Many individuals experience a variety of upsetting emotions in the process of divorce. Divorce is a time marked by enormous stress and change. Depending on our individual style, coping abilities, culture, values, and expectations we will face our feelings directly or not. How we choose to confront, embrace or deny our feelings will have a direct impact on our ability to move into the future with hope or fear.
Whether you were the ‘leaver’ or the ‘left’ in the divorce; your emotional experience will rise up to meet you at unexpected moments. They may arrive in the form of guilt, anger, regret, resentment, jealousy, sadness, anxiety, or any other legitimate feeling. Often, these emotions seem to come out of nowhere. They can leave you feeling ‘out of control’, confused, surprised, afraid, or curious. Just when you thought you were doing pretty well, along comes a burst of grief that can overwhelm you with frustration or pain. You may conclude “I must be going crazy”, “this is bad”, “what’s the matter with me?”, “I thought I was over this”. Will you take the necessary steps to accomplish the tasks of grief work by permitting the outward expression and validation of the losses implicit in divorce? Again, it is your attitude toward your unique emotional expressions that will ultimately determine the outcome of your divorce journey as one of health or dearth.
It is normal for some people to try to bury their feelings. Devoting time to processing feelings can not influence the past. The divorce has been finalized and it may seem to some like it is time to ‘move on’. Processing feelings can seem like a waste of time or an unnecessary focus on the past when one may want to speed into the future and leave the past behind. However, healing requires the integration of emotional experience. Emotion translates into ‘energy in motion’. When our feelings show up we need to give them the attention they require by putting them into healthy motion. Mourning is the action that is called for. Provide yourself with opportunities for your grief to express itself. Be patient. Be kind with yourself. Befriend your grief. It is a teacher and a spiritual guide. Feelings that go unexpressed will manifest and can become limiting beliefs, serious mental health concerns, or result in physical illness.
So, just what exactly are you supposed to do? How are you supposed to mourn? Just as your divorce journey is unique to you so is your grief journey. Your personality, life experience, and other current stressors will determine the strategies that will suit you best. Writing in a journal without censorship or judgment is a great tool for many people. Other people would prefer to find someone to talk to while sharing the details of the relationship often repetitively in an effort to make sense and find new meanings.
It can be difficult to find a non-judgmental listener who will allow tears, silence, and as much time as an individual requires to acknowledge the complexities of the grief and loss experience without trying to advise or fix the individual who is suffering. It is often helpful to join a support group, or find a therapist who can accompany you as you navigate the challenges that divorce invites. Many people find comfort in speaking with others who have survived the maelstrom of divorce and learned how to thrive in difficult waters. It is important to have at least two people with whom to share your challenges. Sometimes, people who love and care about you may say the wrong thing. It can be uncomfortable to bear witness to another’s pain. Societal messages can confuse the process and put unnecessary pressure on individuals to deny the full range of their emotional experience and ‘get over it’.
Seek support from those who are naturally good listeners who have the desire to understand you and believe in your ability to integrate the divorce experience into your life with renewed energy, purpose, and hope.
You will know that you require more professional support if you find yourself asking this question. The aftermath of divorce can leave many people unprepared to manage the ruptures associated with the variety of losses including self-esteem, belonging, security, intimacy, dreams and goals, personality, identity, reputation, faith, influence, health, joy, and relationships with family, friends, and children.
If you find that you are experiencing signs and symptoms that persist and make living undesirable or unsafe, it is important to seek out a counsellor or other mental health professional. Dr. Alan Wolfelt has inspired a lot of my work in the area of grief and loss. I will conclude with a quotation from his helpful manual Transcending Divorce:
“Remember that good self-care is essential for you right now. To practice good self-care doesn’t mean you are feeling sorry for yourself or are selfish; rather, it means you are being compassionate with yourself and allowing yourself to heal. For it is in nurturing yourself, in allowing yourself the time and loving attention you need to mourn your lost marriage, that you will eventually find meaning in your continued living. It is having the courage to care for your own needs that you will eventually discover a fullness to live and love again”.
[su_heading style=”default” size=”13″ align=”left” margin=”20″ class=””]Samantha McGrath MA, is a Solution-Focused counsellor in private practice in the town of Aurora and City of Toronto. She works with children, adolescents, and adults in a collaborative working environment to improve feelings of competence and overall health and wellbeing. To contact Samantha, visit her website at www.smcgrathcounselling.com or call (416) 700-7822.[/su_heading]