The Lighter Side of Transformation

with Lisa Wessan, LICSW

Coronavirus Retreat Tip 2 on Distress Tolerance Skills

Stay Home Stay OM

We are all struggling to feel safe, stable, useful and effective during this pandemic challenge. I know for sure that when I feel peaceful and useful, everything else falls into place.

Feeling peaceful and useful is the foundation for a great life…trying to be “happy” or “ecstatic” all the time is worthless to me.  Happiness is fleeting, and as much as I love ecstasy, it also does not last long enough. Being peaceful and useful, however, offers long term gains, which often bloom into happiness and sometimes the ecstatic joy of living.

HOW DO WE BECOME MORE PEACEFUL AND USEFUL? 

Lately, it has been harder than ever to maintain my inner peace and feel useful.  I resist calling myself an expert, but I have learned a few useful tools and techniques in my practice as a human and therapist, which I want to share here – partly to help you feel better, and partly so that I feel useful sitting here in my house all day.

Let’s get to it…today’s tip has some useful skills for increasing your tolerance to distress and anxiety.

Mind/Body medicine works both ways.  First, every thought becomes a chemical reaction in your body.  Change your thoughts, change your experience of your life.
Second, “the issues are in your tissues.”  When you release the stress and toxins in your flesh, bones, muscles, skin, you feel a tremendous mental release and relief.
Let’s start with the empirically verified TIPP Skills  for quickly changing your body chemistry:tipp
Source:  Adapted from Linehan, M. (2015).Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. New York: Guildford Press. P. 329.

Let me unpack these TIPP skills and add in my suggestions:

Temperature – you can create what’s call the “The Dive Response” in a few ways.  The Dive Response will lower your blood pressure and relax your nervous system.  Ways to shift temperature include:

  • Set up a bowl of cold water and dunk your face into it for as long as you can hold your breath. Do this a few times, until you feel relief.
  • Take an ice pack, wrap in a towel and place on your cheeks, brow, neck.
  • Hold ice cubes in your hands.
  • Freeze a lemon or orange, and squeeze the frozen citrus.  Provides cooling effect plus aromatherapy.
  • Take a washcloth and moisten with cold water, but it on your brow (better effect laying down.)

Intense Exercise – in addition to the jumping jacks, push ups, running, walking fast, fast dancing, Vinyasa and Ashtanga yoga etc, I recommend the “Cross Crawl.”  You can do this standing up or on the floor.  This is a movement that gets your heart rate up super fast, can be done in place, and in five minutes you will feel the shift and release. It also provides excellent mental stimulation and has been shown to improve memory, creativity and focus as the cross-lateral activity heightens the exchange between the left and right hemispheres of our brains.   “Therapeutically, cross crawl refers to any intentional cross-lateral activity in which you cross the mid-line of the body, such as touching opposite hand and knee or foot.  Performing this movement builds the bridge between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, allowing for electrical impulses and information to pass freely between the two, which is essential for physical coordination as well as cerebral activities, such as learning language, reading, and hand-to-eye coordination.” (Source: https://www.yourtherapysource.com/blog1/2019/06/16/cross-crawl/)

Paced Breathing – Whether you do the “Take 5” method, which is inhaling to count of five, holding for 5 and then exhaling to 5, or any variation of slowed down breathwork, it will work.   The only way to do this wrong is to not do it at all!  When we do this in my DBT Skills Groups, I add on the physical hand movement of placing the dominant hand on the heart area and the other hand on the naval area.  Touching these two power centers (Solar Plexus and Heart chakra) has an additional calming effect.   The body feels more centered and cared for, a sense of compassion flows, and we feel we are doing useful self-parenting in this position.  This is also considered the Reiki I position, which begins a deeply relaxing sequence of psycho-spiritual  events in the body.

Paired Muscle Relaxation – This is when we begin to scan our bodies head to toe or toe to head, and start to tighten and release muscle groups.  This can be done sitting or lying down. It is most effective to inhale, tighten, hold for a few seconds, and then release.   I sometimes like to pair the muscle contractions with cognitive suggestions, e.g. Breathe in harmony, breathe out chaos. Breath in unconditional love, breathe out fear. Breathe in acceptance, breathe out anger.

You can find many free versions of Paced Breathing and Paired Muscle Relaxation at Insight Timer, and all over the internet.   Insight Timer has versions as short as 2 minutes, and as long as 90 minutes for each of these processes. (I also have a few videos on YouTube concerning Body Scans and Paced Breathing as well.)

May these TIPP Skills enhance your Coronavirus Retreat today!

Onward and Upward in good health,

Lisa Wessan

 

 

 

 

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Coronavirus Retreat Tip #1

Dog in mask

Over the years I have been trained up to always see the pros and cons of each challenge. Not to be in denial of the pain, trauma and suffering — but to see the possibility of hidden value in the challenges.  “What if everything that is happening to you is happening for you?” asked  Colin Tipping years ago in a lecture in New York.   That thought percolated through me for years before I could finally understand what it truly meant, and the freedom and peace of mind that comes from living with this deep level of acceptance. 

What are the pros and cons of this Covid-19 challenge we now face? Here are some resources which have helped me sort this out and remain more peaceful and relaxed during this difficult time. 

