How to Recover From A Divorce- Emotionally?

Marriages can be costly affairs, divorces even costlier, thus making the process of recovering from a divorce strenuous without emotional support and guidance. Going by the number of divorces these days, I believe there should be more hiccups one encounters before a marriage than the number of hiccups that one encounters during a divorce.

You may have already guessed dear reader, that when I say divorces are costlier I do not simply mean monetarily costly.

Money is just a part of the cost you have to cough up while undergoing a divorce. Nobody lists out the other costs – a broken heart, your faith, your sanity, your youth, your self-confidence and self-esteem, your inability to wake up every morning with hope, and at times your trust in yourself.

According to relationship experts, it generally takes 2 years to recover from a divorce because of the emotional trauma. Personally, I believe it depends on how much emotionally entangled two people were during the course of their marriage, apart from other factors that need to be taken into consideration such as children (infact children bear the brunt of divorce even more than the parents. To know more please see – Effect of Divorce on Kids), the number of years a couple has lived together, their personalities and so on that decides the time it takes to recover from divorce.

In any case, undergoing divorce is a major trauma and requires intensive emotional healing.

This article has two parts, addressing two crucial areas one needs to recover from divorce:

  • This first part of the article looks at how we can process our emotions and release them while or after undergoing a divorce.
  • The second part of the article outlines steps with exercises to regain the lost self-confidence in the aftermath of a divorce.

Processing Your Emotions

Emotions arise so that they can be felt. Emotions are energy in motion. It is when the motion is halted due to resistance that the blocked emotions become a problem.

Blocked or suppressed emotions do not die, they fester.

Majority of us find it extremely difficult to process our emotions. Emotions can be processed once we become aware of them. Awareness consists of:

  • being aware of what is the emotion you are feeling
  • being aware of why you are feeling the emotion (discovering the thoughts leading to the emotions)
  • consciously allowing yourself to feel the emotion to the fullest
  • releasing the emotion

But what happens most of the time is we do not allow ourselves to feel the difficult emotions to the fullest. We resist. For example, at the slightest hint of guilt, or a feeling of failure because of a divorce we may argue with ourselves, watch T.V., go out for shopping, read a book, look for the company, drink alcohol to drown our sorrows, smoke incessantly, and the list can go on. In other words, we distract ourselves with anything to “not feel” the painful emotion of guilt or failure that is demanding to be felt.

What we do not realize is that these painful emotions and feelings are like little children demanding our attention because they hide some form of hurt. All we need to do, is become aware of the emotion, acknowledge it, and be present with it. When we give ourselves the full permission to feel the difficult feelings, we become acute observers of ourselves and active participants in the healing process. The emotions will then run through their course and move on, leaving us free.

Here are three steps to processing your emotions which forms the major and the most crucial part of the self-work to be done immediately after going through a divorce or even while undergoing one. This is the first step towards recovering from a divorce.

The three steps include:  

  1. Becoming Aware of Your Emotions– When one encounters a major trauma in life such as death or divorce, one goes through what is commonly known as the five stages of grief. Awareness of the five stages of grief and all the associated emotions will help you to understand your own emotions and manage your feelings with conscious thinking thus bringing an end to any internal conflict.
  2. Writing Letters to Yourself and Your Ex-Spouse – As part of releasing your pent-up emotions, in this exercise, you will need to write letters to your ex-spouse and yourself.
  3. A Neuro-Linguistic Programming Technique (NLP) Technique to Mentally & Emotionally Break Off from Your Ex – Do this simple exercise to emotionally and mentally get out of the relationship.

Becoming Aware of Your Emotions

Any form of loss, whether it be a divorce, the death of a loved one or even a job loss brings in its wake a rush of overpowering emotional responses.

These responses are popularly termed as the five stages of grief. They include:

  1. Denial
  2. Bargaining
  3. Anger
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

The explanation is not meant simply as information. The five stages of grief described below are pointers that you can use for your awareness so that you will be able to identify what you are feeling, why you are feeling and why you can give yourself the permission to feel that feeling to the fullest and let the emotion run its course. So, I request you not to simply read through the five stages explained below as information but treat this as the first step to recognize and actively process your emotions.

Awareness puts you in the driver’s seat, allowing you to be fully and compassionately present with your emotions, and also helps you to decide how you would like to respond to them constructively.

The 5 stages of grief though, does not necessarily occur to everyone in a linear timeline, nor does everyone experience all the stages in the given order, yet these 5 stages more or less make up the structure of grief. Some people may experience more stages in their grief, some less than the five mentioned. Every person’s experience is unique as much as the fingerprints of every individual on earth are unique.

