Self, Heartbreak

What Truly Helps You Move On From A Divorce?

What Truly Helps You Move On From A Divorce?

Once the papers are signed, sure, your divorce is "final". But there's a whole lot more healing that has to be done behind the scenes. We spoke with elationship experts Janna Becherer, Margaret Jacobson and Tracy Richards about what really helps you move on from a painful divorce. Are you on the right track? 

According to Richards, one of the first steps to reconnecting with yourself is just remembering who that person is! "For those of us who have gone through the emotional upheaval of divorce, I'm sure we can all agree that one of the most empowering outcomes that can arise from it is our realization that we can, once again, reclaim who were were before we were married. Unfortunately, modern society has taught us that, in order to have a successful marriage, we must somehow merge our identities into one — but those who know what it's like to have lost one's self in a marriage understand, all too well, that this is not a sustainable dynamic. This is why, when I asked people to share the things that helped them get through their divorce, the overwhelming majority gave examples that had to do with reclaiming their identity, such as changing their name back, being able to return to activities they had given up or just simply knowing that the only person they had to worry about (and could count on) was their self."

Jacobson echoes this sentiment: "For those of us who have been through divorce, it can be depressing to look at the reality we created within the marriage both during divorce and after when we see it in its entirety. From the outside, everyone saw me as a very strong, confident and even inspirational woman, wife and mother; however what had transpired after 17 years of marriage and three children was the underdeveloped girl-woman wondering how she had become so guilt ridden, fearful and even ashamed. Like many who enter into marriage and give themselves to the relationship, I, too, as a young bride at age 23 lost my sense of self."

Richards continues: "In my personal journey of practicing self love after my divorce, it became evident that I had sacrificed certain aspects of myself in order to keep the relationship healthy and balanced. In my search to discover how that had happened, I came to realize that, as much as I wanted to blame it on some outside circumstance, the responsibility actually lay in my own disconnection from my authentic self. I had no idea who I was or what I needed before I entered into the relationship and was, therefore, flying blind. With this awareness, I made a commitment to really get to know myself. Part of really learning to love one's self is to embrace all aspects of our personality, warts and all."

Jacobson offers some advice for truly tapping into that deeper and more satisfying knowledge: "It's one thing to know that self-love is probably a good idea, and another to be convinced of it enough to actually establish behavior changes that override the old patterns of guilt, fear and shame." Sounds great, but how do you actually tap into that? "Just like your nervous system creates neural networks to keep your heart beating and your lungs breathing, it also creates networks for your emotional responses. You think one thing, you feel it and the feelings generate a cascade of neurological, biophysical, biochemical and energetic communication that creates a particular response within your body."

Becherer also suggests calling in someone who can truly help you, by "Hiring neutral professional help. You know how the most well-meaning friend has an opinion about what you should do? (Not to mention mom and dad)! A competent relationship or divorce therapist could be just the ticket. Two decades later, I still recall how my counselor Kathy steered me through the murky waters of my divorce. She hung in there for a year, letting me examine what went wrong and my part in that. Together we journeyed from my emotional mess to giddy possibility and finally to a graceful stability and peace. I believe with all my heart that she kept me from descending into a bitter 'ex-blamer'."

Peace and stability sound a lot better than bitterness, don't they? From Jacobson: "Feelings of self-love emanating from the heart are like wrapping yourself in a warm blanket of love, the way you would 'burrito wrap' a newborn. It is this soft warm lining that not only feels centered and comfortable, but truly safe and secure. When you can move from a place of emotional and mental safety, you have more of an opportunity for creating a blank slate for a new pattern of behavior; a fresh place to create your new life and increase your self-esteem."

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Jacobson also advocates tapping into self esteem — she knows from personal experience! "One of the reasons that I was able to navigate the mucky waters of divorce clearly, with great fortitude and stamina was through discovering my toolbox for increasing my self-esteem, slowly, slowly, bit by bit. Though there were many tools from which I drew, the one that seemed to anchor both hope and courage for my budding self-esteem was self-love as expressed through kindness and compassion directed at yours truly."

Compassion is one way to foster a healthy self-esteem, but don't forget a big "don't" for cultivating it. Says Becherer: "Negative people lurking among your family, long-time friends, co-workers and, of course, the ex. Try to stay away when they are judging and critical. This just erodes the foundations you are building, sapping your strength when you most need it." On the other side of the coin, accept help from those who want to give it to you: "Even if you are usually the strong one that everyone shares their troubles with, this is a time to ask for help. Lean on their shoulders for a change."

Jacobson also offers this trick you can practice throughout the day: "One of the easiest ways to start is by simply drawing your awareness to your inner self-talk. Our tendency is to want to acknowledge the negative thought, push it away, and then implant a new positive thought. However, experts in self-compassion teach that without truly acknowledging the thoughts, they will continue to resurface, creating that continued barrage of fight-or-flight madness. Many practitioners of self-compassion instruction liken the negative thoughts to a persistent child tugging at you. If you simply tell the child to go away, he won't budge. If you recognize the child and tell him that he is seen and heard, he will be pacified and compliant. Anchor in your new practice of self-talk awareness with a ritual or routine that allows you to consistently witness your thoughts."

No matter how low you are feeling, there is hope for moving on. Make tangible and concrete decisions to do so, says Becherer: "The fifth stage of grief recovery is acceptance. So many things — kid time, financial support, ex-spouse's family, holiday rituals, house and home — have changed forever. Stop struggling. Work (and it is definitely work) to let go of the way it used to be. Create new patterns." 

But all that work is worth it. As Richards puts it: "Now that I am being honest about who I am and what I need, rather than hiding certain parts in order to please others, I have found that my relationships are much simpler and my connections are much deeper. Yes, it requires facing the discomfort of confronting sensitive issues as they arise instead of avoiding them as I once did, but I have learned that they key to this is knowing how to have "safe conversations". My journey continues, but I have to admit that I have begun to fall in love with the real me.  She's far from perfect but, at least, she's found the courage show the world who she really is. And THAT is empowering."