To be transparent as ever,  I am feeling the full dialectical nature of this moment: sometimes I feel a deep peace and stillness within, and at the same time I feel the edge of a panic attack creeping up on me.  The difference between now and 30 years ago, however,  is that I have learned to observe my inner world so much better…so when I sense that edge, I use some breathwork, distress tolerance skills and physical release to shift out of it.  (More on those skills in the next Coronavirus post).

Over the next few days, I’m going to unpack some useful tips for coping with this extra level of anxiety we all share from the pandemic.  As always,  I have been sorting and cycling through my personal tool kit, plus I have found some new and impactful ideas that I will share here too.  The best of the best for you, my dear reader…as we trudge this road through the forced Retreat to wellness and bliss.

First, listening to Jack Kornfield  and Tim Ferriss discuss ways to re-frame and re-focus during this difficult time gave me more insight and some good practical advice. Kornfield’s  75 years on this Earth have been well spent.  As a brief overview, he was a Buddhist Monk in Thailand, then served as co-founder of the Insight Meditation Center in Barre, MA,  then became a psychologist. Now he is involved in many educational and activist programs to help bring mindfulness and other useful transformative skills to the public. 

Tim Ferriss is one of my favorite teachers. First, I love Ferriss’  passion for extreme wellness.  I love his awesome lifestyle hacks and his never ending curiosity about world class performers  and the minutia of their morning routines, what they eat for breakfast,  favorite books, how they sleep and more. He also has an impressive history of  brilliant investing, living with bipolar illness and managing well.  Yes, I’m a fan of Ferriss! 

You can access this podcast wherever you listen to your podcasts:  Listen to #414: Jack Kornfield — How to Find Peace Amidst COVID-19, How to Cultivate Calm in Chaos from The Tim Ferriss Show in Podcasts.

For your consideration, here is my brief summary of this  podcast. During this two hour, wide ranging conversation, you will learn: 

  1. During the first hour, “It’s not about perfecting yourself, it’s about perfecting your Love.”  Learning to live in this world with more love, embracing the inner and outer imperfections with radical acceptance is one path to more inner peace and joy here.  Kornfield delves into some wonderful coping and practice skills to help move through the anxiety and depression of these pandemic days.
  2. From 1:07 there is a discussion of psychedelic research aka Sacred Medicines, for the treatment of drug resistant depression and anxiety.   Kornfield discusses the mysteries of our multi-dimensional selves.  “We are learning to use sacred medicines to know who we are.”  Apparently, this paradigm shifting research helps us form more positive and useful world views. Ferriss cites exciting and impressive research coming out of Johns Hopkins Medical School which has gotten robust results.   After listening to this  segment, I made a note to read The Cosmic Game, by psychiatrist Stanislav Grof, which describes the wisdom and understanding that hundreds of trials of Sacred Medicines have offered seekers in laboratory conditions, to help better understand the nature of consciousness Itself. (As it happens, Harvard Medical School is hosting a large conference here in Boston  May 1-2, 2020, on Meditation and Psychotherapy: Learning from Non-Ordinary States).
  3.  From 1:23 Kornfield deconstructs suicide and suicidal patterns and how to reduce treatment resistant depression.  I was intrigued with this curious idea,  how we long for “sleep,” and how for some suicide is the big sleep that they think will solve their painful life for good. Suicidal people have  worthy intentions, not the best solutions…Kornfield’s approach to suicide is practical and soothing.  
  4.  From 1:32  Kornfield explains his trauma work, and how to be in the field of compassion which allows us to process the trauma successfully. “To witness with a loving gaze, it’s not who you are, it’s something that you went through.”   This reminds me of the teaching that “We make mistakes, but we are not a mistake.”   Again, learning to pause, observe, step back and see the pain as something that we passed through is very different then feeling a permanent imprint from it, rendering us emotionally compromised,  with anxiety, depression, PTSD and other conditions.  

I hope you enjoy listening to this podcast as much as I did.  It really gave me a booster during these troubled times. There is hope! There is a solution…

Stay tuned for my next Coronavirus Retreat Tip…may these tips serve you well! 

Onwards and Upwards in good health, 

Lisa Wessan

 

Related reading: 

Dr. Abdu Sharkawy: My Turn: Mass panic may be worse than virus itself

 

 

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Some Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation Resources for a More Peaceful Holiday Season

Hi,

I hope this message finds you well.

During the holidays, especially Thanksgiving-Christmas/Hanukah/Kawanzza-New Year’s-Valentines Day, aka The Red Zone, there are many more opportunities to feeling the pain of Compare and Despair, neglect, arguments,  loss, grief and a boatload of intense feelings.

You may also be forced to spend time with a relative you despise, or be tempted to eat food or drinks that make you feel sick. Being triggered all over the place your impulse issues may be whispering in your ear, “Drink me, eat me, buy me, smoke me, shop me, gamble me, escape into video games/Netflix” on and on.

Everyone goes through this, but some of us feel it a lot more deeply.

To that end,  I want to offer you a few resources from my MirthMaven archives to help you get through The Red Zone.  May you find some wonderful skills and tools here to get through those midnight blues, or whenever the intense feelings feel like too much:

  1. Extra Tools for Letting Go  (Wessan, November 2018, 25 min). You may enjoy this useful and entertaining video of ways to quickly let go of harsh feelings.
  2. The Red Zone – Chock full of tips and techniques for help with this holiday season.
  3. Compare and Despair – added insight for social media distress, feeling left out, unloved, unwanted.

