A Contemplative Perspective on Working with Anger

Written by Steve Lawley

Anger is a very common emotional experience that can prompt a variety of challenging behavioral, psychological, and physiological responses. Experiences and harmful responses to anger can create serious consequences; ones that may have a significant impact on the well-being of yourself or someone else. Individuals having difficulty managing their reactions to anger often report that maladaptive responses have caused damage to someone’s health, relationships, or property.

The subjective intensity we feel in association with anger can be severe, and can often lead to an interpretation of the experience being inherently problematic or disturbing. This perspective might imply that anger is something to be avoided, rather than something to relate to. This makes a lot of sense. However, this perspective has a major flaw. We can’t avoid everything that makes us angry or frustrated. Expending energy to that end is futile, and will inevitably lead to becoming frustrated and angry…

So, I’d like to suggest a different perspective; that the experience of anger (or any emotion for that matter) is not inherently problematic at all.  If we were to view anger as a very basic signal, this could be a way of understanding its utility; anger is an “alert” that something of great personal importance is happening right now!  From this perspective, we certainly wouldn’t aim to eliminate anger from our emotional repertoire, or simply remove the source of our anger.  Instead, we might shift our objective to developing the self-regulation skills for working with challenging emotions in the present moment, as well as the impulsive or automatic responses that tend to follow. The objective is to become more adept at responding to our experience of anger skillfully, and mindfully.

Mindful regulation of our emotions (and yes, even the really, really tough ones!) is a very basic practice of working with our psychological challenges in the moment, as they arise. Through this practice, we are able to develop the skills and tools necessary for identifying, and creating, a psychological space that allows the experience to arise and dissipate without disruptive expressions and skillfully choose an appropriate response.

In the words of renowned Buddhist practitioner, Thich Nhat Hanh:

            “Mindfulness recognizes anger, is aware of its presence, accepts and allows it to be there… Once we have recognized our anger, we embrace it. This is the second function of mindfulness and it is a very pleasant practice. Instead of fighting, we are taking good care of our emotion. If you know how to embrace your anger, something will change.”

So please, feel free to get angry! Just don’t act on it immediately. Get to know your anger.  Make friends with it. Each time it comes up, recognize it as a great opportunity to practice and be glad it’s there. Learning to acknowledge, accept, and tolerate the intensity of our emotions is the first step towards doing something about it, without fear or regret. The real problem would be if we didn’t get angry…  

All You Can Do Is Plant the Seeds

Written by Living Well Therapist, Janelle Skogstad 

I remember an experience I had as an intern at Living Well when I was struggling with the question of ‘Am I making a difference in these young adults’ lives?’ My supervisor said something that has stuck with me through the years as a life skills counselor and now as therapist, he said, “All you can do is plant the seeds.” 

At the time, I thought, ‘what do you mean?’ I needed to see tangible results to know not only am I making a difference, but the client is going to leave the program having gone through a major transformation that can be seen. As I quickly found out that is not always the case and sometimes we will never know if the work being facilitated will make an impact now or years later. At the end of the day, I know I provided the therapeutic tools needed for clients to connect with their innate wisdom and ultimately the belief of being whole, not broken.
 
A recent conversation with an educational consultant made me ponder on a client I worked with as a Life Skills Counselor. The consultant asked me, “Do you get feedback from past clients long after the program?” I shared that a client reached out after 2 years, stating how he was “still struggling” in some ways, but in other ways he was doing well, and largely had me to thank for the therapeutic relationship I provided. As a clinician, these are the humble moments that make me reflect on my work, knowing I did make a difference and even though it needed years for that seed to grow, the client's internal process and larger work continued even after ending the program. 
 

Past and Present: Reflections From A Former Living Well Transitions Client

Interview conducted by: Erin Kudal, Admissions and Marketing Specialist 

Living Well Transitions (LWT) recently had the opportunity to spend time with former client, Alan B., to talk about the path that led to his admission and what life has thrown his direction in the last few years. Alan came to LWT after attending a wilderness program (not unlike many of our clients) at Second Nature – Entrada. His family also enlisted the assistance of an educational consultant who, along with his wilderness therapist, recommended a transition program and LWT was among the selected list.

