapproval or rejection. Disapproval can take the form of yelling, screaming, or even physical and emotional abuse. The child feels emotionally abandoned when the parent becomes angry.
As a result, these children grow up becoming approval seekers and lose their identity in the process. Their sense of self-worth comes from people, places and things outside of themselves. They tend to put the focus on others, rather than on themselves. They put the needs and feelings of others before their own needs and feelings.
Having had their basic needs for love and acceptance as well as nurturing go unmet by their parents, codependent individuals have a strong tendency to want others to love and take care of them, so they don't have to learn how to love and take care of themselves. This sets them up for an unhealthy dependency in relationships. Before we can have a healthy relationship with others, we need to be able to have a healthy relationship with ourselves. Before we can love others in a healthy way, we need to be able to love and accept ourselves. Codependents' profound fear of abandonment as well as their dependency on others makes it difficult for them to leave relationships that are unhealthy or destructive. They grow up associating love with longing, instead of having, and are therefore attracted to emotionally unavailable individuals who re-create home on an emotional level for them.
Codependent individuals often have low self-esteem, although they may be highly accomplished. Self-esteem comes from a parent giving their child the message that they are loved for who they are, and not based on what they do. The child is made to feel that they have a special place in the parents' heart, and that they don't have to do anything to maintain that special place in their parents' heart. In a dysfunctional family where love is conditional, the child is made to feel that they are only valued for their accomplishments, or the extent to which the child meets their parents' needs. When a child is only valued for his or her accomplishments, they are being conditioned to become a compulsive overachiever or workaholic, where the individual is afraid to stop achieving out of fear that the love and approval will stop coming in.
Psychotherapy can help individuals recover from codependency. It can help them learn to put the focus on themselves, to learn to say "no," and how to set healthy boundaries in their relationships. It can help individuals move from a place of self-rejection to a place of self-acceptance and self- love.
Most of us are filled with fear of one kind or another: fear of change, fear of success, or fear of failure. We fear making mistakes, being alone, ending relationships or starting new ones. Many individuals fear aging, rejection, abandonment, and unemployment. Fear can keep us stuck in our lives! It can keep us from ending unhealthy relationships or from leaving a work situation that is no longer satisfying. In fact, it can keep us from reaching our goals and realizing our dreams! When we are helped to move beyond our fears, we can lead lives that are both challenging and fulfilling.
It is normal for all of us to feel fear in new situations, especially when we are venturing into unknown territory. Therefore the question is, if we all feel fear when entering into the unknown, why is it that some people are able to move forward in their lives, in spite of their fear, while other individuals become paralyzed? The real issue then, is not the fear itself, but how we hold our fear. If we hold our fear from a place of power or choice, we can take action, in spite of our fear. If we hold our fear from a place of pain or powerlessness, we become stuck or paralyzed.
Susan Jeffers, in her book Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway , divides fears into two categories: 1) Fear of things that can happen to us, and 2) Fear around taking action. She states that at the bottom of all our fears is the basic fear, "I can't handle it". If I lose my job, I wont be able to handle it. If my boyfriend leaves me, I won't be able to handle it. If I go back to school, what if I can't handle it? What if we believed that whatever happened to us, or whatever we did, we would be able to handle it? What would there be left to fear?
Therapy can help individuals to face their fears and come out on the other side of them. It can help empower clients by teaching them to stop playing the "when / then" games. "When I stop being afraid, then I'll do it." Or, "When I feel better about myself, then I'll do it". In fact, it is only in going out and actually doing what we are afraid of, that we overcome our fear, and as a result, feel better about ourselves in the process! Psychotherapy can provide the encouragement and support that individuals need to overcome their fears and to transform their lives.
Intimacy is something that we all desire. Feeling emotionally close to someone is one of the most rewarding experiences that can exist between two individuals. Yet true intimacy can only take place if we are willing to take the risk of revealing who we really are to those closest to us; our thoughts, our feelings and our emotional needs. Without the ability to communicate or to trust, healthy intimacy is not possible.
Growing up with parental alcoholism profoundly affects our ability to be intimate with others. If we have experienced emotional abuse or neglect as children, we are unable to open up or to be vulnerable in our adult relationships. Trust is a major issue, as is the fear of being disappointed, hurt, or betrayed by those we love the most. Yet if we are unable to trust, how can we let others get close to us?