As always, let’s remember that “Feelings are not Facts,” and to practice being a good observer as the storm passes through you. “This too shall pass” and “Never Give Up” have helped to carry me through some tough times in the past.  

At the very least, remember to use the “Take 5” breathwork method: breathe in to the count of five, hold for five seconds, and release to the count of five.   Repeat for at least six rounds of Take 5 breaths, to get re-centered and regain some inner calm. 

May you have  a more  peaceful holiday season,

thanksgiving2

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

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DBT Skills Groups for Teens and Adults forming for July 2019 in Westford, MA

dbt-skills

Since the shocking suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain last June, people have been becoming more acutely aware of how vulnerable we all are to thoughts of self-harm.  Knowing that all the success, cash and prizes, fame and celebrity connections do not make a person happy can be mind bending for many people.

In my guild, we deal with self-harm and suicidal ideation regularly and know how catastrophic it can be for families and loved ones to process and cope with a loved ones’ tendency to self-harm.  Plus, we each have our own dark thoughts and need to learn to be able to observe, defrost and release those negative thoughts in order to function here at Earth School.

No one is exempt from this learning curve!  This is why I am confident that ultimately solution focused, evidence based Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills (DBT) and Mindfulness will be taught in all elementary schools as part of the required educational curriculum.  More than most cognitive restructuring methods, DBT has one of the highest rates of success (Linehan, 2016).

To that end…here are the new dates for Summer 2019 for my adolescent and adult DBT Skills Groups. (At this time, there is one spot is still open in the adult group, and  two spots are open in the adolescent group. The Open Enrollment Period ends August 14th, so if you or someone you know would like to join us, just contact me at your earliest convenience).

Adolescents (age 14-17, with rare exceptions): 

WEDNESDAYS, 4:15 – 5:45 PM
July 17, 24, 31
August 7, 14, 21, 28
September 4, 11, 18, 25
October 2, 16, 23

Adults: (age 18 +)

WEDNESDAYS,  7:30 – 9:00 PM
July 24, 31
August 7, 14, 21, 28
September 4, 11, 18, 25
October 2, 16, 23, 30

(we skip Yom Kippur)

If you are new to this work, here are some useful links:

  1. Five Steps to Enrolling in a DBT group.
  2. DBT Fees and Refund Policy
  3. Insurance and How to Use your Out of Network Benefits
  4. About DBT in general. What is dialectical thinking?
  5. Recent article on getting beyond binary and dualistic thinking.
  6. What do you cover in the Emotion Regulation and Mindfulness module?
  7. Main DBT Page at www.lisawessan.com
  8. Accolades and Testimonials for Lisa Wessan

(For learning DBT Skills from a remote location, or if you are compromised due to health issues, I also use video chat sessions  to share this work).

Let’s turn your defeats into victories, and your scars into stars…Yes, DBT can help you shift from being IMPOSSIBLE to I’M POSSIBLE!

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

 Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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What do we cover in the Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation DBT Modules?

I’m excited to announce that we are hastening slowly to transform the world from the inner to outer, one DBT student at a time…

Up next: we will be exploring Mindfulness & Emotion Regulation skills.

For all groups (Adults, Teens, Mastermind Groups) we need a minimum of six and maximum of 10 students to make it work.  (Low/Slow enrollment just delays the start date until we reach six, usually within a week or two of the posted target date.)

Four leaf DBT

The Emotion Regulation module has four sections:

  • Understanding and Naming Emotions
  • Changing Emotional Responses
  • Reducing Vulnerability to Emotion Mind
  • Managing Extremely Difficult Emotions

 

DBT Mindfulness

The Mindfulness material includes:

  • Learning to be a good observer
  • Being non-judgmental
  • Staying in the present
  • Practicing being effective
  • Accessing Wise Mind (aka higher self, higher consciousness)
  • Understanding Reality Acceptance and detaching from negative or critical thoughts.

As DBT founder Dr. Marsha Linehan says, “It is difficult to manage your emotions when you do not understand how emotions work. Knowledge is power.”

  • We learn to cope better with social anxiety issues, negative thinking and get out of the Blame Game.
  • We learn to abstain from the “Compare and Despair” syndrome.
  • We practice  “Face it, trace it and erase it” as we work the DBT Skills and grow stronger and wiser with effective emotional regulation and expression.
  • We learn to access “Wise Mind” and regain our center, remain calm. As it is written, “Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”  We learn to take a stand for our peace, and become bulletproof to bullies, nastiness and others’ negative remarks.
  • We learn to practice Radical Acceptance, as needed, and problem solve when possible. We are no longer victims.

If this sounds good to you, please get in touch with me to start  your enrollment process. 

For exact dates, fees, insurance,  FAQs,  location, DBT videos and more details, please visit www.lisawessan.com or call 978.710.8039.

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019.
All rights reserved. www.LisaWessan.com

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On the “Myth of Closure,” Ambiguous Loss and Complicated Grief

“Everyone experiences ambiguous loss if only from breaking up with someone, or having aging parents or kids leaving home. As we learn from the people who must cope with the more catastrophic situations of ambiguous loss, we learn how to tolerate the ambiguity in our more common losses in everyday life.” 

– Pauline Boss, Ph.D.

In my immediate family, several of my nearest and dearest have battled with cancer over the years…both of my paternal grandparents, may they rest in peace,  my dear first cousin Stephanie (may she live to be a super centenarian) and my delightful and fierce Aunt Yvette (known as “Auntie”), who is currently receiving hospice care.  It has been a long and grueling journey with cancer for all my loved ones.