INTO THE WOODS

Alan spoke to several issues that he struggled with over the years which precipitated his entrance into wilderness, such as anxiety, depression, and isolation. He mentioned the transition from high school to college, where those issues grew in intensity during his freshman and sophomore years.

“As many millennials, I think I was subject to some bad parenting techniques as well. So definitely once I got to college and was on my own, I felt I didn’t have a lot of resources to marshal against a diversity of difficult situations.” Alan said.

“And I had already been experimenting with drugs in high school, so once I got to college and had all this freedom, I sort of poured my life into drugs and alcohol, which was only sustainable for so long……. I got to the point that I was failing out of school and I’d been a straight A student my whole life so my parents were immediately like ‘what’s going on?’” He continued.

Alan described the experience in wilderness as incredible.

“I feel like everything from that point on has just been good. I was there for like 9 weeks but I sort of felt like it was a second birth almost.”

THE TRANSITION

Alan’s plan was not to go straight to a transition program, but to go back to Atlanta to try and do community college and then get back into GA tech. However, his care team had different recommendations.  

Alan recalled, “I wasn’t super onboard with it when I initially got the news, as with many people, who are like, oh I’ll just go home right now.”

Yet he talked with his therapist who asked him to look at the number of people who were successful after leaving wilderness.

Alan interjected, “I hesitate to use the word successful, but let’s just look at successful as somebody who is able to be independent, care for themselves and contribute to society.”

During this conversation, Alan’s therapist encouraged him to consider that going to a transition program could increase his chances of sustaining the things he learned in wilderness and support his growth and transition to independence.

After receiving his aftercare choices, Alan latched onto Living Well – he explained that there were other options, yet he did not explore them too deeply.

“Living Well was the recommendation of the Ed Consultant and it was almost a weird coincidence that there were two guides the week I got my aftercare program options that were from boulder and had been talking it up and then I got this recommendation for Living Well and I was like, oh wow Boulder has all this cool stuff going on – I’d love to go there.”

He went on to say, “I feel like when I went to wilderness and had this realization like my life could be different and I could be happier, so I kind of felt like I never wanted to go back (to GA) and so getting to go to Boulder and starting a transition program - I was energized about it.”

SETTING GOALS AND TAKING ACTION

When asked about his goals coming out of wilderness, Alan replied, “Initially my goals were minimal because my parent’s expectations were that I was going back home to go to college – so I think a lot of it was I wanted to have physical activities that I was engaged in and I wanted to continue to explore mindfulness, actively engage in therapy, not use drugs, and learn how to do some cooking.”

A lot of times clients have a “wilderness high,” a feeling of high motivation, engagement and commitment to new beginnings – yet sometimes that can fade. When questioned if he experienced this Alan recalls, “I did not – I guess the quality was different than that of wilderness…. I got interested in therapy and found therapy really helpful when I came to Living Well. The quality of therapy at Living Well was the same if not higher than what I as getting in wilderness. And I was very interested in mindfulness and Buddhism…. I actually went on to take a few classes at Naropa and met a teacher there that I still study the Dharma with today. So, to me it felt like it was just all a progression. I felt like wilderness was a lot of just soaking up these new techniques for getting through daily life and after that it was how do you integrate that with actually being more independent and having more freedom.”

However, there were times when participating in a long-term, choice-based transition program can lead to some degree of low motivation. Alan said he combated this lack by recollecting something that stuck with him from wilderness.

He explains, “We had these chores we we had to do every day and one was to dig the toilet and someone said, ‘yeah you can do all this therapy, but sometimes what you need is to just come out here and dig the toilet when you don’t feel like it’……. you do have to have the intrinsic motivation and then you just have to do the thing that you don’t want to do.”

MAKING CONNECTIONS IN A NEW PLACE

Another challenge that Alan spoke to was the initial struggle with connecting socially. He remembers “feeling like there wasn’t enough time every day for me when I was first in Boulder to feel as engaged [socially] as I wanted to be,” and recounts “so being in your apartment right off the bat versus being in such a structured environment with so many people in wilderness, that was sort of an abrupt change that was painful at times because it is isolating.”

In 2015 LWT added the Landing Pad House, in part to combat that very issue, which Alan comments, “is a great addition.”

