Divorce is rated as the second most distressing event a person can experience in life; being preceded only by the death of a spouse. Surprised? I doubt it if you are someone who is going through a divorce or have experienced divorce in your life.
Divorce is in fact, like a death – there are multiple huge and complex losses that are experienced. Like any sense of loss, divorce has the capacity to challenge your sense of stability, identity, place and peace in the world. So how to cope with what is one of the most difficult life events that an individual may find themselves navigating through?
Acknowledge that this is a significant life event and extend some compassion to yourself. How can you live more gently? Would it be helpful for you to slow down? Could you make time for a gentle walk, a soothing bath or hot shower, your favourite meal, patting your dog, watching your favourite movie/comedy? Maybe you need to find someone safe who can give you a hug. Sometimes it can be helpful to do something strenuous, like a gym work out or a run or engage in some creative outlet. Whatever ideas come to you, the point is that you listen to your body and soul and choose kindness towards yourself.
Self-care also involves checking in with your self-talk; what do you hear yourself say about yourself and to yourself? If you notice harsh, critical self-talk, then try to think about what you might say to a friend/mate in this situation. Chances are you will have wisdom and compassion for a friend going through something like this. How about choosing to be a friend to your-self at this time? Practice saying no when you need to, create new routines and rituals and try something new and fun (and safe).
A final note; try to avoid turning to alcohol, drugs, eating, flirting, gambling, etc to numb out your pain. In the long run, turning to these things will cause you more heartache and devastation than learning to find healthy ways to love and care for yourself.
Grieve Your Losses
Grief is the intense emotional anguish that we experience when we have endured a painful loss. Your divorce may be a huge relief for you, and yet there are many losses endured: loss of your hopes and dreams, money/financial security, loss of your parenting role, loss of routines and what was once familiar, loss of your home, a change in relationship with family/friends, a sense of lost identity and many more. You may also find that you experience distressing and intense feelings of abandonment and rejection – which in essence, is a sense of lost safety, security and worth and value.
Divorce grief is complex, so take the time to identify and acknowledge your losses.
It is a fundamental principle of mental health, that suppression of emotions causes numerous psychological and physical ailments. So slow down and allow yourself to connect and safely express your painful emotions. Writing, painting, drawing, poetry, listening to music, getting outside in nature, punching a pillow, screaming under water, banging drums, crying, talking. These are all valid ways to allow your painful emotions some sort of safe expression.
If you find yourself stuck in your grief, unable to process or to move forward, then seek some counselling – grief is a journey and it is a hard work. It demands your attention and if you don’t take time to grieve your losses, it will explode/implode into your life in other ways. Common blockages to the grieving process are guilt & blame, un-forgiveness and bitterness, unresolved past losses, low distress tolerance to emotional pain and lack of skills in emotional regulation. Common coping strategies of denial and suppression, if not eventually laid down will also inhibit a person from mourning their losses and healing.
Connect with Relevant Support Services
The divorce process by nature usually comes with a high degree of conflict to be worked through. There are money and property issues to sort through, and often issues of custody and ongoing parenting arrangements. These can be difficult issues to navigate through even when the two parties are fairly amicable. What can sometimes happen is that the conflict intensifies to a degree that violence and abuse can rear their ugly heads or intensify. It is imperative that you “be safe” and “stay safe”. Consider getting some help and support.
There are a variety of services available such as Family Dispute Services and Legal Aid.
www.fdrr.ag.gov.au to find a registered family dispute resolution provider.
www.legalaid.wa.gov.au for access to Legal Aid services.
Support Your Children/Teens
Yes children are resilient. Yet we know that a broken family unit stimulates an intense and destabilising experience of grief and loss in children. Children/adolescents often do not have the maturity or emotional language to express what they are feeling. They have been catapulted into a water-shedding experience that changes their life forever. There are huge losses in terms of witnessing the loss of love between their parents, the loss of the family identity and stability (no matter how dysfunctional the unit was, it is all they have known), and bearing witness to the breaking of vows and commitment. Their sense of security and ability to trust is greatly shaken.
There are also many painful adjustments that they are now required to make; particularly in terms of one parent households, possibly going back and forward between households, adjusting to a new partner of one/both parents, changes in financial stability and sometimes changes to schools etc.
It is imperative that you pay attention to your children and find age appropriate ways of helping them to grieve and to adjust. Grace, patience and understanding are all required as you will probably experience some regressive and/or rebellious changes in their behaviours (eg, young children: bed wetting, crying, separation anxiety, teens: anger, rebellion, disregarding family rules/discipline, becoming more independent).
This is a big area, so seek some counselling support both for yourself and also for your children; a good family counsellor may be able to facilitate some potent family sessions that can open up communication and rebuild trust and security. Follow the “3 Rs”. Create routine, ritual and give lots of reassurance to your children/teens. They need unconditional love, patience, lots of reassurance and a new sense of stability. They also need to hear and witness respect from you towards their other parent (no matter what; no bagging out their parent in front of them and no confiding in them beyond their position as a child). Choose to act with integrity and self-control.
Contemplate and Learn
In times of emotional crisis, we find ourselves at a crossroad. What we choose at this point can have a big impact on the next part of our journey. With divorce, one door closes……..and a new door is opening. If you want to be able to move on and enter through this new door into new beginnings, then it is important that you take the time to contemplate and honestly reflect on your contribution to the breakdown of the marriage.
What are the lessons for you here? What are the growth points? What can you discover about how you relate to others? Are you a people pleaser? Are you selfish? Have some of your choices been self-sabotaging? What is your level of self-control like? How do you handle conflict? Are you happy with your behaviours and choices? Do you accept people as they are or do you have a lot of demands and “shoulds and coulds” in your vocabulary? How closely have you been living in accordance with your personal values? Do you know what your values are? Why did you choose your ex- partner in the first place? And on the list can go on and on. This part of your healing journey has tremendous opportunity for learning and growth in it if you are willing to be humble, honest, vulnerable and intentional. You may find that a counsellor can be of great use in facilitating you and supporting you through this process so that you can move forward with new strengths and intentionality in your life.
All the very best……
Narelle @ Bethesda Counselling & Family Therapy
Mobile: 0429 000 830