1. Denial

In this stage, there is disbelief, and shock that this divorce happened or is about to happen. “It can’t be true! This cannot be happening to me!”  We put in the time, hope, and effort into a relationship, not to mention the emotions invested, so to see it ending in divorce is overwhelming. “There is simply no way this is happening! This is not I wanted!” We may start to believe life is meaningless and we may also hide from facts. Denial numbs us. This in a way can be a gift. We can get flooded and overwhelmed by emotions when we experience a trauma.

Denial in a way is nature’s method of filtering out emotions so that we do not get overwhelmed and take in only as much as we can handle.

Denial gives rise to a lot of questions, “why?” how?” setting the stage for understanding ourselves better and healing to occur. Slowly, over the course of time as we seek the answers to these questions, awareness occurs and our healing process begins. As denial fades away the feelings that we suppressed all this while begin to surface.

2. Bargaining

This state occurs when we refuse to accept that a divorce is about to take place or that “it has occurred to me.” 

Bargaining occurs due to the immense fear of the unknown. Anything is better than leaving your comfort zone, however uncomfortable this comfort zone may be.

You cling to any hope, any illusion to delay the divorce and make this partnership work by shouldering the full responsibility, at times, even at the cost of your self-esteem. You may forget that it takes two to create a successful relationship. If during this stage your partner to realizes his/her mistakes then they too will take the responsibility and attempt to undo this entire process of divorce that they equally set in motion. The bargaining stage is a brief distraction temporarily delaying the experience of loss, till the time you are absolutely convinced that divorce is indeed the right decision for you.

3. Anger

When reality begins to sink in and denial dissipates, intense emotions may surface, most prominent among them being angry. When we are staring at a divorce or any form of loss for that matter, we are staring at an unknown future. There is a fear of the uncertainty that lies ahead.

Anger provides an anchor to the emptiness of loss. It provides a shelter from the fear of the unknown future ahead. And it is from this shelter, this anchor, that we reach out to communicate with others.

Anger may appear in the form of resentment towards your partner, you may feel let down, betrayed, created by him/her. The anger may also take the form of blame-game and disgust. You may blame not only your partner but also yourself, that you in a way contributed towards this divorce through your actions.

You may also blame God for everything that happened. Anger may take the form of irritation towards yourself, your parents or even friends. You may find yourself getting unreasonably angry at the smallest of things, maybe at work or even while shopping your groceries. Despite anger being a frightening state, it is a necessary and an empowering emotion that can reveal to us a lot about ourselves.

The appearance of anger indicates a massive shift is about to occur because now we are ready to leave behind the fear and step into our own power.

Anger provides a direction, by creating enough internal discomfort – much like the tilling of soil to plant new seeds – to bring the focus back from the external broken relationship to the fractured relationship that you have with yourself, healing it and making changes to grow in new ways.

4. Depression

Once you have stepped into the unknown you are bound to feel a sense of loss and a sense of being at a loss. It is much like trying to find your way through a fog or perhaps not trying at all sometimes. It is waking up every morning thinking “why did I wake up? What is the point of life? Why go on at all? There is nothing here.” The feeling of emptiness increases as does the feeling of “I want to give up.” You may isolate yourself from others on purpose. Undergoing depression due to feelings of loneliness, and emptiness after a divorce or loss is natural and an appropriate response to trauma.

Depression highlights the nothingness of the present moment that we feared all along.

At this stage, it is best to allow the depression to wash over you. As Kübler-Ross and Kessler say, “See it as a visitor, perhaps an unwelcome one, but one who is visiting whether you like it or not. Make a place for your guest. Invite your depression to pull up a chair with you in front of the fire, and sit with it, without looking for a way to escape. Allow the sadness and emptiness to cleanse you and help you explore your loss in its entirety. When you allow yourself to experience depression, it will leave as soon as it has served its purpose in your loss.

As you grow stronger, it may return from time to time, but that is how grief works.” Join a divorce support network, or take the help of your family and friends whom you trust when you experience periods of depression. Undergoing counseling or different forms of holistic therapy can go a long way to in helping you to deal with your depression during divorce. In fact, portals such askmile.com are exclusively devoted to relationships. Here you can seek guidance from a professional counsellor of your choice and also post queries anonymously for free and seek answers. A counselor will always get back to you.

5. Acceptance

This is the stage of feeling free and learning to be happy again.

If anger is the stage where tilling occurs, and depression is a stage of being washed over, acceptance is growing towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

You may not like what has happened, you may have emotions like anger and depression coming and going like unwanted guests but you do not resist anymore.  Yes, you may also feel rejected because of the divorce but this feeling loses its sting. You accept that feeling rejected is an expected part of the ending of a marriage and it takes time to heal.