Sometimes I struggle with feeling powerless, and living so far away from my family in Sarasota, FL. When they lived in New York, it was so much easier to visit. Sadly,  I can’t make frequent visits to Sarasota. The only “power” I do have is to send intentional healing and loving energy to my Auntie and family…and to practice radical acceptance so that I will function with some measure of inner peace here in my world.

For a while, my Auntie was in and out of the nursing home while she battled her cancer and other complications from treatment. Her life was severely compromised by her illness.  As harsh as this has been is for her, since April 2015,  I have also been witnessing how Auntie’s dying process is affecting everyone around her.

My cousins are fraught with anxiety and grief. Others are a hot mess, watching Auntie dying so slowly, not being able to process their feelings and find some relief.  Some people get trapped in the “Blame Game,” and are always looking to find ways to defocus their pain by pointing at others (that’s a separate article, on the Blame Game, worth exploring soon).

We are all coping with the ambiguity of Auntie being here, yet not here.  She is no longer resembling her true self as we knew her.  Sometimes she is delirious, sometimes she is too weak to talk. As her body deteriorates, she is no longer living the full and robust life she once enjoyed.

ambiguous loss1

This pain we are all experiencing has a name…it is called Ambiguous Loss.  “Ambiguous loss is a loss that occurs without closure or understanding. This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers, and thus complicates and delays the process of grieving, and often results in unresolved grief.” (Wikipedia)

There are a variety of types of ambiguous loss.  One type is when people go missing and the body is never found.  For example, a person does not return from a sailing trip, or from a hiking excursion, or war, or they are kidnapped.  Their loved ones still feel a lack of closure because the body was not found.   “Maybe they will return…” lingers in the mind.

After 9/11,  all of us in NYC were processing personal and professional ambiguous loss for all of our New Yorkers who were lost in the pile of bodies that were never recovered.

Another kind of ambiguous loss is when people experience a new emotional boundary that hurts.  This happens when people get divorced, or when someone ignores you, stops talking to you, shuts you out of their life.  Any kind of break-up creates ambiguous loss, because the person is still here, yet not here. They are alive, but dead to you.   This is considered more painful loss than when someone actually dies.

ambiguous loss3

Medical illness and addictions cause ambiguous loss.

Ambiguous loss also occurs when a loved one has Altzheimers or dementia, and they no longer recognize social connections. Similarly, when someone is very ill, such as my Auntie, we have ambiguous loss because the illness is transforming our loved one into someone other than the person we always knew. We are mourning the living remnants of our loved one…so excruciating and bitter.

When someone is living with an addiction, this too causes their personal relations to deteriorate and they are not fully present for their loved ones. Again, they are here but not here.

I have a friend who had a beautiful daughter in Cambridge, MA,  who chose to be homeless.  Her daughter was an alcoholic.  My friend tried all methods of intervention and help. Nothing worked. My friend suffered with ambiguous loss for so many years. Her daughter was a pianist, absolutely lovely.   She died a few years ago,  at 35, and it was one of the most heart wrenching tragedies I experienced.  My friend is still recovering from this painful loss.

Learning to live a good life with ambiguous loss

I recently listened to a wonderful and insightful podcast interview with ambiguous loss pioneer Pauline Boss, Ph.D., who originally coined the term “ambiguous loss.”   Krista Tippett hosts Dr. Boss on her podcast, On Being.  You can listen here:

The Myth of Closure [UNEDITED VERSION, 1.5 hours]

The Myth of Closure [EDITED VERSION, 1 hour]

I prefer the unedited versions of Tippett’s interviews, because there are sometimes fascinating nuances that are deleted to make the long form interview fit into an hour. But I’m sure whichever one you listen to will be rewarding!

One of the ideas I took away from Dr. Boss’ talk was that we will never have complete closure from our ambiguous losses, or from our complicated grief.  What we can do is become  more adept at processing our negative feelings and difficult thoughts. Dr. Boss has some wonderful suggestions on the process.

Cognitive restructuring, which can be learned, is a big part of the solution.  Dr. Boss’ stories and explanations are very helpful in deconstructing the different kinds of ambiguous loss that we all have in our lives.

Even though I learned about ambiguous loss and complicated grief in graduate school, it seems I keep deepening my learning about it more every year, from clients who are struggling with painful divorce, adult children with addictions, my Auntie’s battle with cancer, and for all the ongoing loss of freedoms in the world that never seems to subside.

Fun fact: Ambiguous loss is clearly part of our psychospiritual journey — for it forces us to grow and move to new levels of compassion and acceptance of things we cannot control.  “Lack of power, that is our dilemma,” says Alcoholics Anonymous  (Bill W., 1976).  Yes, in our culture, we seek to control, cure, fix and manage everyone and everything as much as possible. We don’t like messy endings.

Yet what I have come to know, is that true mastery of life is being able to live in ambiguity with peace, even joy.  My life is far from perfect…yet I am more often feeling positive, grateful,  uplifted, inspired and anticipating good interventions that will transform it.

If we can learn to live in that “not knowing” place and be peaceful — that is a vast improvement on “hating ambiguity” and perhaps yelling at G-d or the Universe, or twisting into knots over why bad things do happen to good people…again, very messy, so annoying.

