Nathaniel Smith shares tips for men on how to save your self-confidence and lead the way to an emotionally healthy divorce.
Are you going through a divorce? Do you feel lost, hurt, numb, angry, and panicked over your current relationship status? I visit with people weekly who are experiencing all of these powerful emotions related to going through a divorce. For example, Steve came in for counseling and he disclosed that since his divorce started, his feelings and thoughts were all over the place. He said “the process is like being on a never-ending roller coaster. You have emotional moments when you are crying and the next moment you are just angry about the situation.” Divorce has a very specific process that everyone goes through before they reach acceptance. Many people have thoughts like “I failed” or “I should have done that differently.” All types of thoughts flood the person during this process. If you are currently going through this process this article is for you.
I have discovered through counseling others that many people’s core beliefs about relationships change because of divorce. You might start to believe you are a failure, unlovable, unwanted, or you will always be alone. It is important to become aware of the kinds of core beliefs that can grow out of a divorce experience because these types of unhealthy core beliefs can heavily influence your future relationships.
I had client a few years back that came in because after his divorce he felt like he had failed in his marriage. Joe said the more that he beat himself up about the past marriage – the worst he felt about himself. As this process continued daily for months, he reached a place where his self-esteem was at rock bottom. Joe then started to try and find someone to make him feel more complete and positive about himself. However, because of the way he perceived himself, he chose people who saw him the same way. Joe didn’t believe that he deserved to be treated with respect or love because he was nothing and a failure. When his new partners would say disrespectful things or would behave badly, he would never address it because he did not believe he deserved to be treated with love and respect. This belief about himself created a vicious cycle of dating people who reinforced his perspective. Let’s look at a couple of simple steps you can use right now to start the process of changing your perceptions.
I encourage clients to start with identifying the unhealthy core belief that is driving the way they perceive themselves and the world around them. The best way to figure out your unhealthy core beliefs about your divorce is to explore what getting or being divorced means about you. Does it mean you were ineffective, you are a failure, you are unlovable, or you will always be rejected and alone? Conceptualizing your unhealthy core belief is very important, so you can start the process of revision. The next important question is to explore why you would want to let go of this unhealthy core belief. For example, you might be tired of the impact it is having on your mood or self-esteem. Being stuck in the past may be holding you back from moving forward or you are pulling away from everyone because you believe you will make a bad choice or you might fail again. Whatever the reason, it is very important to understand why you want to change and let go of your negative perspective.
Next, you want to figure out what the facts are that support your negative core beliefs about the divorce. You might justify your unhealthy core belief because you feel like you never listened to your partner. For each past event that reinforces your unhealthy core beliefs find other facts that contradict your perspective. If you look back over the relationship, I bet you tried to listen at some point. It is highly unlikely you never listened to your partner. It is very important to find factual or real moments in the marriage that you can use as evidence against your unhealthy core beliefs. Another very important question is what would you tell a friend if he or she had these same beliefs about themselves? I suspect you would not tell them they failed or they are unlovable. You would try to look at all sides of the situation and would be caring and patient.
The final questions explore what you will need to do to change your unhealthy core beliefs. A positive action plan has a huge impact on unhealthy core beliefs. Some possible solutions to overcoming your unhealthy beliefs are listed below:
- Write a list of positive characteristics that define you.
- Start investing positively into your life by going back to school, working out, or maybe starting a diet to get into better shape.
- List the cost of holding onto your “Unhealthy Core Belief.”
- List the benefits of letting go of your “Unhealthy Core Belief.”
- Explore what new healthy belief you would like to consider to replace your old one. For example, if you believe you are a failure, then think about the things you have accomplished. Alternatively, you might want your new healthy core belief to be that you deserve love and respect. Now, find behavioral ways to build this new belief into your perspective. You might set boundaries with friends and family who are mistreating you. If you are struggling with setting boundaries, you might read books or take a class to help you become more assertive.
- You might decide to go to counseling so you can work on your unhealthy beliefs.
- Make a list of goals you want to accomplish and start making a plan for each one.
- Find ways to build your support system with people who reinforce your new healthy core belief. For example, you may join a career networking group to build a new support system.
The important thing is to remember that positive action will move you past the pain and fear surrounding your divorce. It does improve with hard work and being gracious to yourself.
Photo: Dr. John Bullas/Flickr