An Ethic to Live: Building Barriers to Suicide Around Ourselves & Those We Love

In cities throughout the world, notable high buildings and bridges increasingly have additional fencing built atop of them with the specific purpose of preventing suicides. Suicide fences tend to work because research has shown that suicidal actions are frequently impulsive, hence such fences serve to forestall that impulse and buy individuals precious time to further think about their decisions. In studies of suicide fences, it appears that individuals don’t leave such barriers to go look for another bridge or tall building to end their lives from, but instead return to the business of living for yet another day.  

Presently suicide is the leading cause of death among young people ages 10-17 here in Utah, and over the last decade, it’s also doubled amongst adults in our state. As concerned friends, neighbors, and parents, how do we help our community build more barriers to suicide; protecting and empowering those we love? Over the next year, I’ll be writing a series of articles in answer to this question; offering my perspective as both a therapist, who has stood on sacred ground in helping others walk back from suicidal thinking, and as one who’s felt and ultimately rejected the dark pull to end my life amidst heavy times.   

Perhaps you’ve already noted that there’s no way to build suicide fences everywhere or to somehow block all of the endless ways in which someone might consider ending their life. Sound public policies on prevention and physical barriers like suicide fences are only some of the important ways to help. So in addition to these forms of prevention, the focus of my writing will be on how to build barriers to suicide directly into the thinking and values of individuals, and into the culture of our community as a whole. In this first article, I want to introduce how we help foster an ethic to live within ourselves and in others as a key barrier to suicide.  

An ethic to live means valuing our lives and holding a commitment within ourselves to continue living — even when we’re unsure of how we’ll cope or move forward. In my experience, helpful conversations about consciously building an ethic to live, begin by first taking care to turn our attention to the reality that to live is to be vulnerable to an array of difficult life experiences, with the potential to evoke within us the thought to end one’s life to escape them. Throughout human history, individuals and peoples have had to confront extremely painful and unjust challenges which have overwhelmed their sense of being able to continue on, and it’s important to acknowledge that when we confront such considerable pain, it is the most human thing in the world to want relief from it. This is real; excruciating human suffering beyond one’s current sense of how to reduce or stop it is real, and in these concentrations of pain, we may find ourselves having suicidal thoughts.  

When we acknowledge and honor that such excruciating life experiences do show up for many of us, it’s then that we can locate where we need to begin building internal fences to prevent suicide. It’s here that we recognize the need to develop a strong ethic to live even though there are times that we might not yet fully know how we’ll cope or be able to see brighter ways forward. It’s also here that we find the need to define as individuals what makes life worth living with specificity to our own life experiences, as well as the need to find a listener who we can turn to and voice what’s going on inside of us. 

As you navigate life’s difficulties, no matter how hard things may get, make the commitment now to live and identify your personal reasons to do so. Additionally, identify suicidal thoughts as a  sign to find a listener who you feel safe enough to talk to. It’s worth thinking about right now who it is you might feel comfortable turning to during your hardest times. By doing so, you’ll begin to build your own internal fence between you and suicide as well as have greater insight as to how to help others you care about to do the same.  

* If you or someone you care about is currently having thoughts of ending their life, caring help is available 24/7 by texting 741741 from anywhere in the USA or you can call 1-800-273-8255 to speak directly with a Counselor from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. 

Bio: Laura Skaggs Dulin holds a master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from San Diego State University. She currently sees clients at the Spanish Fork Center for Couples and Families and at Encircle LGBT Youth and Family Resource Center in Provo.  

Forced Apologies

My four-year-old daughter placed herself in the middle of our living room to play with blocks. She was so engrossed with building a wooden castle that she didn’t notice her two-year-old sister walking towards her with her right arm stretched far back to slap her older sister across the head. When that slap came, my older daughter went from happy to surprise to anger and then lots of tears. She ran towards me seeking justice. “Mommy, she hit me!” My younger daughter remained still, looking innocent. I immediately walked over to her with my older daughter in hand and said, “Hands are not for hitting. Say sorry for hitting please.”  I’m sure many parents can relate to this scenario. Teaching our children the skills for making amends is an important life skill and is not so much about saying the words “I’m sorry”.  

