The Lighter Side of Transformation

with Lisa Wessan, LICSW

From Borderline to Balance: Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (DBT-PTSD)

When I first became interested in the Dialectical Behavior Therapy methods and curriculum (DBT), one of my mentors said, “Lisa, I strongly advise you NOT to get involved with this work. If you offer DBT Skills, you will attract the WORST clients!  They will all be severely agitating with Borderline, Bipolar or severe mood disorders, it will be a nightmare for you!”

I heard what she said, and I did respect her opinion, but there was something so powerfully intriguing about the evidence-based science behind DBT, and the fact that so many people were getting well from it – who had been considered “treatment resistant” prior to their DBT exposure.

I do like a challenge, however, and I was not afraid of this high risk population. Something inside me told me to continue…against the advise of this mentor, and others practitioners I knew.

So fast forward to today, six years post-DBT training, sharing the DBT curriculum with teens (14-17) and adults (18+) in my office in Westford, MA for several years now.  I have had the privilege  of witnessing dozens of my DBT clients, in both individual and group therapy, go through this cognitive re-structuring process, shed their false beliefs, deconstruct their traumas, grieve and move on to have healthy, happy, contented lives.

In the process, I have learned that approximately 70% of my clients with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) suffer from severe co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),  related to traumas that occurred during childhood. These traumas were not processed or expressed at the time,  and they caused a corruption of the client’s personality, mental and social skills.

These unresolved traumas, when treated, often bring upon a rebirth process, and the client is no longer exhibiting the Borderline symptoms.  Therefore, I humbly submit that it would serve everyone if BPD could be renamed Intense Trauma Syndrome (ITS).

Here is why:

  1. The term Borderline is heavily stigmatized in my guild.  “Borderline” sounds as if someone is on the edge of a cliff about to jump, perhaps on the verge of…suicide? Murder? Something worse?  Witness my mentor’s advice above, plus,  each week I receive calls from clients who tell me “No one will work with me because I am Borderline.”  This is frustrating and heartbreaking to me.  Why is this heavily traumatized group eschewed because of their condition? Where should they go?  How will they get well?   If BPD was re-labeled as Intense Trauma Syndrome, I think they would be helped by more therapists!  But this requires more than a branding campaign…
  2. Borderline clients often exhibit highly dissociative symptomatology, chronic suicidality, and ongoing non-suicidal self-injury.  This is also a big turn-off to my guild.  Many of my colleagues will NOT work with suicidal clients.  Why?  Too much liability, too many collateral calls, too much danger. Moreover,  my clients feel as if they are tacitly shamed by the mental health profession for being Borderline.   Yet I have found that this population, when they are truly sick and tired of being sick and tired, pick up these DBT Skills and other therapeutic interventions, and start their healing process.  They do agree to a Safety Plan and stick with it. They learn, grow, and become healthier and successful members of society.   They do recover!
  3. When I tell my Borderline clients they have Intense Trauma Syndrome, and request that they stop describing themselves as Borderline, they start to feel so much better about their emotional challenges.  Many Borderline clients have described severe shame and self-hate due to their diagnosis. They feel hopeless and bereft of a cure. Receiving the Borderline diagnosis can make them feel worse! Here’s the H.O.P.E.  for Borderline clients,  Hold On, Pain Ends.

Solution Focused Therapy

My DBT Skills groups cover the entire curriculum in one year (42 weeks), which includes the strengthening of the commitment to wellness and psychoeducation, DBT skills training, skills-assisted exposure, with radical acceptance of the past trauma and its effects on their lives.

Four leaf DBT

Finally, we explore the promotion of self-compassion and efforts to prepare for returning to everyday life, to build a life worth living. When a client has graduated from their Intense Trauma Syndrome to the more normative anxiety, career, dating, relationship challenges they are on their way to be fulfilled and satisfied with their lives.

The Intense Trauma Syndrome causes people to become quite polarized in their thinking. They often see the world in black and white, all or nothing, right or wrong, good or evil terms.  There is not much wiggle room for the vast spectrum of imperfection that exists in all of us!  One of the earliest cognitive shifts we work on is the ability to hold OPPOSITE VIEWS in their minds without having a meltdown.

For example, I teach them that it is perfectly all right to love someone, but also hate them at times. It is fine to be in a room of friends or family, and yet feel very lonely.  It is not a serious problem to want to go out, and want to stay home.

