The Lighter Side of Transformation

with Lisa Wessan, LICSW

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 in the throes of post-rehab adjustment and palliative care.  It has been a long and grueling journey 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.

Lately, my Auntie has been in and out of the nursing home,  and her life is 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 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, 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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The Illusion of Duality and Separation Continues: Be an Ambassador for Peace

“When my brothers try to draw a circle to exclude me, I shall draw a larger circle to include them.”
~ Transgender civil rights activist Pauli Murray

Teach Peace

I love Pauli Murray’s  quote, because in 20 words it captures the essence of the evolution of consciousness.  Throughout history, we seem to move from tribal sections to Oneness consciousness, and then back to tribal sections again.  It’s as if we are doing a spiritual Cha-Cha, two steps forward and one step back!

Whether it is the topic of Transgender folks, refugees, or any atypical humans in question, it is the “other” that triggers some xenophobic response — it all boils down to one thing — we are either living in Oneness as part of the web of life,  or as separate warring factions.

Oops! It can also be dialectical, that we are living in Oneness AND we are 10,000 screaming factions ready to bomb each other to death.

Sadly, in these times we have very much devolved back to warring factions again. The We-Them paradigm is super strong now. There has been a surge in general hate crimes, and I recently read that there was a 47% increase in anti-Semitism. Yes, it seems that the world is ripening for another Jew bashing era. I’m going to be taking a stand for Jewish lives everywhere. This goes beyond my family, friends and colleagues.

How will we ever have a peaceful, harmonious, high functioning government and society that embraces all humans (and animals) as equal life forms?  How did we relapse into this troglodyte mentality? Children in cages?  Tear gas at the borders?  Every day brings a new wave of hysteria and fear to our lives. I refuse to blame one man, or one politician, “He who shall not be named,” the Voldemort of our day…nay, nay, this wave of haters is much greater than one man, although one man can stir them up and empower them to hate.

For today, my pea brain does not have the answer to these questions.  But what I do know is that each of us makes a powerful difference in our individual lives, and can cause a meaningful ripple effect in each day.

In Judaism, repairing the world is called Tikkun Olam.    Tikkun Olam contains the idea that each of us is an agent for social justice, healing and recovery.  We are each responsible for making more positive contributions. Yes, our generosity is always for the greater good, and in fact will boomerang back to us eventually.

So in the spirit of Tikkun Olam, I’d like to share this Prayer for Peace which I believe can help heal the world, one breath at a time:

Prayer for Peace

Peace in my heart brings peace to the family.
Peace in the family brings peace to the community.
Peace in the community brings peace to the nation.
Peace in the nation brings peace to the world.
Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.

~ Author Unknown ~

During these turbulent times, instead of feeling like a victim,  take up the cause for peace, starting with yourself.  Find a way to be more peaceful, however that works.   Chances are, it will be a multi-modal path.  Better nutrition, exercise, meditation, forgiveness work, will all contribute to your feeling more peaceful.

I’m requesting that you take your inner peace process seriously, and please never feel guilty for taking time for whatever self care will take you there.  “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me” is an invitation to do whatever it takes to relax and let go of your negative thinking, unhealthy habits, addictions and whatever ails you. Never give up, you are worth it!

As Pauli Murray says, you can start to draw a larger circle to include all of us in your life’s orbit, and stop excluding “the other.” We are simply ONE FAMILY here at Earth School, it’s that simple.

May you become an Ambassador for Peace right where you are!

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2018. 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 2019).

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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Something wonderful is happening…

As I am continuing my ongoing birthday celebration (from 4/21), yesterday a dear friend took me to see Amy Schumer’s new film, I FEEL PRETTY, which I loved.  Thank you Amy Schumer for being so brave, vulnerable, transparent and still zany and hilariously funny.  Yes, you are the carrots in the brownies…(as you shared on Oprah’s SuperSoul Sunday podcast recently).  So great to laugh at the absurdities and incongruities of our plump biosacks  that carry us around here at Earth School.  I FEEL PRETTY is clearly part of the required curriculum for the Liberation Philosophy for Plump People!
Brief back story…
This is how the day went…first I had a long overdue haircut at noon —  and my new hairdresser, Chloe, did an amazing job!  I left her salon feeling extremely pretty.  I even had a few tears in my chair, because my hair has been in a side-braid more often than down on my shoulders for a long time.

