Divorce brings out the lunatic within us. Rage, anger, depression, sadness, resentment, and blame are just some of negative emotions running the show. Your emotional state is hard to pin down from one moment to the next. This is not the best state of mind to be in when you are being called upon to handle so many things and make so many very important choices and decisions. We need to tame the gremlin (that negative mind chatter within), learn to be less reactive, and be in more control of our emotional state in order to be able to effectively handle our divorce. The good news is there are many tools and skills you can access to help you through this difficult life transition.
Learn to recognize your “danger zone.” Your danger zone is that place where you are prone to reactive behavior and emotional upsets. Once you begin really tuning into your body’s cues, you will recognize this place and can take action to not go there. I am alerted to my danger zone when my stomach tightens, my heart races, my neck tenses and my breathing becomes shallow. There is a fluttering sensation throughout my body. I know I am becoming emotionally reactive and I may soon say or do things that I will regret. I know that if I allow my emotions to take over and go reactive in my response to the situation, I will not be making any conscious decisions as to my actions. Trouble is around the corner!
Let me give you an example. I walk into my daughter’s room and it is in utter disarray. I have asked her repeatedly to keep it clean, but here I am, faced with a virtual pigsty yet again. I sense that I am about to explode. So what do I do? Do I just let loose and create more havoc or do I walk away? I walk away. I go off and spend three minutes doing some deep breathing and calm myself down. Perhaps I choose to take a short walk around the block. I calm down and now have the wherewithal to make a very conscious choice as to how I want to handle the situation. The operative phrase here is “conscious choice.” Choice can only be conscious and being reactive is unconscious. I decide to go back and have a reasonable conversation that will result in specific ramifications if she cannot abide by some basic house rules.
You are going to be faced with hundreds of choices in the course of a week, from interacting with your kids to making decisions with your attorney. Being emotionally reactive is having no choice. Choice comes from deliberate reasoning and that means you need to be in control of your emotions. Again, step back when you fell a reactive response arising, calm down, and then and only then choose.
Learn to be more aware and conscious of your emotional state by becoming in tune with your body’s reactions. Make a conscious choice to walk away when you are entering the danger zone and calm down via whatever means you find best. Understand that you can make conscious choices that will serve you versus unconscious reactions that will harm you and whoever happens to be in your line of fire.
Next up: taming that negative mind chatter. Given the amount of pain and wounded-ness you are experiencing, your mind chatter will be at its all-time high. You mind chatter is based in your wounded ego. Those wounds are fresh from the divorce but there are also plenty of old wounds that are being reactivated because of your divorce. Hence the constant flow of negative thoughts. Remember: you are not your thoughts. Just because you think you are a failure does not make you one. That’s your gremlin (the mind chatter) talking. Learn to separate yourself from your gremlin. The real you is the one who actually notices the mind chatter. There is you and there is the mind chatter, okay? Start there, by simply noticing the chitchat. Notice it, acknowledge it for what it is, and let it go.
You want to learn to make the important distinction between what is a cold, hard unarguable fact and what are the interpretations or meanings you attach to the fact. Your marriage ended: fact. You are a failure: interpretation that you have created about the fact that your marriage ended. Are you a failure? Is that an unarguable truth? No, it is not. It is a personal interpretation you have made that is created out of a filter of pain. We run wild with interpretations and meanings during this difficult time period, attaching meanings to anything that moves! Try not to. Millions of people get divorced and many of them do not see themselves as failures. You feel really bad about being a failure, but that feeling is based upon something you made up! Separate the facts from the interpretations and you’ll start feeling better.
Don’t take everything personally. I know this is a hard one, but we feel badly when we take things personally that are actually impersonal. Let me give you an example: Sara’s husband has an affair. Sara takes it personally and makes it mean that she is a reject and not good enough. If Sara were to actually take a closer look at the whole picture and be honest with herself, she would acknowledge that there were warning signs all along that things at home were shaky. Her husband was unable to express his needs and instead sought refuge elsewhere. It had nothing to do with Sara personally; it was about him, not her.
If we look closely, we will note that we have a tendency to take many events during the course of a single day as personal affronts. We need to take a step back before we react and look for the impersonal aspect of the event before we begin to label ourselves lacking in some respect. Something as simple as a child not responding to our requests can become a personal insult: they don’t respect me, or they don’t appreciate me, when in reality they are just teenagers who have a tendency to be self-absorbed and irresponsible.
Establish boundaries that keep you from upset. Draw very distinct lines that will not be crossed in order to protect you. You may notice that every discussion with your ex leaves you feeling badly so limit those discussions to only what is absolutely necessary. Like the doctor said to the patient who complained that when he stretched his leg it hurt—don’t stretch your leg! Let the attorneys handle as much as possible. Your home is now your home and keep it that way by making it clear that your ex no longer has access. Don’t go to your ex for emotional support, as it isn’t his or her job anymore. This is the time to begin to disengage from your ex on a physical and emotional level by putting as much distance between you two as possible.
If your “divorce story” is depressing, stop going over it. Your divorce story is the never-ending litany of what went wrong, who did what to whom, the blame, the resentment, the regret … on and on and on. The more involved you are in that story, the worse you feel. If your attention is on everything that is wrong, you will feel very badly. It’s like going to see a depressing movie over and over. Ultimately, you can barely manage to drag yourself out of the theater! Try writing your divorce story in all its gory detail and then read it as many times as it takes for you to get really sick of it! Then begin to let it go.
Take good care of yourself. Stress and anxiety take a huge toll on our physical and emotional body, so you need to be extra vigilant about nurturing yourself. Get proper rest and food. Take up some sort of cardio activity to burn off the pressure. Learn to calm yourself through deep breathing exercises. Take up yoga or meditation. Pamper yourself: get a massage or have your hair done. Surround yourself with family and friends who show you deep love and compassion. Show yourself that same love and compassion. All too often, we are the ones who beat ourselves up the most when what we really need is tender loving care.
Understand that going through a divorce puts you in a very limited perspective on life. It is like being in a snowstorm where you cannot see the sun anymore. Just because you cannot see the sun does not mean it doesn’t exist. It does. You just have a limited perspective due to the storm. When we are in deep pain, we cannot see that this too shall pass, that life will get better, that there are infinite possibilities that can open up to us, and that we just may be stepping into a better life.
It isn’t so much what happens to you in life as how you handle what happens. There are always going to be curves in the road and it behooves us to lean how to meet the challenges with which we are presented. Handling your emotions well during your divorce can only benefit you and your family. You will feel better, handle decisions and choices better, and come out a better person.