There is a belief amongst some parents that enforcing premature apologies on children is not effective. Their reasoning is that premature apologies teach children to lie and encourage insincerity. It also creates shame and embarrassment. Other studies show that young children have the ability to be empathetic even before they can speak; therefore, parents should encourage apologies (Smith, Chen, Harris; 2010). As I reflected on my research and my knowledge as a Marriage and Family Therapist, I recognized several things we can do as parents to create productive apologies: 

  1. Keep yourself in check: It’s frustrating to see your children fight, especially when it happens at inconvenient times. However, it’s important to remain calm and model for your children how to handle frustration.   
  2. Be immediate when possible: When you see an incident occur between your children, address it. The best time for learning and growth is when the incident is still fresh in their minds. However, when there are time constraints and the issue cannot be addressed right away, it is important to tell your children when and where it will be addressed. Be consistent when using the alternative and follow through.  
  3. Ask instead of tell: Avoid lecturing. Ask questions instead. “Tell me what happened?” “What were you feeling when you hit your sister?” Validate the expressed emotion and help them to understand that it is okay to feel frustration and sadness; however, it is not okay to hit or throw things. Help them to also make the connection between emotion and action. “Look at her face, how do you think she’s feeling right now?” Asking these types of questions enhances empathy. 
  4. Problem Solve: Ask questions about what they think they should do when they feel frustrated or sad. Help them to come up with solutions.  Ask questions about how they can make things better with their sibling/s. 
  5. Have them practice a do-over: When your child identifies the solution, have them practice it with the other sibling/s. Praise them for their efforts at the end.    

What is more important than the phrase “I’m sorry” is what children take away from the experience. We can facilitate and enhance learning opportunities by not focusing on the phrase “I’m sorry” but instead more on what can be learned from this situation and how can we improve.  

How do I Get My Husband to Come to Counseling?

Counseling, if done right, is husband friendly! Find the right therapist and you’ll understand. The problem is that many husbands worry that the therapist is going to take their wife’s side and gang up on him, or that therapy will be uncomfortable. While the latter may be true, the former isn’t. A good therapist doesn’t take sides or act as a referee. I have had many couples want to hash out an argument in front of me in counseling so that I can tell them who is right. I stop them, and explain that even if one of them ended up right, that they would be so wrong in their rightness – their marriage would suffer because they insisted on being right instead of compassionate and forgiving. A good therapist, rather, is able to foster healthy interactions between spouses so that they both feel safe and are able to be vulnerable and genuine with each other. When husbands understand that what they feel and think is important, then they are more willing to make this uncomfortable leap with their spouse. Women are more likely than men to initiate therapy, but without buy-in from the man, it is difficult to be successful in therapy. My suggestion to women who want to initiate counseling, but have a reluctant spouse is to recognize that this is scary for your spouse. They may feel as if they will be attacked, or worse yet, that they will lose you. Help them understand that your desire for counseling is because you love him and because you want this to work – but aren’t sure how to make fix it. Ask him to give therapy at least 3 sessions – after that, if he still feels reluctant there might be another counselor or approach that you could try. Most men feel better about therapy after at least 3 sessions if you have the right therapist for you.

 

Originally published on www.tristonmorgan.com

 

The Secret of Pornography

Secrets fuel addiction. As I’ve mentioned before in previous posts, addictions, such as pornography addictions, are a shame-based experience. This means that when someone uses pornography they feel as if they are a bad person, rather than feeling that they are a good person despite making a mistake. When someone feels shame, they often compartmentalize what they have done – they hid it and separate it from who they think they really are, or, think that that mistake totally defines who they really are.