In a dysfunctional family, the unspoken rules are "Don't Talk, Don't Feel, Don't Trust". Family members are not encouraged to talk about the real issues, because to do so would confront the existing denial. Nor are they encouraged to express how they feel. As a child you learned not to feel, because if you allowed yourself to feel your feelings, you would have to feel them alone. This would then result in being totally overwhelmed. You learned not to trust, because those who you should have been able to trust or depend on to be there for you, were often your greatest source of physical or emotional harm.
Fear of abandonment is a major issue for adult children of alcoholics, as it is for individuals from most dysfunctional families. In families where love is conditional, and you frequently receive the message that you need to be perfect in order to be loved. This can result in feeling loved one minute and rejected the next, never experiencing what it is like to feel on solid ground emotionally in a relationship. When we don't feel secure in our own parents' love it makes it extremely difficult to develop healthy self-love. Fear of abandonment affects an individual's ability to be confident about themselves in relationships. This makes it hard to initiate relationships, and equally hard to dissolve relationships that are unhealthy.
Psychotherapy provides a safe environment and the necessary tools to help individuals and couples resolve their issues concerning intimacy and self-love. In a safe therapeutic relationship where one feels accepted and understood, your capacity for intimacy and self-acceptance can thrive and grow. Having experienced the safety of being emotionally open in a therapeutic relationship, individuals can learn to be more open in their interpersonal relationships as well, resulting in relationships that are rewarding and fulfilling.
Colorado is a state that attracts newcomers like a magnet. As a result, there is an extremely high proportion of individuals who have relocated here for both employment and recreational opportunities. Although relocation can be both exciting and challenging, it can be a catalyst for individuals and couples to seek out counseling as a result of their move.
Relocation can bring up major life issues. There is always a period of adjustment, and frequently a sense of grief and loss if family and friends have been left behind. When we are new to an area, it takes time to make new friends and to build a new support system. The interim period of adjustment can be highly stressful and can result in a state of isolation, loneliness and depression. One of my clients who had recently moved to Colorado became extremely depressed following her move. She found herself drinking heavily after work to anesthetize her intense feelings of loneliness and isolation., which were also emotions that she had frequently experienced while growing up. Her excessive drinking and severe depression were a red flag that served as a catalyst to motivate her to seek psychotherapy at this time.
Relocation for job opportunities can generate stress and conflict for couples. This is especially true when a move results in one partner relocating for a better position, while the other partner may need to resign from a job that they love, only to move here and perhaps not even to find work in their field. This may precipitate feelings of resentment and anger, which can erode at their relationship. Until each member of the couple can re-establish themselves in their new environment and start to make new friends, they may go through a period of adjustment where they feel overly dependent on each other or too isolated in their relationship.
Individuals or couples may relocate to Colorado hoping to achieve a "geographic cureâ€� for their problems, as a result of a fresh start. However wherever we go, we take ourselves with us. After the excitement and the business of the move subside, our problems are still there to haunt us.
Other major life transitions that can cause individuals to seek psychotherapy are the loss of a relationship, a job or one's health. Loss usually results in feelings of depression and fear about the future. Loss of relationships can trigger profound feelings of abandonment, often deeply rooted in unresolved issues from childhood. This can drastically affect an individual's ability to function. Psychotherapy can provide a safe environment and the necessary tools to help individuals and couples work through their issues related to relocation and loss, or other life transitions.
Alcoholism is a progressive disease that affects all members of the family, adults and children alike. Excessive drinking impacts the alcoholic's ability to be a responsible and caring parent and partner. Alcoholism can result in the loss of one's job, the inability to pay bills or rent, multiple moves, and the inability to communicate or to function responsibly in one's marriage. The preoccupation with alcohol and the compulsion to use (in spite of the negative consequences caused by drinking) causes irreparable damage to marriage and family life.
Ultimately, the alcoholic's substance of choice always comes first, before the physical and emotional well being of those they love. There may be no money left for food or rent, but there is always money for alcohol. Alcoholism often leads to emotional, physical and sexual abuse, domestic violence, and the neglect of one's children. There is a high incidence of alcoholism in families where incest occurs. In addition, in up to ninety per cent of cases involving child abuse and domestic violence, alcohol has been found to be a significant factor.
When alcoholic marriages end in divorce, the children continue to be affected. When it comes time for visitation, the alcoholic is frequently late, or may not show up at all. This leaves children with major issues around abandonment and the ability to trust others. They learn not to trust, because those who they should be able to trust or depend on, their own parents, are often their greatest source of physical or emotional harm and disappointment.
