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6 Ways To Deal With Grief After Divorce — So You Can Heal & Move On

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6 Strategies For Dealing With Grief After Divorce
Heartbreak

Dealing with grief after divorce can help you heal.

Life after divorce involves a lot of agony in its wake and grief is an inescapable part of it. But the work to getting over it ending and dealing with grief after a bitter divorce can create another level of agony altogether.

Emotions like anger, guilt, shame, embarrassment, disappointment, and fear are among the normal line-up after a divorce.

Bitterness, however, is ugly. It oozes out of anger, resentment, and indignation over the perception of being treated unfairly. It goes beyond anger and evolves to nastiness and malevolence toward the other person. It can even carry undertones of hatred.

Think about someone you have known who was so full of negative energy that they couldn’t focus on anything good. Perhaps that person had such deep, uncontrollable anger that they said and did "crazy" things. Perhaps you even tried to reason with or help them, but came to realize that there was no getting past the bitterness.

RELATED: 5 Crappy Things You Need To Feel (If You Want To Get Over Your Divorce)

A person that "pissed off" can’t move on and remains a prisoner to the past.

If you’re trying to deal with grief after a bitter divorce and overcome it, you will have to do a lot of work to defuse the rancor.

You won’t be able to control what your ex says or does. But you can decide for yourself that your survival depends on moving through the stages of grief. The alternative, staying stuck in any stage can lead to emotions and behaviors with lifetime consequences — and no one wants that for you.

It’s not uncommon for people divorcing or already divorced to be immersed in senseless, destructive battles with one another. It’s also not uncommon for one or both to pretend that they aren't hurting. They might even try to avoid and mask their pain.

Healthy anger can be a potent messenger that tells you if something is wrong, painful, or threatening. While coping with divorce, however, anger is often wielded as a means to punish an ex while maintaining a bitter relationship.

Who would want that, right?

Remember that bitterness doesn’t run on clear thinking. It runs on the vapors of rumination over deep wounds that the other person may never acknowledge, let alone assuage. And that can lead a person to act destructively...and ultimately stay stuck.

In order to overcome the grief and broken heart after a bitter divorce, that process will have to be embraced. The stages will be the same as those for grieving a death, though infused with attributes unique to divorce.

There will be no funeral, and some of the trusted members of your support system may be part of the "loss" in the divorce. But there is life. And there is hope for yours to evolve to a more authentic, mature, happy place after you reach the stage of acceptance.

Here are 6 strategies for dealing with grief, so you can heal your broken heart and move on with your life after divorce.

1. Accept the divorce in your mind until your heart catches up

This isn’t the same acceptance that shines the encouraging light from the end of the grief tunnel. It’s just a mental, pragmatic acceptance that says, "The divorce is a reality. I have to get through this, and I’m the only one who can do it.”

You may feel numb and you will definitely feel the heaviness of the grief. But now it’s time to step to the starting line.

2. Find a therapist, divorce coach, or a divorce support group

Divorce unravels everything. It’s not just the big, obvious stuff. It’s also the countless little things — the nuances that stitch together memories and the rituals of daily life.

Having all that pulled out from under you can be like waking up in the dark after an earthquake. How do you know where to step without stumbling? How do you access anything you need?

The blessing of working with a divorce professional is that s/he knows where the light switch is...and can offer you a hand so that you can more safely navigate the rubble.

And a support group can give you the camaraderie of others who are at the various stages of grief that you will need to work through.

3. Let the grief begin

It’s going to happen, whether you accept it or resist it. Your commitment should be to move through each stage without getting stuck.

Yes, you will undoubtedly come back to stages you thought you had left. And the stages won’t necessarily happen in order.

The promise of the grief process is that each stage offers gifts — if the stage is temporary. However, each stage poses its own dangers, if treated as your final destination.

Divorce is not the end, so don’t give it the false power to be.

(It’s worth noting that the stages of grief can range from five to seven in research. But the five original stages defined by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross are always present.)

4. Work on your anger

Anger is actually a secondary emotion with a brilliant ability to shield you from deeper, primary emotions like sadness and fear.

In the early stages of an event (separation, divorce, or the discovery of infidelity), it can deflect the inevitable flood of pain and fear. This protection is one of the gifts of anger.

Think of anger as a "P.E.P. talk": power, energy, and protection. Sounds great, doesn’t it? Kind of like, "Bottle that up and give me a 6-pack!"

Think about how you feel when you are angry, even enraged. There’s an energy that needs a place to go. And it can be so strong that it makes you feel powerful when you express it. (Ever take a run or lift weights when the fury is running through your veins?)

Now think about anger as a protector. It can be a veritable flame-thrower of emotion that can keep your offenders at a distance. Or it can simply protect you from underlying emotions for which you’re not quite ready.

These gifts can give you resolve and the energy to take action to heal. They can also help you set very clear boundaries, especially at a time when you feel so vulnerable to trespass.

But there is a risk to anger. If you stay in this stage too long, you could make poor judgments. You could bust right through those anger-inspired boundaries and hurt people. You could use all that powerful energy to create (and maintain) conflict. And you could hide your bitterness behind a false sense of control that anger can give.

If you are trying to overcome grief after a bitter divorce, this part of your journey will be especially important. Get into the habit of writing out your anger in a journal or in letters you don’t send. Scream into a pillow. Pound a pillow. Talk it out with a divorce coach, therapist or friend.

Your goal is to get to the underlying emotions and the gifts of anger. It’s also to drain that negative energy before you use it to hurt someone, including your kids.

RELATED: The Heartbreaking Reason It's Good To Grieve The End Of Your Marriage

5. Take responsibility

Divorce isn’t a one-person show. There is always at least a sliver of that pie graph with your name on it.

Learn to communicate in "I" statements. Even the practice of speaking differently (and more responsibly) can slow your thinking and make you more aware of your thoughts.

Take note of what pushes your buttons. And use the awareness of your responsibility as inspiration for personal-growth work.

It’s amazing the way owning up to your own contributions to a failed marriage can halt the blame game.

6. Strive for compassion and gratitude

Your ex may be the last person on earth for whom you feel compassion, let alone gratitude. But remember that they are as human as you and are navigating this strange thing called "life" with as much vulnerability as you.

Can you open your heart to the possibility that your ex’s hurtful behavior is a cover for underlying anger, fear, and sadness? Would that remind you of anyone?

And just because you are divorcing doesn’t mean that your time together was a waste. You shared life experiences and learned powerful lessons that have changed you. Even the difficult experiences taught you things you will never forget.

And if you have children together, you will always have something for which to be grateful.

Being divorced means figuring out how to get over an ex and it's not always easy. The work involved to overcome the grief is about getting to a place of acceptance. This isn’t a "party on the mountaintop" after a long, upward trek. It’s just a newfound realization of your own strength.

Think of it as a starting place where you stake your flag in the ground and say, "Now, I’m ready to move forward."

RELATED: 12 Stages Of Grief You Experience When Your Marriage Ends

Dr. Karen Finn is a divorce and life coach. Her writing on marriage, co-parenting and divorce has been published on MSN, Yahoo! and eHarmony among others. You can learn more about Karen and her work helping people work through divorce grief at on her website.

This article was originally published at Dr. Karen Finn's blog. Reprinted with permission from the author.

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