He also recalls, “I was 20 years old and therefore a lot of my peers were in college living in Boulder and I was not wanting to engage in drugs and alcohol, which limited my ability to seek out friends.” “However,” he adds, “it made it seem like the friendships that I did develop were more meaningful and longer lasting.” And last, they did - the best man at his wedding was a young man he met in the program –  his best friend to this day.  

UNDERSTANDING BASIC GOODNESS

When asked what the best aspects of the program were, Alan reflected on the following,

“I am really harsh with myself sometimes to the point where I would use the word self-castigating…about how I assess my actions and reflect on things that I do and internalize conflict that arises… I think a lot of the work that I did with Living Well was just getting to the point of saying, ‘I am essentially being really cruel to myself over and over again and it doesn’t seem to matter what I do, I am never happy with myself,’ so learning how to extend some kindness inward. And that is the view of Living Well, I mean basic goodness, basic sanity. On top of that, in terms of things that I learned that have helped me the most professionally and interpersonally, and just managing my life, has been I feel that my mind does not bully me around as much now. I felt, especially when I started Second Nature [wilderness] that it was sort of like I lived at the whims of how I felt in the moment – ‘okay, I don’t feel good so I’m not going to do this; I want to do drugs so I am going to do that.’ Learning to develop some degree of self-discipline; to delay gratification; to go to work even when I’m not feeling great.”

THRIVING

Alan was with LWT for a little over 2 years and slowly transitioned out after getting a job doing software development. He did not end up going back to college, but eventually began his own software development company, Cadence Labs, with his wife. This relatively new, 6-person venture, brought in $750k in revenue last year and is in line to bring in over 1 million this year. They specialize in providing e-commerce websites to small and medium online retailers. It also just so happens that Alan’s company is located right across the hall from LWT’s office in Downtown Boulder!

To conclude the interview, Alan was asked if there was anything he would like to share, or if he would recommend a transition program, and he offered,

“There are two chief arguments against going to a transition program generally – One is that a client doesn’t want to go because they want to go back home and then the other is generally a financially argument - like ‘well we have already spent all this money for a residential or wilderness program’. I would say from what I have seen and from the people I have kept in contact with from wilderness – going to a transition program will keep you from going straight back to the environment that you were in. You have your friends but you also have your relationship with your parents and I think a lot of times people end up in a program and that relationship is really strained and there is a lot of bad habits that are developed over many years- so continuing to go on to a longer term program, that is not as strict a container, but continues to nurture that values and techniques that usually get introduced at a residential program, I think it leads to a much higher degree of realization on the part of both client and parents and gives clients and parents a chance to continue working on their relationships under the supervision of someone who can facilitate a healthy relationship. For me especially, just not going back into the same environment just continued to give me a chance to reinvent myself. I think that was really relieving on some level. I was not looking forward to going back – I guess I should say in the moment I wanted to go back but after reflecting on it and after I got to Boulder and saw what it was like here – I was really glad I didn’t go back.”

Alan has remained in the Boulder area since his arrival in 2010, and has been a fixture in the LWT family even after completing the program.

Empowering Families: Spring 2017 Parent Workshop Weekend

Written by: Tyson Rittenmeyer, Director of Clinical Services

Our Spring parent weekend workshop was held recently.  The intimate group of parents allowed for a rich conversation that pertained to emerging adulthood and empowered familial communication. 

For the majority of the Friday and Saturday workshop, participants learned the map of experience that most young adults follow during their journey through Living Well Transitions and beyond.  One key factor involving this map is the concept of noticing and the importance of young adults and parents cultivating an internal quality of witness and regularly noticing both their internal and external experiences.  Noticing one’s experience and the thoughts, feelings and behaviors that emerge from it can help open the door to an individual being able to take 100% responsibility for their own experience-even if the experience feels disappointing or unfair. 

Living Well Transitions strives to help young adults and their families reach this point in their own therapeutic development.  Responsibility plays a key role in observing, feeling and communicating from an empowered stance.  This stance views the world as a “workable” place and holds the individual as the creator of their own life.  No matter the situation, if an individual can take 100% responsibility for their own experience they are starting from an empowered place. 

Parents who attended the workshop weekend reported that the ideas and strategies presented throughout the program team directly impact their relationships with their young adult children as they strive to help them individuate and launch into their own adult lives.  