This is where secrets come into play. Over time, a man (or woman – I’ve worked with both in therapy for pornography issues) who has been using pornography and feeling shame because of it will gather many secrets. He won’t want to tell anyone what he is doing, or won’t want to tell them all that he is doing. He might only present the best parts of himself or just tell enough about his mistakes to others to appease them or to feel like he is being open. But, in fact, he is keeping secrets. These secrets start to bury him and make him feel more shame. They take an effort to maintain and keep hidden. They cause him stress and to feel disconnected from others. All of these things can lead to more addictive acting out.

Being transparent is key. This, in part, is why in the 12-step model of recovery (for alcohol, sexual addiction or substance addiction) addicts are asked to write a fearless moral inventory and to share it. Being open with others can feel uncomfortable and embarrassing. Many would say, “It’s in the past – let it stay there” or, “I don’t want to hurt her, so I’m not going to tell her about it”. These mindsets only make things worse for someone using pornography and their spouse/family. Telling others and being transparent is on the path towards recovery.

Pornography counseling offers a venue to be transparent and honest with yourself and with your loved ones. A good therapist will help you through this process in a way that might be painful, but certainly not shameful.

Originally published on www.tristonmorgan.com

 

When the Holidays Hurt

For many people, the holiday season is a time of joy and magic, a time where people relive and create happy memories. They are moments of joyous gatherings filled with love, laughter and crowded tables. But if you are not one of those people, the holiday season can be very difficult to endure. For individuals who have experienced the loss of a loved one, abuse in childhood, or another tragedy or trauma, the holidays just remind you of that loss and pain. Your days may not be merry and bright. Your days may feel more gloomy, more isolating, and you may feel more disconnected from the world around you.  

The holidays are here, and the holidays can hurt. 

Maybe it’s because of the chairs that will be empty or the phone calls that won’t come. Maybe it’s the time off from work that allows you to think about your life and feel the pain. Maybe it’s the reminder that all of your holidays your whole life were negative and filled with dysfunction and abuse. And maybe it’s the perception that everyone else has the picture perfect holiday gatherings with all their loved ones. Whatever the reason may be, a heavy sadness can take hold of you and you don’t know how to shake it off.  

For many of us, depression, grief, and sadness are constants and we get used to fighting them off and keeping them at bay. There’s nothing like the holidays that make you feel like you not only have to have it all together, but you have to wrap it up with a bow and display it for the world to see.  

If you happen to be hurting this holiday season, I’d like to offer some helpful advice. 

Let it hurt. Allow yourself to feel the pain and allow it to come fully without altering or inhibiting it. Life is difficult and painful sometimes and it is okay that you are not okay during this time. You don’t need to pretend that you are. Emotional reactions are expected and there are no right or wrong feelings.  

Don’t hide it. Be as authentic as you can with the people you are closest to. Allow people who love you to be there for you and support you in your time of pain and distress. Let them see you and know you–not an edited, “better” version of yourself.  

Today is really just another day. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that it must be the most wonderful time of the year. It doesn’t have to be, and it clearly isn’t that this year.  

Practice self care. Be aware of yourself and what you’re feeling and if something is triggering and overwhelming.  Allow yourself to disengage or leave a painful situation and attend to your pain. Only you truly know how you are feeling and what your boundaries and limitations are. Be true to yourself.  

Embrace this holiday as-is. You may feel overwhelmed and in pain, but there is still goodness to be experienced, even in the pain. There will be holidays in the future that are lighter and happier, and these difficult days are part of the healing path to get there.   

New traditions. New traditions can be healing and can help you create better connections to the loved ones in your life. If you have survived the loss of a loved one you can start a new tradition that symbolizes letting go, such as sending balloons or floating lanterns in the air. 

Above all, know that is okay to be blue during the holiday season.  

If you need someone to talk to you can contact the Center for Couples and Families at (385) 312-0506, text  HOME to 741741 to reach the crisis hotline or call the suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255. 

 Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

CCD Smiles: One in a million

I am the only one in my family with CCD (Cleidocranial Dysplasia), which was a random mutation. Having CCD influenced my studies and career choices. I have always been fascinated by the body, genetics, and helping others with physical or emotional health problems. I started my career as an emergency room registered nurse. I did my Master’s thesis on CCD and then went on to obtain a Doctorate in Nursing Practice (DNP) degree. I have been a nurse practitioner for the past 14 years, working in family medicine and mental health. My background in medicine helps me better understand CCD. I want to share my experience and medical understanding with others.  

I was born in Reedley, California in 1975. When I was born, it was obvious to my parents and doctors that something was wrong. My body, mostly my head, was shaped differently than a “normal” baby’s. At 3 months of age, I was diagnosed with Cleidocranial Dysplasia. 

I grew up knowing I was different. The most difficult part of CCD was all the oral and facial surgeries. My baby teeth never fell out on their own, my permanent teeth didn’t grow in on their own, and I had several extra teeth which had to be surgically removed. Everything in my mouth had to be done manually. I started having oral surgeries at age 7 and I spent most of my Christmas, Spring, and Summer breaks undergoing surgery. My last major surgery was when I was 19 years old. 

 CCD dental treatment was not easily navigated. My dentists, orthodontists, and oral surgeons had never treated anyone with CCD. Everything they tried was experimental. 

Medical insurance and dental insurance did not cover the cost of my surgeries. Medical insurance considered my teeth problems to be dental. Dental insurance considered the surgeries cosmetic. My parents were paying for my surgeries until I was in college. 

When I was growing up, I didn’t know anyone with CCD. In 2001, technology helped me to connect with other people with CCD for the first time. I heard about other people’s experiences as I conducted phone interviews for my Master’s thesis “CCD: The lived experience.” Eight years ago, I met Steffani and her daughter Hally, who have CCD, for the very first time. 

 CCD Smiles 

I felt inspired to create a nonprofit organization to help others with CCD. I started working on the foundation in 2013. In 2016, Gaten Matarazzo’s dad contacted me. Together, we made CCD Smiles an official IRS approved nonprofit organization in January 2017. Since it’s official beginnings, we have had gatherings and fundraisers across the country. I have met 38 other people with CCD, which has been a tremendous blessing in my life.  

 Gaten Matarazzo, from the series Stranger Things, is a huge part of bringing awareness to CCD. As his popularity in Hollywood has grown, so has familiarity with CCD and CCD Smiles.  

CCD Smiles is still in its infancy, but you can go to www.ccdsmiles.org to learn more about us and watch us grow! Currently, the website is a place for donations, purchasing CCD swag and education about CCD. In the future, the website will be a place where those with CCD can connect, share pictures, exchange stories, and find hope. I want others to know they are not alone. It will also provide current and accurate medical information, written in plain English. Doctors, dentists, orthodontists, and surgeons can come together and discuss treatment, research, and options for their patients. 

As CCD Smiles grows and donations are made, we can help cover the costs of oral/facial surgeries. If insurance isn’t going to help, then we can. I don’t want the medical/dental expense to keep parents from being able to provide beautiful smiles for their children. 

My ultimate dream is coming true. July 13-15, 2018 will be the first national CCD conference in Salt Lake City.  Watch the website for more information. If anyone is interested in donating time, money, or talents to this event, please email me at kellywosnik@ccdsmiles.org. 

CCD Smiles Mission Statement: We bring global awareness, provide assistance for dental care, and support research to improve outcomes and quality of life for individuals with cleidocranial dysplasia. 

CCD Smiles can be found in the media and on social media— Instagram, Facebook and Twitter (@ccd_smiles, #ccdsmiles) 

Originally published on Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Emotionally Focused Therapy for Couples: Healing and Creating Connections

All of us, from cradle to grave, are happiest when life is organized as a series of excursions, long or short, from the secure base provided by our attachment figures. – Dr. John Bowlby

Have we really cracked the code on love and romantic bonding? Perhaps. Scientists, poets, and lovers have long grappled with the question: “What makes romantic love work?” Through the work of Dr. Sue Johnson and the development of Emotionally Focused Therapy, it looks like we have an answer.