Here is a recent braid photo from last Sunday at the Lyric Stage Theater in Boston, MA, chatting with Eugene O’Neill after his play, Anna Christie…
Why the hair neglect? Am I too busy? Not caring? Rushing from exercise to office, no time to fuss?  Apathy?  Whatever.  I like my braid, but I have gotten some negative feedback from my sister that it is not flattering.  I wear it anyway. I know my hair looks nice when it’s down, but some days I am not able to get that together.
In Chloe’s salon chair, my tears told me that I missed that part of myself, feeling beautiful and glamorous, and desirable.  I hadn’t felt this way for quite some time it seems. I usually feel moderately acceptable, clean and neat, and I know I look ok, but this haircut took it up more than  few notches…from acceptable to awesome!
New Haircut 5.5.18
Then while I was feeling soooo pretty, I’m watching Schumer’s new film, I FEEL PRETTY, and I had a surprisingly major transformational experience!  (similar to Amy’s character in the movie, but not as dramatic. Will not spoil the story for you, just go see it!)
I suddenly get how my attitude and Belief System (B.S.)  rule my mood, energy, and activation of  this phenomenon of “feeling pretty.”  My BS determines my interpersonal effectiveness,  distress tolerance and ambition. My BS can launch me into the heights of joy and super success or drive me down a slippery slope of negative thinking and despair. For today, I have the skills to reign myself in, but the roller coaster ride of negative BS can be a huge distraction and wasteful of my time and energy.
What are the odds?  Coincidence? Or is the Universe conspiring to turn me the hell around?  Pretty haircut,  followed by seeing the movie I FEEL PRETTY, and then a new neural network explodes in my brain…it’s a G-d Job, for sure!  Best birthday gift du jour…and I know more are coming!
Yes, I get it, I am an irresistible magnet for good people, places, things to come into my life.  My energy is sheer deliciousness and I want to be with people who celebrate me, not just tolerate me…in my plus-sized body. This is just a fantastic news breaker!  I FEEL PRETTY!  YES! Full throttle, all 12 cylinders pretty. A masterpiece of creation. Much needed, part of the beautiful landscape.
Onward and Upward,
Lisa
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WESTFORD, MA – New DBT Skills Group for Adults on Emotion Regulation and Mindfulness, (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) starts 03/21/19

I am excited to announce the next 14-week Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills (DBT) Group in Westford, MA will be starting a new evening trimester on Thursday,  March 21, 2019, 7:30 – 9 PM.

We will be covering both the Emotion Regulation and Mindfulness modules.  (This is an ongoing group that has Open Enrollment Periods three times per year. This group is non-binary/co-ed, ages 18+, tuition fee applies/non-insurance based.)

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

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.”

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

Onward and Upward,
Lisa Wessan

DBT Mindfulness

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019.  All rights reserved.

 

 

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How to improve your Interpersonal Effectiveness

The full scope of Interpersonal Effectiveness focuses on improving communication, learning to set healthy boundaries, learning to validate self and others, gaining confidence in asking for what you want,  enrolling others to help you in your dreams and goals, and letting go of toxic relationships.

 

Below is a sample of  one of my lesson plans for  Interpersonal Effectiveness.  (This is a segment from 14 classes on this topic.)

 

Preventing Compassion Fatigue

It can very often be difficult to say no to people who make demands of us, and if we say no, we can get caught up in self-critical thoughts leading us to feel guilty. To avoid feeling guilty, we just keep on saying “yes” to every request.

Someone asks us to do something: 

Say No diagram

We can learn ways of saying “No” that don’t lead us to think self-critically or feel guilty. For example:

  • I’m sorry but I really can’t take on anything else at the moment.
  • I’m quite busy right now. Perhaps another time.
  • I’d like to help you out, but I just don’t feel up to it at the moment.
  • Thank you for asking me. You’re a nice person, but I don’t want to go out with you.
  • I don’t need a new roof (double glazing, vacuum cleaner etc). I’m happy with what I have thank you.

 

IMG_0393

  • If the person seems to have trouble accepting your “No,” then just keep repeating yourself, over and over if necessary. Be a BROKEN RECORD! Practice what one of my students calls Polite Perseverance…You might have to add the word “No” to the beginning of those statements, perhaps with some emphasis on that word. For example:
  • No. I’m sorry but I really can’t at the moment.

 

IMG_0394

 

Be wary of those self-critical thoughts afterwards. Practice challenging and/or dismissing them, by telling yourself:

  • I explained to them why I couldn’t do it.
  • It’s not my responsibility.
  • It would only end up upsetting me if I agreed to it – this is best for me. If I feel less tired and not resentful, then I might be a better position to help them out next time.

They’re just thoughts – I don’t need to pay them any attention (then put your focus of attention on something else).

The following dialectic affirmations about control and esteem can be helpful for finding that balance.

  • I cannot control some things but I am not helpless.
  • I cannot control other people but I am not helpless.
  • I am not responsible for those things I cannot control.
  • I accept those things in myself that I cannot change.
  • I can make positive choices for myself.
  • My strengths and abilities deserve my appreciation. Appreciate those abilities you have.

 

Create your own affirmations by completing the following sentences:

I am not powerless, I can ___________________________________________________

I have the right to refuse ___________________________________________________

I am not helpless, I can _____________________________________________________

I deserve to _________________________________________________________________

Remember, a wise person once said “Repetition is the mother of skill…” so aim to  repeat these phrases at least twice a day, with focused energy, enthusiasm and passion!

