By Carey Davidson
It’s no secret that the stress we all experience as a result of divorce is brutal. You’ll consistently find divorce listed right up there at number two on the list of life’s most stressful events. The impact on our emotional and physical state is so devastating that the only life event more crippling is the death of a spouse. No matter which spouse initiated the divorce, picking up the pieces and rebuilding a fulfilling life is a moment to moment effort. The upheaval experienced by both parties is far-reaching and chock full of hardship.
While it’s true that every person impacted by a divorce will experience some suffering, how deeply we feel the pain and how quickly and fully we will recover from it varies widely. Even for a family with kids going through divorce, you’ll find that some of the children seemingly recover at a faster clip than their siblings. Similarly, one set of in-laws may move on with little fanfare while the other set erects a shrine in the image of the lost love and mourns the split for years to come. Some of our lifelong friendships are severed over the taking of sides and still others will forever measure each new suitor against the perfection, or inadequacy of the ex-spouse.
Many times, the most confusing and often painful disparity in recovery is that of the ex-spouses themselves. They regard each other with bewilderment and judgment over the length and depth of the other’s torment. They may even scrutinize their own mental health capacity by the measuring stick of how quickly the other jumped into dating again, or by the preponderance of gleeful photos posted on the ex’s social media. With reminders of what was lost permeating so many corners of our thoroughly intertwined lives, why is it that some of us have the capacity to heal faster than our former partners?
While science suggests recovery rates are tied to gender, I’d like to explore with you the possibility that our rates of and paths to healing differ based on something a little more complex. While the social, cultural and economic factors we all face vary widely and have a formidable impact on our ability to achieve happiness again post-divorce, I’d like to focus in on a few areas of strength building that I hope we can all absorb and incorporate into our lives to some degree.
Resilience is key. People who have more resilience don’t dwell as long in disappointment, learn from their past mistakes and have the ability to move on more quickly, envisioning a positive future. Applied to the post-divorce life experience, resilient people are more likely to:
Let go of heavy emotions instead of holding onto the story of the past and blaming others
Identify the lessons learned instead of becoming victims of circumstance
Make plans for the future instead of obsessing about what they did wrong to cause the split
Socialize and engage with others instead of sinking into bouts of depression
Empathize with their needs and the needs of the family instead of holding on to anger
How do we become more resilient? From my experience with clients at Tournesol, in order to become a reliable and sustainable happiness factor, resilience has to be adopted as a way of life. It’s not a one-and-done quick fix. Quite the opposite. It’s an everyday practice. Resilience grows within us through a steady, ongoing effort in mind, body and spirit.
Three phases of building and maintaining resilience include self-consciousness, self-awareness, and self-care.
The first step to having more control over the flow of triggers and emotions that feel overwhelming at times is to become a master observer of yourself in the context of the challenging moments of your day. Can you notice what emotions arise in the face of disappointment? Are you able to become aware of where in your body you feel disturbances when your buttons are pushed? Do you notice any patterns of your reactive behavior over time?
The key to self-conscious observing is to track without judgment or criticism. This isn’t an exercise in self-punishment. Instead, it’s the first step in noticing your choices and habits in the moment so that you can eventually have more control over them than they have of you.
Once you have exercised the muscle of self-consciousness and you’re beginning to recognize your own feelings, emotions, and reactions more regularly, you occupy a state of self-awareness. In self-awareness, you know what you’re good at and what emotional resiliency factors you’re still working on. In this phase, you are better able to predict and plan for challenging situations, avoiding them more often and choosing the calmer, higher ground in conflict more of the time.
When you’re living in a space of self-awareness, you know what you need to feel happy and you’re more apt to create a life that supports your ability to remain blissful and upbeat.
Resilient people regularly spend time caring for their needs – the old “oxygen mask” metaphor. But how do you know what you need? We’re all aware of the impact of good sleep, food, exercise and emotional balance on our overall wellbeing. We’ve also discovered that what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another.
I’m a believer in personalized self-care. I’m not a one-size-fits-all gal. What works for me, is not likely to work for you. I recommend investing in the guidance of a holistic health professional to help you organize a self-care plan that works for who you are, how you transform food into energy and how you transform information into knowledge. Anything less is not a good use of your resources IMO.
If you want to learn a little more about your personal tendencies through the Chinese Medicine perspective, consider taking my 10-minute assessment for some insight at tournesol-assessment.com
How do you know your work is paying off and you’re becoming more resilient? There are two signs to look out for. First, pay attention to whether you are spending less time feeling challenging emotions like anger, panic, worry, blame, fear and isolation. Second, notice when you begin spending more time feeling optimism, gratitude, forgiveness, empathy, and freedom. When you’re feeling the happier emotions more than the lower emotions, you’re well on your way!
About the Author
Carey Davidson is the founder and CEO of Tournesol Wellness, Reiki Master, and Ayurvedic lifestyle counselor.