Through decades of research on the importance of emotional bonding and what it is like to feel disconnected, isolated, and alone, relationship researchers are starting to unravel the mystery of love and adult romantic bonding and how to mend loving ties. The truth is, we are all hard-wired to connect to one another. This drive to connect is infinitely stronger in family and romantic relationships. To be emotionally isolated is harsh on our brains. Loving connections offer us a safe haven to go to where we can maintain our emotional balance, deal with stress, and respond more lovingly to our romantic partners. Essentially, when those connections are secure and strong, love is safe; love flourishes.

Unfortunately, disconnections between couples do happen and frustration, sadness, and anger are all too common in marital relationships. When those secure and loving bonds are threatened, emotional “primal panic” and a cycle of negative interactions ensues. These wounds can be difficult to repair for couples when left to their own abilities, and therapy is often the last step before looking to end the relationship. Unfortunately, many well-meaning therapists utilize their individual-based, time-tested techniques and attempt to apply them to relational interactions, which usually has little effect in restoring their loving bonds. In addition, many therapeutic techniques focus on helping partners change behaviors or thoughts, or teaching them communication skills. The common result from these approaches and techniques is that they usually struggle to gain traction, and the couple leaves therapy with less hope than before.

But there is hope. Within the last 25 years, a substantial amount of research has emerged that gives hope to couples on the brink and helps them tune in to their underlying emotions, identify their negative patterns of interaction, repair their attachment, and eventually create new patterns of bonding and positive interactions. This model is Emotionally Focused Therapy.

Grounded in the theory of attachment, Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is an experiential, short term, structured, and tested model of therapy designed to help couples identify their negative communication patterns, interrupt this pattern, and create more positive, bonding, and secure emotional patterns. EFT does not see individuals as “sick” or unskilled, but rather “stuck in habitual ways of dealing with emotions with others in key moments.” As the title reflects, priority is given to emotion as a key organizer of inner experiences. EFT looks within the emotional experience of the couples and how they navigate their emotional connectedness. Dr. Sue Johnson has said, “The EFT therapist has a map. A map to relationships and how they work. A map to how they go wrong. And map to what is needed to put them right.”

A substantial body of research has shown promising results of the effectiveness of EFT. Research studies find that 70-75 percent of couples move from distress to recovery and approximately 90% show significant improvements. EFT is being used with many different kinds of couples in private practice, university training centers and hospital clinics, and many different cultural groups throughout the world. These distressed couples include partners suffering from disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorders and chronic illness.

In my work with couples, EFT has resonated with them on many levels. No longer are couples focused on fights and long-standing disagreements about specific content or trying to change the other person. When couples go through the process of EFT, perpetual problems are framed as negative disconnections that are about protests by each partner for a more loving connection and emotional safety. EFT takes the blame out of conflict and resentment and moves to fighting together against a common enemy—the negative pattern. As couples progress through the stages and steps of EFT and begin to accesses deeper emotions that underlie their struggle for connection, a new interaction emerges as individual partners see and experience each other differently. When partners experience each other as more accessible, responsive, and engaged, old wounds and negative patterns are healed, and love and emotional safety thrives.

Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness Magazine

Written by Dr. Jeremy Boden

Welcome American Fork couples therapist Tiffany Winegar, MS, LAMFT

 

New to the American Fork Center for Couples and Families team, Tiffany Winegar is taking new clients! She specializes in couples therapy, family therapy, anxiety/depression, self-esteem/self-actualization, perfectionism and teen/adolescent girls. Tiffany received her Masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) from Brigham Young University, one of the top MFT programs in the world. Prior to, and during her masters program, Tiffany was mentored by world-renowned social relationships psychologist, Dr. Julianne-Holt Lunstand and worked as a member of her research team studying social relationships and health. In addition to her work with Dr. Holt-Lunstad, Tiffany has been involved in additional research in the field of health psychology including the study of stress and emotional regulation. She is passionate about applying the principles from her clinical training and research to improve the lives and relationships of her clients. Tiffany is a member of AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy) and NCFR (National Council on Family Relations). Tiffany grew up in Southern California and now resides in Draper, UT with her husband and two boys.