Healthy Boundaries for Young Adults: 3 Tips for Parents

By:  Tyson Rittenmeyer

“How do we set boundaries with our young-adult-children without being punitive or enabling?”

This was a primary theme in the questions asked by parents during Living Well Transitions’ Spring 2016 Parent Weekend Workshop. To offer continued support on this important topic, here are some basic tips:

1.   Get clear
The first thing parents need to do is to get clear on what their personal boundaries are involving their adult son or daughter. These could include emotional boundaries like timing of communication or financial boundaries regarding lifestyle choices that a parent will or will not support. This clarity allows the boundary to be rooted in parents’ values and needs rather than an attempt to manipulate your son/daughter to do (or not do) something.

2.   Be realistic (if possible)
Ideally, boundary setting is a win-win for everyone. Creating boundaries that honor parents’ needs and are realistic for the young adult to integrate is the desired target. An example of this might be a parent who wants their young adult child to be financially independent despite the young adult having no tangible real-life experience paying for their own life. In order to set the young adult up for success, parents could design boundaries that allow the young adult to gradually practice moving toward financial independence (i.e. being responsible for their own spending money first, then cable bill, then groceries, etc). This deliberate approach helps parents follow through with the terms of the boundaries knowing that the consequences for the young adult might be uncomfortable, but manageable.

3.   Stay committed
Finally, it is crucial that parents try to consider the possible outcomes that a boundary may create and be wiling to tolerate all potential resulting situations. This overall view is imperative in creating boundaries that can be held in the long run. Most parent boundaries are tested at one point or another, and if a young adult knows that a parent will relent, he/she may focus on making that parent cave in. 

Parents of LWT clients can expect a larger discussion involving boundaries in a future Parent Forum call. 

 

"For support with deciding which therapeutic treatment program is the best fit for you and your family, please contact www.IECAonline.com to connect with an Educational Consultant."

The Answer (and our stuff) is Blowing in the Wind: The Power of Community at Living Well Transitions

By:  LT Walsh

On the ride home from Living Well’s spring-break trip, a client was overwhelmed with gratitude and sent this text to the group:

“PUBLIC SERVICE ANNOUNCEMENT: I love you humans and your souls and hearts. I had felt such an overwhelming feeling of love and acceptance and family on this trip. It means so much to me. I am so lucky and honored to be in your lives and will make an effort to stay in it!...I hope you and everyone know how amazing and beautiful you are from the inside and out.

#grateful, #springbreak2K16, #wind, #broke2brooms, #therapykidsarethebestkids.”

While LWT’s primary focus is on helping clients live independently, our clients also experience community as a necessary component of successful and healthy independent living. The Landing Pad, Saturday activities, client-hosted community dinners, and trips are some of the venues in which clients build friendships and share support.

In March ’16, a group of clients and staff went to Bandelier National Monument in New Mexico. The morning we left the van was filled with backpacks, camping gear, and anxious, excited hearts. We didn’t know exactly what was ahead, but knowing that we were in it together was comforting.

On our lunch stop, we were greeted by 60 MPH wind gusts. Without prompting, clients organized themselves to secure the sandwich supplies and block the wind for each other while they fixed their meals.  As we stood huddled together, I appreciated the reminder of how we’re able to overcome adversity when we work and stand together.

After piling back in the car to continue on our journey, the group seemed closer having wrestled the elements together.  Little did we know we would be battling the wind for the next few days.

Once we arrived at Bandelier, the beautiful sandstone was inviting to our souls.  As we exited the car, however, it was the fierce winds that captured our attention.  Setting up camp took three times longer than usual; putting up one tent was a full group effort!

The next morning came early as the wind kept most of us awake all night. The group rallied and we arrived for our volunteer project. Everyone worked well together and we were rewarded with some great hikes and even better company…and respite from the strong winds later that evening. 

In the stillness we were especially appreciative of the delicious, fire-side dinner.  Conversation around the campfire fostered even greater connection as well as a deeper understanding that to grow as individuals, the support of one another is crucial. In just a short time, we had truly come together as a community to depend and count on each other.  Even though the wind had not been a welcomed part of the trip, we felt grateful for the lessons it offered.

 

"For support with deciding which therapeutic treatment program is the best fit for you and your family, please contact www.IECAonline.com to connect with an Educational Consultant."