In fact, you will realize that the broken marriage only brought out the rejection within you that you had for some parts of yourself. The marriage by itself did not cause feelings of rejection to be born in you. There may also be some regret after the divorce but nothing that keeps you stuck in life. You are able to move forward in life with renewed vigour and hope.

Now that you know of the five stages of grief, you are in a position to understand why you are feeling what you are feeling and then follow the five steps given below to process your emotions:

Please Note: If you feel your emotions can be overpowering, it would be wise and safe to take the help of a counsellor while processing them.

  1. Identify It: Be consciously aware of your emotions. By that I mean when you encounter an uncomfortable feeling arising in yourself and you want to brush it aside by arguing with yourself, getting frustrated or angry, watching T.V., looking for company, stop. Stop right there. Identify the feeling. Name it. Say it out loud if you want without judging yourself “I am feeling ——- because of ——–”.
  2. Sense It in Your Body: Every emotion brings with it a corresponding sensation in your body. A form of physical tension, be it fear in the gut, contraction of the chest, breathing fast, maybe pain in the body somewhere, feeling of tension in the jaw or throat. Whatever the sensation, once you identify it, be with it without analyzing, and judging.
  3. Be Present with It: Once you identify the sensation be fully present with it. You need to stay with it to fully release it. Here, be compassionate and patient with yourself. You will also begin to notice the compulsive behavioural patterns you enact in your daily life owing to the pressure of these unreleased emotions.
    There are high chances that the feelings of pain, anxiety, and anger might increase when you stay with them. Along with that, the emotions will change form.
    For example, if you were feeling hurt, when you stay with the feeling of being hurt along with the physical sensation you feel in the body, suddenly you might find anger rise within you. When you stay with the anger and the physical sensation it produces, it will go away to be replaced by a feeling of helplessness and the corresponding impulses in the body and so on. This is a healthy sign. What is happening here is unpeeling, much like unpeeling the deeper layers of an onion. As explained above, emotions are energy in motion. Long suppressed or blocked emotions are able to move up to the surface, to your awareness to be released, now that you are allowing it.
    Please Note: If you feel overwhelmed due to the rush of emotions and that you will not be able to continue on your own, stop immediately. Consider taking the help of a counsellor to help you process your emotions.

Everything in this universe is in a state of flux. That is the natural order. So, emotions changing form too is the natural order.

Let it all arise, change form and be released. Simply be present with it.

  1. Relax: This state occurs naturally. As the emotions layer after layer drop away we begin to feel lighter and relax. A state of openness and acceptance occurs. 
  2. Breathe In and Out Deeply: Gently take a deep breath in, hold, and then let it out with a deep gushing sound. Repeat this a couple of time. Breathing helps to ground us.

You can follow the steps given above as a routine practice to emotionally cleanse yourself everyday, just as you bathe everyday to keep yourself physically clean.

Additionally, it would be wise to undergo counseling therapy, at any point, while undergoing the divorce or immediately after, as that can help you cope with your different stages of grief as and when they appear and finally accept your feelings and yourself wholly. This can lead to a major shift in perspective, which can accelerate the healing process.

Writing Letters to Yourself and Ex-Spouse

Though you may not be aware, when you hold onto resentment and anger in any relationship you bind yourself to that person while giving away your power to that person. Writing all your feelings down is a great way of expressing and freeing yourself from these inhibiting emotions.

There are three steps involved in what I call the letter-writing process after a divorce. These are letters that you will never mail to your ex-spouse. In fact, after writing each of these letters you will burn them.

  1. Seat yourself comfortably, and yes, I recommend you write the letters with a pen. First, write a letter to your ex-spouse telling him/her why you are upset with him/her and what behaviors you resent in him/her. If some strong emotions come up, for example, anger and you feel like venting out, take a small cushion and hit it repeatedly till you feel calm and continue writing. If you wish, you can mention forgiving your ex-spouse in the letter but do not force yourself to forgive. It is fine if you do not wish to forgive. Vent out your feelings and that is enough. 
  2. Now change your place and sit somewhere else. Imagine you are your ex-partner. Visualize his/her face and visualize yourself stepping inside his/her body and looking at yourself through his/her eyes. Now write a letter to yourself in his/her voice. This might sound like a very difficult step. But let me assure you, this step is essential, and it will bring out insights you never were aware of. You will see things from their perspective and a deeper understanding of the entire situation will dawn on you. This will give you tremendous clarity. You will see yourself in new light apart from the whole situation.
    Once you finish writing this letter, get out of the seat and shake yourself vigorously or even jump a few times. This is to dissipate any of your ex-spouse’s energy that you may be feeling strongly in your body. Breathe in deeply and throw out your breath with a deep “whoo” sound all the while visualizing the energy of your ex-partner going out of your body in full force back to him/her. Now take both the letters and read them.
  3. Write the last letter to yourself, forgiving yourself. You may be holding onto anger and resentment against yourself for marrying this particular partner, or for contributing with your actions towards this break-up. Write to yourself saying you unconditionally forgive yourself for everything. Just like you would wish someone who loves you very much to forgive you. You can also write this last letter after three to four days of doing the mirror exercise described in the second part of this article 5 Very Effective Exercises to Regain Your Self-Confidence after Divorce.  In fact, writing this letter after starting the mirror exercise  can bring out the feelings of forgiveness towards yourself effortlessly from your heart.
  4. Read all the three letters again if you wish and burn all of them.

