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How to cope with life after divorce

Getting back on track

As much as you might like, you can’t just curl into a ball and allow negative feelings to pass after a divorce. It’s important to minimize the effects that it will have on you and your family, and it’s vital to get the help you need to cope with the present reality. Here's how to deal with your emotions and get back on track.

Divorced woman in thought

The feelings that come along with divorce

A divorce can naturally bring up feelings of sorrow, pain and anger, but our reactions are not always based on current reality. They often stem from past experiences that are stored as unprocessed memories in our brains and may be running the show.

While a divorce turns life upside down, people's negative reactions can also be caused by the accumulated pain and frustrations of all the earlier experiences that led to the divorce. They can be fed by feelings of guilt and insecurity that arise from stored memories, where cracks in our personal foundations can be activated and shake things up even more.

So how do we get back on track?

  1. Set up time to exercise to work through the negative emotions and the physical sensations that go along with them.
  2. Spend time with family and friends so that you can feel nurtured. Feel free to express your emotions and ask for help from them. It's also important to arrange activities with them that will make you smile.
  3. Do what needs to be done and then turn your mind to other things, if you ever have to deal with any divorce related issue. If you find this is too difficult to do on your own, learn the specific self-help techniques in my book Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy (EMDR means Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to change any negative emotions, images and thoughts that arise.

Our brain's power

It's important to remember that just because negative emotions and thoughts arise, it doesn't make them true or something we should dwell on. It's natural for our brains to bring up negative associations in times of stress, but we have the choice of controlling our brain rather than being controlled by it.

For instance, notice that when you read the words, "Roses are red," the phrase "Violets are blue" automatically pops up for most people. But the statement's not true; violets are actually purple. This is an example of the automatic responses of our brain making associations to something in the present.

So, the next time you notice your brain throwing up thoughts, feelings and images that don't serve you, take a deep breath and focus your mind elsewhere. The techniques you need to change can be found in my book.

Unhealthy reactions make it harder for you to recover

The bottom line is that our brains are wonderfully interactive computers that link together everything that has ever happened to us. However, they don't always serve us well. So, when dealing with an experience as stressful as divorce, it's vital that you learn to distinguish between the reactions that stem from a natural grieving process and unhealthy reactions that will make it harder for you to recover.

If the pain does not change over time, it's important to reach out for professional help to process and resolve the divorce experience, such as seeing an EMDR specialist. Ultimately, the goal is for you to let go of the past and proceed into a life of new possibilities.

Dr. Francine Shapiro is the author of Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy and the originator of Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).

More divorce help

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5 Divorce myths to dismantle

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