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

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NOTES:

The DBT Program in my office covers these modules:

  1. DBT Core Mindfulness [focusing skills]
  2. Distress Tolerance [crisis survival skills]
  3. Emotion Regulation [de‐escalation skills]
  4. Interpersonal Effectiveness [‘people skills’]

During class, we role play the act of saying “No” and turn these into powerful “Moves” to help you build new neural networks in your brain. We combine neurology, physiology and cognitive restructuring to do this, and sometimes add music and dancing to ramp up our energy. This  helps you develop a fresh new response more easily and will become your “new normal”  response to people’s inappropriate or untimely requests.

** For more information, please visit www.lisawessan.com 

 

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2018. All rights reserved.

 

 

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Westford, MA: New DBT Skills Groups (Dialectical Behavior Therapy) start 10/26/17 and 12/14/17

dbt-skills

Good news! For those of you who have been waiting to get into one of our DBT Groups, there are several openings in our daytime DBT Skills Group starting October 26, 2017,  Thursdays from 3:15 – 4:45 PM at my office in the beautiful Westford Center for Counseling and Holistic Therapies, 234 Littleton Road, Suite 1D, Westford, MA.

This group is co-ed/non-binary, mature teens, trans and adults welcome, and is limited to 10 participants per group. One initial consultation  with me is required prior to joining the group, plus the completion of some DBT Skills registration forms. To get started, click HERE or call me at 978.710.8039.

For this next trimester, we will be studying Mindfulness and Distress Tolerance from the DBT Skills curriculum.

Why do I teach DBT Skills?

Over the years, I have seen outstanding evidence of how DBT helps to rewire our brains with gentle cognitive restructuring exercises, reduce inflammatory thoughts and untangle our irrational beliefs and interpretations — which cause so much pain and suffering — all in a relatively short time span.  DBT is Solution Focused Therapy at its best!

DBT includes powerful and easy relaxation techniques for anxiety; a large array of tools for depression and mood issues; and effective communication and boundary setting skills which make this a brilliant vehicle for interpersonal effectiveness, peak performance and personal growth.

Four leaf DBT

ANNUAL OVERVIEW

[This is a one year program divided into three 14-week trimesters. Students decide to renew their commitment towards the end of each trimester.]

Each trimester delves into Mindfulness plus one of the remaining three main modules of DBT, which are Distress Tolerance, Emotional Regulation and Interpersonal Effectiveness (see diagram above). We repeat the Mindfulness module at the beginning of each semester to reinforce the powerful foundational skills it offers for general anxiety (Kabat-Zinn et al, 1992).

 

2017 – 2018 GENERAL CALENDAR

 [Dates are subject to change, due to snow days and other factors.]

UP NEXT: Daytime Group: October 26, 2017 – January 25, 2018. Mindfulness and Distress Tolerance.  Practical tools and skills are explored to process “crisis” emotions, impulse issues and more difficult feelings. We also cover Radical Acceptance, Turning Willfulness to Willingness, and moving from destructive self-harm to positive self-care (especially useful for the “Holiday Red Zone,” Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Eve!)

Evening Group: December 14, 2017 – March 29, 2018.  Mindfulness and Interpersonal Effectiveness. Through discussions, readings and interactive exercises you will be learning to set healthy boundaries, learning to say “YES” when you mean yes and “NO” when you mean no without worrying about getting others’ approval.  You will  learn how to become bulletproof to others invalidation of you, and learn to be a self-validating person.  The art of asking for what you want and negotiating well  is also explored. In addition, we study various forms of interpersonal protection, e.g. emotional safety skills, learning to identify  Energy Vampires (Orloff, 2004) and recover well from their hurtful and draining interactions.

Daytime and Evening Groups: April – July 2018.  Mindfulness and Emotion Regulation. Learning to identify your vast array of feelings, articulate them and express emotions appropriately is part of this powerful work. Also, learning to check the facts, edit misinterpretations and assumptions, and turn down the volume on your intense emotions yet still experience them. You will learn to regulate your emotions successfully, so that you have a more positive experience of feeling better and stronger.

TUITION

Each trimester is $700 for 14 weeks (watch for the Early Bird rate which usually expires two weeks before each trimester).

** It is a requirement of this group that participants are working with an individual therapist while they attend the group. The therapist does not need to be me, nor does the therapist need to be trained in DBT, but will be available for all processing outside the group. (Release forms will be sent to you and/or your therapist after the Initial Consultation with me).

I hope I can be of service to you, your clients or loved ones who would benefit from this group in the greater north Boston/Nashoba Valley area.

Learn more about the details of this DBT Skills Group by visiting my web site, www.lisawessan.com.  Also, please feel free to contact me for further information.

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

DBT Mindfulness

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References

Kabat-Zinn, J., Massion, A. O., Kristeller, J., Peterson, L. G., Fletcher, K. E., Pbert, L., et al. (1992). Effectiveness of a meditation-based stress reduction program in the treatment of anxiety disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry, 149, 936–943.

Orloff, Judith, MD. (2004). Positive Energy.   New York: Random House.  Chapter 9, The Ninth Prescription:  Protect Yourself from Energy Vampires.  288 – 318.

Copyright © 2017 by Lisa Wessan. All rights reserved.

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