When we’re in the midst of the visceral and all-encompassing agony of divorce, it’s difficult to cope with each breath, let alone remember that the pain eventually ends. The last thing we think about, but should address, is how to manage pain during divorce. The emotions are so strong and wide-spread that they often manifest as a physical presence. But it is a presence of emptiness.
This void contains the grief of losing love and the optimism that comes with it—that sense of possibilities that were open to us and now are not. There is the bruising nature of rejection, the fear of time wasted or of loneliness (a feeling exacerbated for so many now during the Covid quarantine), a sense of self and our own wholeness that seems to have vanished. The shock and anger over betrayal or having the bottom suddenly drop out from under us, the doubt that we can ever trust our own judgment again. But rest assured: the pain of divorce will not last forever.
To Manage Pain During Divorce, Allow Yourself to Feel.
It may seem counter-intuitive, but managing pain during your divorce means you have to actually allow yourself to experience these feelings—give them room to run and swing wildly. Allowing yourself to feel grief, fear, loneliness, and anger is exhausting and frightening; it feels like you’re in the middle of a stampede with no horse.
Even feeling hope can be painful in the aftermath of divorce, because the loss of your old hopes is fresh, and trusting that new ones can exist takes a while.
But it seems to be the consensus that healing requires you to face the full range of your emotions during divorce. Trying to reign in your emotions or muffle them with a smiling facade only works temporarily. Tamping down these feelings might be best saved for the times when you don’t want them to become a burden on people who are depending on you, like your children.
Trying to keep a permanent lid on emotions, though, is like trying to muffle a trashcan fire with a lid that doesn’t quite fit. It might seem to work, but the damage still spreads if you don’t actually address it. Putting off the experience of an emotion just gives it breathing room with no supervision. When we finally turn around and face it, we realize it’s only gotten bigger.
What actually helps with this pain management technique is to not just let the feelings run over you, but to run with them. It may sound ridiculous, but don’t worry: if you have enough emotional capacity to have a feeling, you are most likely strong enough to move with it.
So, What Are Effective Strategies to Manage Pain During Divorce?
One of the best ways to cope with divorce pain is to write your feelings out in a free-flow journal. Especially if you write without pausing or self-editing, you can scream as loudly as you want to on paper. Pouring all that angst, pain, and emotional murk through the sieve of a journal on a daily basis clears your mind so that you begin to address your own healing with acceptance and develop some rational ideas of what you need to do to rebuild. When you engage with your feelings in this way you become an active participant in them.
Another way to manage divorce pain and confusion is to reach out to a divorce coach, who can be one of the best sources of complete support for what you are going through. A coach can help you with all the logistical, financial, emotional, and practical issues that may overwhelm you. A coach, experienced in what is normal and what is not, is trained to help you embrace your emotions and heal so you can move forward completely and healthily.
Talk to the Hand
Sometimes it’s helpful to identify a particular emotion, name it, and talk to it as if it were an actual person. Snark helps. Anything that helps you laugh at the situation and at yourself helps. Pretend the feeling is one of the neighborhood kids who’s trying to sell you really ugly Christmas ornaments. You’re going to be friendly but firm and you’re likely going to be able to say no without many qualms. (And of course, since it’s not a real person, you’re free to be a little… tart):
“Well, good morning, Anxiety. Love the outfit. You seem to be doing just peachy today. I’m not in the mood for peaches, though. I see you, and I understand why you’re selling this wagon-load of crap, but it’s not your turn today.” Or something to that effect.
This acknowledges the feeling but externalizes it in a healthy way. It allows you to get far enough away from it to see it more clearly, and it also acts to separate you as a person from your actual feelings, which may be strong and feel like they’re trampling you at times, but are not actually you.
Laugh at Them
Do anything you can to laugh at your situation. Find the irony in it; snark it up, burn your bra while you dance around and film it (though if you do this, recall that you are not PBS; laughter only works therapeutically when it’s for your own satisfaction, or shared only with your closest, most trusted friends). Blow up balloons and write the things that are pissing you off on them and then get out your safety pin; swing an imaginary lasso around your head and yodel like a cowgirl when the feelings go rogue on you.
Said with brevity and levity, divorce is not exactly a party on two legs, but if you can laugh at it while you’re in it, you will move from survival to thriving a lot faster.
Turn Off the Anger Drip
For a lot of us, anger is easier to bear than pain. It feels more powerful than sadness, and it acts on neurotransmitters like an anesthetic. Anger can also be justified (often), and for women who have been emotionally or physically bullied by their husbands and/or painted into well-behaved corners, it’s especially important to speak that feeling. For others who might be inclined to run rampant with it, though, the thing to remember is that it does act like a drug. Too much anger for too long is corrosive to you and anyone in your vicinity who it might spill on.
Know When to Put the Thoughts Down
When we’re in the midst of a complex situation like divorce, it’s natural and healthy to think about where you are in the process, to consider how you got there, your own role in it, and how you might have done things differently. This kind of reflection is healthy, but it stops being a pain management technique when we begin steeping in thought patterns for too long. Brooding over a situation is called perseverating or ruminating, and it can eventually stain our thought processes the way tea that brews too long can stain a cup.
You need to grieve the possibilities that were a part of your union with the person you were married to. Sadness and all the other emotions that come with divorce should be felt. But new possibilities grow in their place. Like us, they change, and there are always more of them. Life never just boils down to one event or another; we are meant to be dynamic and each of us is bigger than a particular occurrence—even one as daunting as divorce.
Jennifer Bent is a freelance writer and former journalist living on the West Coast. Nicknamed Verbose at a young age, she loves word craft but has to keep a short leash on her fondness for the profane. Jennifer enjoys her cat’s input on her rough drafts (talk about snark) and the freedom of being her own partner. Connect with Jennifer here.
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