Our Brains, Our Bodies, Our Relationships

As I work with individuals and couples, I like to educate them on how our brains and our bodies impact our relationships. Understanding the correlation between these elements seems easy enough, however, I often get the question, “How do I change my brain?” The answer to this question is a great starting point to create healing and allow new interactions to take place.

Our brains are wired for connection. Each interaction we have either strengthens or weakens the connections in our brains, thus influencing the relationships with those around us. The ability to allow one or two more heartbeats before reacting or responding to one’s partner is the ultimate goal. The better you are able to emotionally regulate (by allowing more heartbeats before reacting), the more positive your interactions with others can be.

There are many ways you can impact emotion regulation and the ability to create new experiences that improve relationship interactions. Some are easier than others, and some have been targeted to help with other areas of life. I’d like to highlight two very important ways to help increase heart rate variability and improve cognitive functioning so you are better prepared the next time you might want to fly off the handle. They are exercise and sleep.

Everyone knows that exercise is good for physical health, but it also has great implications for mental health and relationship health. Increased exercise impacts the way your heart pumps blood. Long-term exercise increases your heart’s efficiency in pumping blood to the body. It doesn’t have to work so hard, and this increases heart rate variability, or the amount of time in between heart beats in a given minute. Increased heart rate variability means more regulation (more parasympathetic, or calming, influences) on the heart, and thus, more flexibility in emotional responses. This means that you have more capacity to keep the breaks on when your fight or flight response is triggered, allowing you more time to thinking critically, solve problems, or socially engage before flying off the handle and reacting to environmental stimuli.

Additionally, exercise increases the volume of the prefrontal cortex—the area in the brain associated with learning and memory. Exercise also stimulates the growth of cells by releasing chemicals in the brain. These new cells are then cleaned, solidified, and bonded together to create new memories for individuals.

We have all heard that sleep is important and should be a priority. Sleep does a lot of thing for us—it helps with creativity, remembering physical tasks, and making decisions. Sleep also does two important things in the brain: creates and consolidates memories and clears out toxins. As neurons fire together (and therefore wire together), sleep helps to connect recent memories with earlier memories. This allows individuals to remember how they reacted in past situations, and react differently next time if they desire a different outcome.

Cleaning out toxins in the brain increases attention and memory, helps individuals think clearly, and even impacts the regulation of insulin. Not getting enough sleep inhibits the ability to clear out the toxins, which can be harmful to the connections that are trying to take place in the brain. Sleeping allows us the opportunity to create new and improved experiences each day.

There are many ways individuals can have more influence on emotional responses. These are only two, but by changing our brains and our physiology in the body, we are prepping ourselves for better interactions. Being mindful of how we can impact the physiology of our bodies allows us more control over how we interact with those around us. We increase our capacity to engage more positively and be more satisfied in our relationships.

Originally published by Utah Valley Health and Wellness

Written by Dr. Kayla Mennenga

Hold Me Tight Workshop

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Have you felt a lack of emotional connection in your relationship? Do you get stuck in conflict and negative interactions? Do you want to feel more emotionally safe to ask for what you need in your relationship? Would you like to be more accessible, responsive, and engaged in your relationship?

This can help! Spend time with me learning the most successful approach to creating loving relationships!

‘Hold Me Tight’
Marriage Workshop
Friday, February 3, 6:00 pm–9:00 pm
and Saturday, February 4, 9am–5:30pm
Provo Marriott SpringHill Suites

$275 per couple (Early Bird price before January 16)
$325 per couple after January 16

Price includes:
• 10 hours of instruction and practice
• Hold Me Tight book
• Workbook for each partner
• Engaging, professional, and experienced presenter
• Small group for increased access to presenter
• Light refreshments