The truth is, when it comes to matters of love, there is no closure. As they say at the Grief Toolbox,  “Closure is not part of the grieving process, nor is it necessary for healing. A connection formed in love can’t be closed.”  Dr. Boss confirmed this with her years of research on ambiguous loss, leading to her forthcoming book on “The Myth of Closure.”

ambigousloss5

As Dr. Boss discussed in the interview, our Western culture wants neatly packaged endings and for everyone to move on as quickly as possible.   There is plenty of shaming that goes on, as in “Aren’t you over that yet?”

Sadly, our culture does not tolerate ambiguous loss very well at all.  It requires more Eastern, dialectical thinking.  To be able to say non-binary statements such as “She is alive, but also dead,”  “He is not here, but he is possibly still alive,”  or “She looks like Auntie, but this is not Auntie anymore,” requires a leap from dualistic thinking to a more dialectical thinking which allows us to embrace opposite beliefs without sinking into a deep depression or disruptive anxiety vortex.

Solution Focused Suggestions

For today, I invite you to learn more about ambiguous loss, and start to apply these non-dualistic, non-binary, dialectical thinking ideas to your situation.

  • Listen to the podcast above, and learn some skills to help process your ambiguous grief.
  • Perhaps find a good therapist who can help you learn to cope better with your struggles.  Good news: coping skills can be learned!
  • Learn to laugh at the absurdities, paradoxes and incongruities of life (Gavin, 2010; Wessan, 2013).
  • Practice your Distress Tolerance skills …join a Dialectical Behavior Therapy group.  You may then find it easier to work through the painful moments, and allow yourself to live in ambiguity with, dare I say it, some joy!

 

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

References

Gavin, J. (03 Sept 2010). Laughing with the Joys and Troubles of Life Leads to Growth. The Chelmsford Patch. Found at https://mirthmaven.blog/2010/09/16/lisa-wessan-interviewed-in-the-chelmsfor/

Pauline Ross, Ph.D. https://www.ambiguousloss.com/

W., Bill. (1976). Alcoholics Anonymous : the story of how many thousands of men and women have recovered from alcoholism. New York:Alcoholics Anonymous World Services. Fourth edition, Chapter 4, We Agnostics. P. 45. 

Wessan, L. (2013).  Using Humor and Laughter in Therapy. Focus Journal. National Association of Social Workers.  Vol. 40, No. 4. 3,11.

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved.
www.LisaWessan.com

 

 

 

 

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Moving beyond binary thinking: what are dialectical and non-dualistical truths?

“Even when all the experts agree, they may well be mistaken.”  ~ Bertrand Russell

“In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless,
but planning is indispensable.” ~ Dwight Eisenhower

“The reverse of truth has a thousand shapes
and a boundless field.” ~ Michel de Montaigne

“Whoever is winning at the moment
will always seem to be invincible.” ~ George Orwell

“Family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande.”  ~ George W. Bush

“Sometimes you need to get knocked down before you can
really figure out what your fight is.” ~ Chadwick Boseman

What do all these quotes have in common?  They are blending opposing beliefs into a non-dualistic framework, which is, for most of us, is not easy to hold in our minds without some cognitive dissonance.

As those of you who follow me know, I teach Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills (DBT), which helps people live with massive emotional and cognitive dissonance and yet not have an emotional meltdown (or self harm from the pain).

For example, when you get into the DBT flow of consciousness, you realize that you can both love and hate someone.  You realize that on some level, you are amazing, perfect and rocking as is, yet you can improve.   You realize that you are sometimes brilliant, and sometimes really foolish, but still lovable, no matter what. You embrace the FACT that you inevitably will make mistakes, but you are NOT a mistake.  You are still awesome, lovable and worthy, no matter what cocka-locka-cuckoo stunt you got into, either consciously or unconsciously.

So dialectical thinking helps us get out of the black and white mental trap, the “All or Nothing,” Right or Wrong, Worthy or Unworthy, Perfect or Imperfect name game.  Practicing dialectical skills helps relieve so much of our nasty inner dialogue.  Over time, DBT gently muzzles the harsh inner Critic and lets us move forward with plans to grow, learn, change and improve ourselves, our relationships and our lives.

Borderline1

DBT makes it so much easier to “Disable the Label” of our diagnosis, gender challenge, financial issue, body image or weight issue and more.  As I’ve often said before, I believe DBT skills will someday soon be taught to everyone by the 3rd grade level.

It is essential that we all move out of this painful and extremely unproductive dualistic perfectionist damnation of ourselves and others!  Enough is enough, right? The exquisite radical acceptance that comes from dialectical thinking starts within, and then permeates into our relationships, politics and the world at large.

Yes, it is possible to temporarily hate ourselves for a few minutes for being a bit unconscious or even whacko in the moment, and then with the help of improved self-talk, gently shift back to a more bearable level of acceptance, possibly reach a more comfortable forgiveness level and then back to a more loving baseline. With training, this could be reduced from days/weeks of self hate to a few minutes…that’s a big win in my practice!

This DBT process uses evidence-based skills culled from the vast Mindfulness research, Interpersonal Effectiveness, Distress Tolerance and Emotion Regulation fields.  These skills help people move from being in the extreme of “Emotion Mind” or “Rational Mind” into their “Wise Mind” and function better on every level.

