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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Summer Update: Outstanding Media, Accolades, Articles and New DBT Groups

CONTENTS 

I. Outstanding Media: Articles, Podcasts, and television/streaming offerings that are useful, inspiring, motivating and usually entertaining.

II. Accolades, Awards and Recent Articles.

III.  Upcoming DBT workshops in Westford, MA.

IV. Quotes I am pondering


I. Outstanding Media

we-all-have-secrets (2)

  • Listen to Keeping Secrets from TED Radio Hour in Podcasts. This is an engaging talk about secrets, how we keep them and use them. It asks us,  “How many closets we are in?” Oh what a good question!  Yes, coming out the closet is not just for the LGBTQ community, many more closets exist and there is a new freedom and happiness in getting out of our closets! A worthy task…
  • Edith Eva Eger, PhD, at 90 years of age just published her book, The Choice. This is an incredible story of how Edith and her sister Magda survived Auschwitz.  It took 45 years of therapy for her to start talking about her experience. She was recently on Super Soul Sunday with Oprah (Season 9, Episode 5. This should still be on your TV “On Demand.” Also available in podcast). Edith shared so much wisdom, insight and stories of nearly impossible resilience. So many pearls!  I love her deep levels of compassion and wisdom concerning recovery from trauma, which applies to all of us.  This was one of the best interviews I’ve ever seen on moving from trauma to transformation.

II.     Accolades, Awards and Articles –  Wessan in the News… March – June 2019


III.        Upcoming Summer and Fall Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Group (DBT)               in Westford, MA

dbt-skills

  • New Adult (18+) and Teen groups (14-17) starting July 17, 2019 and in the fall. Click HERE to learn more.
  • DBT MasterMind Group starting in August 2019, for advanced students and graduates of the one year program.

IV. Quotes I am pondering…

  • “The first Truth, probably, is that we are all connected, watching one another, even the trees.” Arthur Miller, Playwright, 1915-2005 (as heard on the HBO documentary, “Arthur Miller: Writer” 2018).

 

  • “God loves things by becoming them.” ~ Richard Rohr, Franciscan Monk, Author, Teacher.

 

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

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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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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).

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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When you are addicted to Drama…

Dear Drama

Even if you don’t have a chemical addiction (Alcohol, Pills, Sugar, Flour, Dairy,  Cigarettes etc), you might be addicted to crises, drama, or intense emotions that put you center stage.

You could even be addicted to isolation, anger, hatred, “Compare and Despair”  and other emotional states…it’s universal.  Ideally, no one would feel shame about their impulse issue, and more than half the battle is naming and releasing the shame around these issues. “If you can name it, you can tame it!” is one of the most hopeful slogans of my guild.  We are all striving to grow, learn and heal from whatever ails us.

In my Westford, MA, DBT Skills Group (Dialectical Behavior Therapy), we recently explored addiction models, including Total Abstinence, Harm Reduction and Dialectical Abstinence.

Total Abstinence is useful  when you have tried 1000x or more to practice Moderation Management but it failed. Moderation Management has you set a boundary or limit to what you can do before you are at risk.   For example, if you have a challenge with alcohol, saying “Two drinks per evening, and no more than twice a week.”  If you consistently zoom past that limit then Moderation Management has failed, and you cannot get well with that system.

Complete abstinence is usually for those who know that “One cookie is not enough, and a thousand are too many. ”   For those people who cannot enjoy one or two cookies, for whom the desire to keep going will override all rational thought, complete abstinence from cookies is the easier, softer way.   You make the decision once and for all, and then keep surrendering to it because you know it is less painful than the alternative inner haggling dialog on whether to indulge “this time” or not.

So when moderation is impossible…then you know.  Usually you cannot skip straight  into to total abstinence…most of us do the hokey pokey for a while with Moderation Management before we surrender. Fun  fact: The whole journey is necessary  for your inner process to be complete. 

Dialectical Abstinence is a middle path for those who cannot,  or will not, practice total abstinence from their substance abuse, or addictive behavior, yet ultimately desire total abstinence.  Yes, it’s the perfect paradox, “I want to abstain, but I won’t right now.”  Moderation Management and Harm Reduction are applied here to manage your addiction and prevent a complete relapse.

Harm Reduction is allowing for a thought system to be flexible enough so that if someone has one drink, or one cookie, they don’t say, “Oh what’s the use, why bother, I might as well go all the way and finish the bottle (or box of cookies)!”   Harm reduction takes you out of the dualistic, all or nothing, black and white thinking so that you might have three cookies and then say, “Ok, that exceeded my limit, but I’m going to stop right here. It’s good enough for today.”

As my old beloved professor Christopher Lasch at the University of Rochester once said “We live in a culture of addiction.”  Lasch was fairly well known for his book on The Culture of Narcissism: American Life in an Age of Diminishing Expectations (1979), but he had a deep belief that the rise in our addictive culture was correlated to our self-absorbed lifestyles.

Self Centered

So much of our need to medicate ourselves or have a Pity Party for ourselves is tied into our “Me-Me-Me” anxiety and fear.  Clearly there is no simple altruistic solution for our  multidimensional addictions.  The research and science on this vast topic has repeatedly shown that  when we do aim to give service and get out of our heads for a while we can find some relief and peace when focusing on fulfilling others’ needs.

And yet, if you are obsessed with others’ well being and are codependent, then you have another kind of addiction…which requires detaching and letting go of others’ business!  Oh my, it’s a slippery slope in the land of addiction!

I find with my DBT students that many of them are recovering Drama Queens and Kings.  Before they started this healing process, they were often embroiled in wildly high risk and/or  debilitating situations.  Once they realize that they do have an addiction to Drama, they start letting go of the the need to be center stage, stirring the pot and getting everyone around them wound up.  But it requires a process of compounded skill building, education, homework and practice,  and re-wiring their brains in order to shift from the “Poor Me” narrative to the “Serene Me” experience.

When someone says, “Poor me, poor me, pour me a drink!”   they are stuck in Victim Consciousness and do not see how many choices and options they have.   Slowly, slowly, with DBT training, rehab treatment, or 12 Step processes they start to see how many other options they have besides using their addiction to cope.

We live in a time where treatment for addiction and mood disorder is available, and the only way to do recovery wrong is to not do it at all.  So if you or a loved one are struggling with something along the addiction spectrum, trust that there is a solution for you.  As the Dalai Lama says, “Never Give Up!”

Copyright © by Lisa Wessan 2018. 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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