Turning it around
When I was first going through my separation, it felt like the world was falling apart. There was the immediate pain of my husband leaving, and then there was the ongoing pain of my subsequent thoughts and fears.
My husband no longer loved me, and preferred someone else; did that mean I had been a bad wife? Our friends might take sides; would I lose them? Our children would grow up in a split family, with two homes, and I wouldn’t see them every day; how would I handle that? We might have to sell our home, and I might have to move to a new house. I might have to get a new job.
My thoughts were busy creating me what I now call a “what if tree”, full of fear, anxiety and uncertainty.
It was very easy to find myself asking what I had done to deserve this. Why was it happening to me; it wasn’t fair. I circled through the first stages of grief and back again, before finally coming to rest in acceptance, where I could see myself moving forward towards a new life:
- denial - this can’t be happening; if I go to sleep tonight, it’ll all be back to normal in the morning; it’s all a bad dream
- anger - how dare he do this to me; this isn’t fair; he’ll get his come-uppance; I don’t deserve this
- bargaining - if only I’d been a better wife/was thinner/funnier/more attractive
- depression – I just want to curl up under the duvet; I can’t face anyone.
Let me reassure you right now - these stages are all totally normal, and you will probably feel all of them at different times. It’s also totally normal to circle around all or some of them several times, for differing lengths of time. Not only are these stages normal, they are necessary, to protect you from overwhelming pain until you are ready to face it.
The key to moving on, for me, was to start to turn it all around, to reframe what was happening to me so that I could move beyond the pain and towards acceptance.
So what are my biggest three tips for turning it around?
Instead of asking yourself why this is happening to you, ask yourself more empowering questions
Asking yourself empowering questions will help change your perspective. Avoid asking yourself questions that begin with “why”, as why questions tend to keep you stuck feeling low and down. So, ask yourself what one thing you could do today to help yourself to feel better.
Other examples of empowering questions might be:
- How can I best support myself today?
- What have I done today of which I can be proud?
- Where is the chink of light in this situation?
- What can I do now that I couldn’t do before?
- What strengths have I used in the past that could help me now?
- What would my best friend advise me now?
- How could I react differently?
Make a conscious choice to find the positive
Challenging as it might seem, look for the positive, even if it is something small. What is the chink of light in this situation? It might be that you no longer have to be woken by snoring at 2 am, or that you can now watch Eastenders, or Top Gear in peace. It could be that you laughed out loud today, or you can now paint the bathroom lime green like you’ve always wanted.
I always advise my clients to start keeping a gratitude diary, and to adopt an attitude of gratitude. Research has shown that the simple act of writing down things for which you are grateful can have long term benefits such as better sleep, lower stress levels and increased happiness. Adopting an attitude of gratitude trains the mind to look for the positive at a time when it may be predisposed to seeing only the negative. Gratitude can give you a new perspective on life, and help you see what really matters to you. It gives you hope, and will help you to heal.
Shift your focus back to YOU
I see lots of clients who see their divorce as something that is happening to them, that they are victims of their divorce. As a result, they can feel that they are stuck, without choices or options. My advice is to switch the focus back to you, and start to reframe the situation. By doing that, you will start to take back control over your life.
Perhaps your ex has moved on quickly, while you still feel lonely, and you can’t help comparing your life to theirs. Or maybe you really dread the weekends when your children are away with their other parent, because the time goes so slowly and you miss them.
Shift the focus back to YOU.
Are you friends with your ex on social media? Does looking at their social media account serve your best interests? Does it help you move forward, or keep you stuck? You no longer need to know what your ex is doing. If your friends are telling you what your ex is doing, ask them not to tell you.
What can you do now that you couldn’t do before? These things may be small, but important. For example, my ex-husband hates ginger because it makes him sick, so we never used it in cooking. I LOVE ginger, and now I can cook my favourite stir fries, going heavy on the ginger. I even put raw ginger in sandwiches.
Do you now have time that you never had before? Perhaps you’ve always wanted to join the local amateur dramatics group, or a choir, or sports club, or maybe you’ve always wanted to learn to dance, or study at night school. I found that joining a cycling group and learning to dance gave me a whole new group of people to socialise with, none of whom had known the old, married me. I found that my confidence and independence were both boosted.
You could create a list of all the things you would like to do, or try, and give yourself deadlines to achieve them. They can be small things, or big things – so ask yourself what do you enjoy? What do you want to do more of?
Key to my approach is to help you to shift your focus away from your pain, and your "what if tree", to concentrate on YOU, who you are, and who you want to be. To move you from feeling like the victim of your divorce, to being someone who has power over your destiny.
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