Ven diagram 1 Wise Mind

Here are some of the common myths that we deconstruct in our DBT groups:

“Dialectics reminds us of the many paradoxes that are built into our Universe:

  1. The universe is filled with opposing sides/opposing forces. There is always more than one way to see a situation, and more than one way to solve a problem. Yet two things that seem like opposites can both be true.
  1. Everything and every person is connected in some way, in the way that the waves and the ocean are one. It is also believed that the slightest move of the butterfly affects the furthest star.
  2. Change is the only constant. Meaning and truth evolve over time. Each moment is new; reality itself changes with each moment.
  1. Change is transactional. What we do influences our environment and other people in it. The environment and other people influence us.” (Linehan, 2015)

For today,  I challenge you to start letting go of your dualistic mind traps, and gently start to shift into a more compassionate, empathetic and dialectical mind set that will allow yourself and others to be good enough around you, as is, while you are all improving.  Here’s the emotional math: less judging, more inner peace.  Simple, but not easy!

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

Reference:
Linehan, M. (2015). DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets. Second edition. New York: Guildford Press. Page 150.

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved.
www.LisaWessan.com

 

 

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Thoughts for the Season

Thank You Gratitude

There is a crack in everything,

that’s how the light gets in.


~ Leonard Cohen

 

There’s a lot to be grateful for this season, and I’m grateful for the never ending Light that goes to any length to reach us…

I appreciate this verse from Leonard Cohen, that when you are having a breakdown , aka cracking up,  you are actually have a breakthrough.  Those cracks allow us to grow, learn and transform.

No cracks, no wisdom.  It’s all part of the mysterious dialectical personal growth process we engage in as living beings.  We are not aiming for perfection, but we are aiming for wholeness.

I hope this message finds you in good health, moving towards wholeness, having more breakthroughs than breakdowns!

 

Happy, healthy, spirit of Thanksgiving and holiday season,

 

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

You might enjoy one of my recent articles…

 

Wessan, L. (2018). Walk and Talk Therapy: Moving Towards Wholeness.  Social Work Voice. 16-17.

Wessan, L. (2018). When you are Addicted to Drama…

Wessan, L. (2018). Holiday Blues? Pause and Take a Mental Laxative (Forgiveness 101).

 

New Groups Starting…

UP  Next in Westford, MA:

Open Enrollment Period for Adult DBT Skills Group ends 1/3/19. This next semester we cover Mindfulness and Interpersonal Effectiveness.  Learn more HERE. 

DBT Skills Group for Teens starts 1/8/19. 

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2018. All rights reserved.
www.LisaWessan.com

 

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Holiday Blues? Pause and Take a Mental Laxative (Forgiveness 101)

For some people, the holidays are a very joyful and exciting time of year.  More parties, celebrations, shopping and gift exchanges coupled with lots of social stimulation.  It’s all good…for them.

But for others, who feel painful pressure to have “forced fun” and may not have strong intimate connections, lack financial resources, struggle with illness or addiction, these times are fraught with deep loneliness and uncomfortable feelings of “Compare and Despair” (Wessan, 2011).  For this group,  we are entering “The Red Zone.”  

The Red Zone  runs through  Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve…and perhaps for many Valentine’s Day is also included in this over stimulating, emotionally charged, addiction riddled time of year.

When I was younger, single and living alone in New York City,  I experienced the holidays as my Red Zone.   I loved my circle of friends, but many of them were married or had moved far away. They were not available for the holidays. I found my loneliness was most acute during this time of year.

As part of my coping with loneliness,  for many years I went away for New Year’s weekend to Pumpkin Hollow Retreat Center, in Craryville, NY.  Pumpkin Hollow is a beautiful place, with magical trails on lush Berkshire hills and a thoughtful and sensitive staff.  They used to facilitate a wonderful Silent Retreat over New Year’s weekend (I noticed now they have one in late January and May).

There were moonlit walks in the woods, we ate delicious gourmet organic vegetarian meals , danced  around a huge campfire, hugged trees and meditated together in the silence.   The facilitators artfully helped us work through all the activities in silence, and I remember every year being amazed at how little language I really needed to get by and still feel peaceful and content.

For me, it was a relaxing and restorative weekend in the Berkshires, but I also I had to process some difficult feelings. 

 

Forgiveness 101

Being in the Silence can be a powerful cleanse,  as so many distractions are removed.  The Silence gives us time to deeply work through some acceptance and forgiveness issues, serving as a “Mental Laxative,” as  Iyanla Vanzant is known to say  (Vanzant, 2013). This is a perfect time to take a moral inventory of ourselves, and notice where we need to improve. 

Moral inventories vary, but at their core,  we make a list of the people we have harmed, consciously or unconsciously.  Then we make a list of the ways we hurt ourselves, consciously or unconsciously.  Finally, we make a list of our fears and regrets.  (The only way to do a moral inventory wrong is to not do it at all.)

All of this then requires a deep and thorough forgiveness practice, ultimately letting go of all of it.  Then it is done.  We have a fresh start.  

You can use this Forgiveness Prayer to help you get started.  Practice Suggestion:  Read it into your Smart Phone’s Voice Memo app (or tape recorder) very slowly. Pause 5-10 seconds between each line.  Save it, and then play it back to yourself with your eyes closed, allowing yourself to feel it deeply.  As faces and names to forgive bubble up in your consciousness, you can make a note of them to add to your lists.