Adults who grew up in alcoholic families as children (adult children of alcoholics) are at much higher risk either to become alcoholics themselves, or to marry alcoholics. On an unconscious level, all of us pick partners who emotionally recreate home. Unless we receive help in the form of counseling, AA or Al-Anon, the tendency is to repeat the patterns of our past, not just once but many times. Both the alcoholic and their spouse need to enter into a recovery program. Psychotherapy can provide a safe emotional environment to treat family alcoholism and to help individuals break old patterns.
Divorce can feel like the ultimate rejection. Although dealing with rejection is difficult for most individuals, for those adults who already have profound issues around abandonment from their pasts, divorce can be particularly difficult. For individuals from such a background, when their partner unexpectedly asks for a divorce, it can feel like the rug has just been pulled right out from under them. They may find themselves reeling back in time to emotionally re-experience all the intense feelings of abandonment and rejection from their own pasts.
Traumatic childhood losses can include the early loss of a parent through abandonment, divorce or death, or being placed in foster care or put up for adoption. When children are abandoned, they go into a terror state because they know they cannot survive without an adult to take care of them. If they later experience divorce or the death of a loved one as an adult, not only will they experience all the usual feelings of anger, sadness and loss that accompany such a life event. They will also re-experience the original feelings of fear, hurt and rage with the same intensity that accompanied their original abandonment as children. This experience can be totally overwhelming and emotionally devastating for the individual who goes through it. Like a child who is abandoned, they may feel like they want to die, or that they can't go on living without the parent or partner's love. They may go into a major depression, feel unable to go to work, or to stop crying.
If you are an individual with major abandonment issues, you may require a lot of support while going through the divorce process. Support can come from divorce support groups and seminars, or from family and friends. If you find yourself feeling very tearful, afraid, or depressed, it may be a good idea to seek out professional help in the form of counseling. Psychotherapy can provide a safe emotional environment to help both adults and children deal with the issues of abandonment and loss surrounding divorce. It can put things in perspective by helping individuals understand the connections between their pasts and their present. Counseling helps you work through the different emotional states that are part of the divorce process, so that you can rebuild your life.
Divorce and Loss
Loss is difficult for all of us, whatever it's nature. Divorce can result in a series of losses that can be devastating for both spouses and children alike. These include the loss of one's partner or one's parent, a reduction in the amount of time spent with one's children, and the possibility of having to move or sell one's home. Divorce can also result in the loss of one's sense of emotional or financial security as well.
Often a spouse may be taken totally by surprise when their partner informs them that they want a divorce. Spouses who are taken unawares may feel like the rug has been pulled right out from under them. They may experience a sense of loss of control over their life, fear about the future, and the feeling of no longer being on solid ground. These feelings may be experienced not only by the spouse who is being left, but also by the minor children who are still at home. Even in situations where both parties want the divorce, there is the loss of the dream of how things could have been had their marriage thrived.
For parents and children alike, there is the loss of the nuclear family. Even in ideal situations where visitation and custody is split fifty-fifty, children are still seeing each parent less than when the family lived together. When children are with one parent, they tend to miss the other parent. Parents may also feel a sense of loss at the decreased amount of time they get to be with their children.
In many cases, one parent may leave the state or even the country with their children, greatly reducing the amount of time the children get to see the other parent. Children may feel abandoned if the non-custodial parent moves out of state and sees them infrequently. In a situation where this may be the case, it is important that the absentee parent reaches out and stays in contact with their children as much as possible. This should include weekly phone contact, and as many in person visits as can be arranged. This can help to reduce the feelings of longing and loneliness that come up for their children.
When individuals experience a major loss in their life, it is important that they allow themselves to grieve and to express their feelings around the loss. If a spouse is having a particularly difficult time dealing with the divorce, it is important that he or she reach out for support. Although it can be helpful to talk to or express grief with family or friends, this should not be done in the presence of one's children. Children get their sense of security from their parents. If the parent appears to be falling apart, the child may feel like his or her own world is falling apart, because one's parents are such a large part of the child's world. When a parent appears fragile, children tend to isolate in their own pain, as they no longer see the parent as a resource they can go to with their own problems.
Adults going through a divorce may find it beneficial to join a separation and divorce support group, or to seek out counseling for themselves and their children. Counseling can be extremely helpful, as divorce frequently brings up issues around grief and loss, which are related to the past, as well as to the present. Divorce can re-stimulate memories of past losses or feelings of abandonment, which can feel overwhelming. Psychotherapy can provide a safe emotional environment to help both adults and children deal with the issues of loss surrounding the divorce.
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