Once you process all your emotions with awareness after the divorce, you will realize that all the relationships that you have experienced so far, your broken marriage included, have been your teachers in various forms. The marriage by itself did not cause the pain, anger, uncertainty, or insecurity. It only brought out the pain and insecurity, which was already present in you. This broken relationship simply highlighted it all.

Neuro-Linguistic Programming Technique (NLP)

To Mentally & Emotionally Break Off from Your Ex

A marriage is an intimate bond between a man and a woman, emotionally and physically. A divorce signals the end of the relationship on paper. However, for many couples, the emotional scars due to unresolved resentment, grief, and anger remain for a long time. Therefore, even though after a divorce both the individuals do not physically live together anymore, emotionally due to the unresolved feelings they can still remain connected. Given below is a highly effective NLP technique to get over and be mentally free from your ex-spouse.

(Please Note: If you have children and are not able to completely break-free from your ex-spouse, you might want to try out the visualization technique given in the article – Simple Technique To Get Rid of Emotional Baggages After A Breakup. This technique allows you to maintain a civil and harmonious relationship with your ex-spouse in an unattached way, without allowing negative overpowering emotions such as anger and resentment to crop up and cause dysfunction in the relationship.)

NLP is a modality which helps to bring about changes in perception. Act responsibly in any communication, and also helps in widening the range of choices of responses or communication in a given situation, due to the change in perception.

The NLP Technique

Close your eyes and relax. Breathe in and out a couple of times deeply.

  • Visualize a movie screen. Now visualize your ex-spouse on it. Notice how clear and close his/her image is. Observe if it is in the center or towards the right or left. Notice the colour of his/her clothes. On this screen, you may also see a scene being played out, hear voices, maybe angry ones. Whatever is appearing, let it appear. Perhaps it a scene from your past being played out, one where you were highly emotionally affected. Maybe two or three scenes. Notice how you feel while looking at the scene(s). If it is not a scene and just your ex-spouse’s image, that too is fine. Simply notice your emotions and feelings.
  • Now, look around you’ll find a remote-control with which you can control the sound and picture clarity of the movie you’re watching. Look for the volume button. Press the button to increase the volume a little bit more first. Then slowly keep pressing the button to gradually decrease the volume till no sound remains.
  • Next, look for the button which can increase or decrease the brightness of the picture. Now press the button to increase the brightness. Keep increasing the brightness, till the screen in front of you becomes so bright that no images remain. Conversely, you can also press the button to dim the brightness gradually till no images are seen on the screen.
  • Take a good look at the mental picture and pay attention to find out if you still see faint images or hear any more sounds. If you still see outlines of images make the picture brighter by pressing the button on the remote control. If you still hear some sounds, you can again decrease the volume till you hear nothing. You are in control.
  • Now visualize that you are shrinking the movie screen. You can put out your hands physically to push the screen horizontally and vertically till the screen becomes really tiny and you can crush it using one hand. Now throw this crushed tiny screen as far away from you as possible with all your might. You can physically enact throwing it away.
  • Allow yourself to relax after you complete all the steps given above.

Repeat this exercise as often as possible. With the picture of your ex-spouse and whatever other scenes come to mind till you feel there is no emotional charge left in your body. The picture becomes dim and small, and finally non-existent.  

If you wish, you can use this technique to not just erase painful memories but also good memories you shared with your ex-spouse to which you may feel hooked. Doing this exercise will significantly reduce the emotional charge left behind by various incidents that led to the divorce. If there are many scenes, you can do the exercise for one scene at a time.
Before starting the exercise you can make a mental note of a number between 1 to 10 of how intense your emotion (anger, frustration, helplessness, feeling betrayed etc.) is, 1 being the least intense on the emotional scale and 10 being highly intense. After you complete the exercise notice how much the number has reduced.

You will notice a change in your mental and emotional state after doing just one round of this exercise earnestly.

Once you are done with all the steps given above to process your emotions, you are now ready for the next step, that is to regain your self-confidence.

For that go to How to Recover From A Divorce – 5 Very Effective Exercises to Regain Your Self-Confidence.

– Anoo Pathak
Spiritual Counselor & Mentor

Online Counseling Askmile