For all those we have harmed, knowingly or unknowingly,
we are truly sorry. Forgive us and set us free.
For all those who have harmed us, knowingly or unknowingly,
we forgive them and we set them free.
And for the harm we have done to ourselves,
knowingly or unknowingly, we are truly sorry.
We forgive ourselves and we set ourselves free.
~ Author Unknown ~

Afterwards, we may also need to talk to a few people and apologize for our behavior (or in some cases neglect).  Hard Fact: In order to really feel healthy, whole, clean and strong  inside, it is essential to give our inner emotional pipes a good Roto-Rooter cleaning by resolving any awkward or tender hurts. Apologies and amends need to be in the process.  Fun Fact: Asking for forgiveness is the final piece in our quest for inner calm, or should I say, the Final Peace?!!  

But you don’t have to go away for a whole weekend to give yourself an effective Mental Laxative…you can carve out some time each day, or each week,  to sit quietly and review your life to forgive the imperfect moments. What worked well? What did not go so well?  Whom did you judge too harshly?  Even taking a brief inventory of your emotional interior will have huge pay offs in the long run.  

One more Mental Laxative Practice Suggestion:  set a timer for 10 minutes.  Do as much of your list making as you can in that time, and then stop.  It will be enough.  Do this on a weekly basis, or more frequently if you are ready. Ten minutes of taking a Mental Laxative twice a  week is a great beginning, perhaps once over the weekend and once during the week?  Do what feels right for you.

As you progress, this could ideally become a daily activity…and who would you be if you had no resentments, anger, unresolved grief and rage?  You would bloom on in a whole new way.

In addition, I believe that holding onto negative thoughts and unresolved anger, resentment, fear and grief will fester within, and eventually manifest into some kind of physical illness and/or mood disorder.  We need to keep all of our pipes clean!  Digestive pipes and emotional pipes, which actually work together in the big picture.

As the hallowed halls of the Mindfulness research and Functional Medicine have taught us, every thought becomes a chemical reaction in our bodies.  Please note, the Mind-Body connection is not philosophical, theoretical or conjectured.  It is grounded in science (Turner, 2014).

We need to be aware of this and carve out the time to release and let go of our negative and stinking thinking.  If we don’t, it will just putrefy within, and poison our relationships as well.

 

What is Reflective Listening?

Being heard is so close to being loved, that for the average person they are almost indistinguishable.  – David Augsburger

Another worthwhile activity to do if you find yourself being in the Red Zone now is to volunteer your time, talent and special treasure in places that will appreciate you.

Before I became a therapist, I used to volunteer at a Suicide Hotline called HELPLINE, at the Marble Collegiate Church in New York,  which for me, was an exhilarating service.  It was founded by the late, great Reverend Norman Vincent Peale, may he rest in peace.  (There is also an excellent Blanton-Peale counseling center located at Marble, with wonderful psychospiritual therapists on staff, see reference below).

Most Hotlines have a fascinating and useful training program which enhances all human relationships.  I first learned the power of Reflective Listening in my 10-week HELPLINE training, and it transformed my life. 

Reflective Listening is being able to let someone else talk and just be present for them,  listening quietly.  When they pause, then you reflect back the essence of what they have just said.  This feels very soothing and loving to the agitated talker. The person feels so validated by your Reflective Listening, it is often enough to help them  get “off the ledge.” Listening is a form of loving each other that soothes, heals and restores us.

Learning Reflective Listening  was the bulk of my HELPLINE training, plus there was also a lot to learn about making referrals and gaining trust. 

Coming from a culture of chronic interrupters and non-listeners, I had learned some ineffective communication habits over the years, which I continue to strive to improve.   The impulse to speak out and interrupt is fierce, but knowing that it compromises relationships and hurts people helps me to zip my lip, as best as I can.  For today, I remain a humble work in progress, that’s for sure.

My hope for the future is that the Hotline’s training program is something that will be  taught to all humans by the sixth grade. Similar to the skills learned in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT, which should also be part of elementary school education) during training we learned about interpersonal effectiveness, mindfulness, distress tolerance and emotion regulation.  These skills give us the foundation for better emotional balance, and allow us to be more present for others’ pain and suffering, as well as our own. 

 

Ask yourself the magical question, “How can I be useful today?”

I understand that a Hotline gig may not be your cup of tea.  Volunteering at a soup kitchen, animal shelter, nursing home, botanical garden, museum, Indivisible, MoveOn or anywhere can also be very uplifting during the Red Zone. 

Nursing homes always need a river of volunteers to help with feeding, reading, translation services and transporting  non-ambulatory residents .  I learned this when I was in graduate school, as one of my internships was at the Jewish Home and Hospital for the Aged in the Bronx.  I was facilitating several  therapy groups each week, but there was a huge volunteer staff that coordinated all these helpful tasks for the residents.  I was so impressed with the volunteers’ compassion and zeal to help these nursing home residents.  

Yes, there is a time for self care, and then sometimes it is better to focus on others’ needs more than your own, to take a break from the painful  ME-ME-ME inner dialogue you might be having.

 

Transparency is Healing

Finally, being in the Red Zone totally in secret is just exhausting and no fun.  Be honest and authentic about your feelings — transparency is healing —  and see who matches your energy.  You might find a few people who also feel put upon and even hate the holidays — great — these will be your Red Zone buddies and comrades in getting through the muck of the season. 