Prior to learning DBT skills, these opposing thoughts would cause a lot of stress for them, and cause them to feel as if they were having a meltdown.  To help them decompress from their polarized inner self-hating dialogue, I have learned to reduce their stress by saying, “You are not having a breakdown, you are having a breakthrough!”  This often helps them to reframe the intensity of their emotions into a more helpful view.

Borderline1

What they need to learn is to go within and ask, “What do I need now?”  or “How can I make this better?”   Instead of saying “What’s wrong with me? Why am I like this?   I hate this!  I feel crazy! I can’t take it, I want to die!”

I teach my clients to stop asking WHY questions, but to ask HOW questions instead.  When we ask WHY, “Why am I like this?  Why don’t I enjoy parties?  Why am I so annoying to people? Why is this person ignoring me?  Why do people dislike me? “Why am I still single?” they are on a slippery slope into anxiety and depression and possible self-harm.

When they learn to ask HOW questions, they start to change, “How can I make this better?”  “How can I be useful?”  “How can I learn to stay calm when I am triggered?”  The HOW questions lead to discovery, growth, healing and empowerment.

In Conclusion

Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is a powerful healing modality.  From my experience, those clients suffering with BPD are particularly helped by this cognitive restructuring process, since typical pharmacological and talk therapy interventions do not help them very much.  From my perspective, DBT really feels like a new software program is slowly downloaded into their minds and replaces their previously corrupted and faulty software that was hurting them.
Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2019. All rights reserved

 

 

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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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One of my favorite dialectical quotes…

#DBT du jour:

“Love tells me I’m everything. Wisdom tells me I’m nothing. And between the two my life flows.”

– Sri Nisargadatta

What does dialectical mean?  Learn more HERE.

If you are challenged with depression, anxiety, social issues, relationship troubles, impulse issues or addiction, DBT skills will help you become healthier, stronger and more capable of coping with your emotions.  DBT is a Solution Focused therapy that gets effective results, and quickly!

Up Next:  Mindfulness and Interpersonal Effectiveness skills training in Westford, MA starts 11/06/19. Learn more HERE.

Fun fact: when you worry about the past too much, you become depressed; when you obsess about the future, you become anxious.  Learning to live in the present moment, aka practicing Mindfulness, can reduce 90% of your depression and anxiety.  Yes, you will still need to learn better ways to solve your life’s issues, but if you learn to stay in the  present  you will be so much more peaceful and useful.  Learning Mindfulness skills helps you get there.

If this speaks to you, please visit lisawessan.com and complete the CONTACT FORM.  I will contact you within 24 hours to discuss joining our next DBT group or working together individually, whatever you need.

Onward and Upward,
Lisa Wessan

Four leaf DBT

 

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Many kinds of freedom to celebrate on Independence Day

I am excited about my independence…

Lisa Wessan, Chelmsford, MA

Freedom from the bondage of Food, Fat and Fear!

Freedom from the Three Cs:  Complaining, Condemning and Criticizing of myself and others.

Freedom from needing approval from family, friends, colleagues, clients.

Freedom from depression, suicidal thoughts, self-harm, and all negative thinking.

Freedom from FOMO!

Freedom from the stress of being Here but wanting to be There!

DBT Independent and need help

Freedom from all or nothing, black and white, dualistic thinking.  Dialectic thinking is a cure for recovering perfectionists, and a lot of OCD, obsessive compulsive, harsh thinking as well.

Freedom from Compare and Despair.

Freedom from jealousy, envy, lust, longing and cravings.

The only thing I do crave, however, is MORE FREEDOM!

I love feeling useful and peaceful, which is foundational for a life worth living. I also want to feel light and relaxed more of the time.

I want to feel “Serenity in the Storm,” as it is written:

“Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.”  (unknown author)

Is my life perfect today?  Hell no!  Far from it!  I need to change SO MANY THINGS – I will spare you the burden of listing my ongoing pain, aggravation, losses, frustrations and deep sadnesses – but the good news is that these things are not dominating my consciousness.

I am not a victim anymore. It is no longer possible. I am 100% accountable for my life.  I blame no one for my difficult situations and expect no one to save me.