Make it a point, however, to be victorious together, e.g.”let’s stay sober and clean through this nightmare,” or “This too shall pass. How can we be useful today?”  or “Let’s go for a hike and get away from the shopping madness.” Complaining is draining, so it’s important to find ways to support each other to rise above the chaos of the season.

Being able to laugh about it, the complete absurdity and paradox of Christmas especially, is so refreshing.  Whenever I see huge displays of gifts and glittery objects everywhere tempting us to buy-buy-buy, I chuckle to myself and think “What would Jesus say about all this?  Would He be happy with this display?”  Yikes.

I’m not judging, nay, nay,  I actually love the glittery Hand of G-d in all of this (Wessan, 2012).  But you know  the commercialization of Christmas becomes excessive and downright irritating at times — so I like to take a step back and think about the real reason for the season…our awesome connectivity, celebrating our Oneness, and the mystery of the Numinous in our lives.  

Another reason is the magnitude of  working through the bittersweet feelings of existence together and being brave enough to peacefully co-exist in this tumultuous world.   We can acknowledge the dialectical paradox, that sometimes we want to live and sometimes we don’t, but we choose life anyway.  We need to be courageous during this time, knowing that we are struggling in the Red Zone while “everyone else” seems to be having the best time ever. 

 

In Conclusion

For this holiday season, The Red Zone,  I encourage you to try something different:

  • Experiment with a daily or weekly Mental Laxative experience, or go away on a retreat for more in depth forgiveness work.
  • Volunteer somewhere that will give you  a chance to focus on someone else, take a break from “Poor me, Poor Me, Pour me a drink” thinking.
  • Give honesty a chance, come clean and tell a few people how you really feel. Defrost some of that hidden grief, rage, loss, loneliness, “Compare and Despair” and all the inner stressful thinking that puts a damper on your days.

I promise if you follow some of these suggestions you will feel lighter, brighter and perhaps, dare I say it, even more peaceful during this relentless Red Zone. 

Good health is wealth, go for it!

 

 

References

Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills (DBT).   This is a four part psychoeducation program that covers Mindfulness, Emotion Regulation, Distress Tolerance and Interpersonal Effectiveness. It takes one year to complete the curriculum.

Turner, K. (2014).  Radical Remission: Surviving Cancer Against All Odds.   New York: Harper Collins. 

Vanzant, I. (2013). Forgiveness: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for  Everything. Carlsbad, CA: Smiley Books.

Wessan, L. (2011, September 27). Compare and Despair: How Free Do You Want to Be?  Retrieved from https://mirthmaven.blog/2011/09/27/compair-and-despair-how-free-do-you-want-to-be/

Wessan, L. (2005, October 14) Forgiving is not condoning. (8 minute video)  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=avBEdDJJGrk

Wessan, L. (2012, July 13). The Glittery Hand of God. (3 minute video).  Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PT2lSvLft4o&t=4s

Blanton-Peale Institute and CounselingCenter, New York, NY,  for individual, family and couples counseling.  Accepts most insurance.  Highly recommended for quality psychospiritual therapy.  Founder: the late great Reverend Norman Vincent Peale. 

Pumpkin Hollow Retreat Center, Craryville, NY. Owned and operated by the Theosophical Society.  Organic vegetarian food served from their own farm, non-dogmatic, beautiful retreat center. Highly recommend, especially the retreats on Therapeutic Touch, and the Silent Retreat.

 

Copyright © 2018 by Lisa Wessan. All rights reserved.

 

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Up Next: New DBT Skills Groups on Distress Tolerance and Mindfulness in Westford, MA

#MirthMaven |

In the wake of the recent suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, people are now becoming more acutely aware than ever of how vulnerable we all are to thoughts of self harm.  Knowing that all the success, cash and prizes, fame and celebrity connections do not make a person happy can be mind bending for many people.

In my guild, we deal with self harm and suicidal ideation regularly and know how catastrophic it can be for families and loved ones to process and cope with a loved ones’ tendency to self harm.  Plus, we each have our own dark thoughts and need to learn to be able to observe, defrost and release those negative thoughts in order to function here at Earth School.

No one is exempt from this learning curve!  This is why I am confident that ultimately DBT and Mindfulness will be taught in all elementary schools as part of the required educational curriculum.

To that end…besides my basic and ongoing daytime and evening Dialectical Behavior Skills Groups (DBT), I have been asked by several concerned parents of challenging and high risk adult children if I could form a monthly DBT support group for them.   I have also been asked by my amazing graduates of the one year basic DBT program if we could have an Advanced Group that also meets monthly…

To fulfill that request,  below are the upcoming groups that are forming to meet the personal growth needs of our community. (For learning DBT Skills from a remote location, or if you are compromised due to health issues, I also use video chat sessions  to share this work).

Daytime and Evening 14 Week DBT Skills Group on Distress Tolerance and Mindfulness: August 16, 2018 – November 15, 2018  Thursdays, 3:15 -4:45 PM or 7:30 – 9 PM.

Monthly DBT Skills and Support Group for Parents of High Risk and Challenging Children, the first Wednesday of the month, 7 – 8:30 PM.

Monthly DBT Skills for Advanced Students, the second Wednesday of the month. 7 – 8:30 PM.

Please note: enrollment is ongoing. (Sorry, no walk-ins, you must pre-register for all above groups.)

Let’s turn your defeats into victories, and your scars into stars…Yes, DBT can help you shift from being IMPOSSIBLE to I’M POSSIBLE!

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2018. All rights reserved.

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