Yes, it’s true, with the help of G-d, Wise Mind, Higher Power, and my Army of Angels, I am the one who I have been waiting for! This is totally a G-d Job…turning my defeats into victories, and my scars into stars.  I have finally become bulletproof to the bullies, harsh people, fear and rage around me and within me. As it is written:

“…I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4: 11-13)

🌀With the deep healing powers embedded in psychospiritual treatments anything is possible! 🌀

Yes, I’m excited to share this today – my New Normal – after decades of battling with depression, eating disorders, severe mood swings and more.

If you are still struggling, please hear me when I say HAVE HOPE, things will get better if you don’t give up.

HOPE HOLD ON PAIN ENDS

Learn and practice your transformative behavioral and spiritual skills (DBT or whatever) knowing that you are making progress and that “This Too Shall Pass.”

If I can heal and be well, it can happen for anyone.  I am just another Bozo on the Bus, hastening slowly towards Wholeness and Oneness.

May you have a healthy, peaceful and relaxing fourth of July!

Never give up! 

Onward and Upward,

Lisa Wessan

 

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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On Receiving Accolades at the State House in Boston

When I left my job at NBC as a Talk Show Producer, I knew that there was never going to be a time when fame, fortune, cash and prizes were going to make me happy.  Not that I was ever famous, or super wealthy.  But I had lived in that world, worked at 30 Rockefeller Plaza for over a decade amidst the affluence and glittery abundance of mid-town Manhattan.  Working in the Entertainment Division at NBC was being at celebrity central, especially working on the talk shows.

What I learned, after a while, is that these things cannot sustain deep joy and wonder.  Working in that world was not inspiring me, and I felt I was somehow skimming the surface of life. I knew at some point that I was going to move on…

Fast forward…Yes, moving from trauma to transformation is now the name of my game.  As it is for most of my peers,  we are mostly off the radar, not seeking the limelight and quite happy doing what we do in the privacy of our consulting rooms.

So imagine my surprise and delight when I learned I was going to be honored for my deep dive into psychospiritual matters!  This was quite the shockeroo…

Who would have guessed that working with clients through their mysterious process of defrosting grief, recovering from illness, loss, abuse and neglect, teaching skills on emotion regulation, mindfulness, interpersonal effectiveness, finding new purpose in life, and finally building new dreams would be honored?   Not me. 

Getting kudos for how we work through the muck of it all? Incredible! Clearly, there is no Red Carpet in therapy land!  (Perhaps one day, however, when my book is out there, it will become a best seller, and then a blockbuster film…that would be fun and quite the wild ride.  Being a bit conflicted about being on the big arena,  I will need to continue to choose “Courage over comfort,” as Brené Brown  says.  Book tours, screenings, interviews, all positive and negative.  “Courage over comfort” helps me to accept leaving my safe, small world and moving on!)

In the meantime, it’s wonderful to live in Massachusetts, one of the more enlightened states that takes the time to acknowledge our inner journey, and how important it is to use mental health resources when the going gets tough.  Massachusetts is great at de-stigmatizing mental health issues.  There is tremendous support here for everyone to get what they need and move on.  

The Big Day…

On March 6, 2019, there was a beautiful and moving ceremony at the State House in Boston to honor a few of us maverick social workers who are doing extraordinary things in our practice.

Several politicians gave speeches, Senator Ed Kennedy acknowledged us by name (see his Facebook post below)  and there were lots of hugs and cheers throughout the event.  In addition, our photos with brief bios were on display in the State House during National Social Work Month in March.  (So fun and unexpected!)

Each of us that were honored that day has taken our original graduate training and morphed into providers who are doing unexpected works.  We all went past graduate school and expanded into unpredictably useful areas  (Click HERE for the original press release.)

My unusual areas of work involve Walk and Talk Therapy,  Therapeutic Laughter Training and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.  (You can learn more about these topics at my web site, www.lisawessan.com)

I appreciated Senator Ed Kennedy’s comments on Facebook and his ongoing support of our work (see below). It was a special day and fun to be with my magnificent peers.

Here are some photos from the day:

 

Thank you for sharing in the gratitude and excitement of this moment in my career!  It was certainly one of the highlights of my time here in Massachusetts.

Up Next?

The journey continues — and this is truly a shameless plug — I’m an organically wired promoter, and cannot help sharing good science tested information or personal anecdotal results from the Lisa Laboratory of Life!  So if you want to keep in touch, you can follow this blog, or send me a message at my web site to receive my periodic newsletter.

Stay tuned for more quality news as we journey together from Trauma to Transformation!

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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