How Jenny Kanevsky reframed her thinking after divorce.
I write about divorce. It’s what’s going on in my life now, and it’s also something I experienced as a child. For decades, both of my parents were stuck in what I think of as post-divorce quicksand. They held onto ways thinking about themselves and each other that kept them from moving on, that hurt me and my sister, and that are things you can easily fall into. The good news is, you can reframe your thinking and behavior and get out of that quicksand. It might not be overnight, but, you don’t have to be stuck and you don’t have to get swallowed up.
A common and necessary evil in divorce is anger, but don’t get stuck there. Anger is one of the five phases of grief and loss as initially introduced by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1969. It is normal, and healthy to let yourself feel and express your anger. You don’t need your ex to do this, in fact, it is best not to share this (or any of the phases) with your ex. Chances are you’ve fought enough to get you to divorce. Why fight more? It’s exhausting and it could hurt you and your kids both legally and emotionally. So, express your anger. Go ahead. You may have been cheated on, lied to, abused, or abandoned. You may be angry at promises broken. Whatever the reason, and it doesn’t have to be scandalous, you get to be angry. Just don’t hurt anyone else in your process. Do it in therapy, by journaling, or with trusted friends.
Anger is a complex emotion and state of being. There may be good reasons for your anger, but there are often underlying emotions you can’t reach because you’re blinded by being pissed off. Anger is also an emotion that can make you feel in control. But, it really does not. It eats away at you. Anger may be masking sadness, guilt, shame, low self-esteem or rejection. To get past the anger, you have to experience the deeper feelings. It’s easier, and maybe feels satisfying to rage about your ex and the wrongs you suffered. And you may do that, and then you need to move on. Walking around angry will exhaust you, hurt your children, and frustrate friends and family. Being vulnerable and realizing what is really going on, that’s how you heal. Perhaps you feel rejected: She promised “in sickness and in health,” and I got cancer and she left. Or, you feel guilty: You cheated and were wrong. Own that. And move on. You can get out your anger, but to live there is to live in emotional quicksand.
Another way to get stuck post-divorce is to play the victim. Don’t do it. Feeling like a victim may come after, or before, or even with anger. A horrible thing happened to you, you are innocent, wounded, and miserable; that’s an awful way to feel. And just as with anger, you may need to be miserable, for a time. A horrible thing did happen. Divorce is more painful and debilitating than anything I have ever experienced, and I have been through some intense emotional turmoil. I felt like a shell for many months. I’m still healing.
You may feel like you’ve been wronged, but then you have to move on. Rather than pining over the new house your ex is buying with all his money, look at your resume, think about how you can create a new normal, and do it. Or, stop blaming her, her family, her friends or whomever you blame for the divorce and know this: divorce happens. I did everything I could to prevent a divorce. I know my ex didn’t want this. Finally, it was what needed to happen. And it wasn’t in my control. He drove the decision, but he was right to do so. So, I could moan about how he wronged me, or I could dust myself off and get on with my new normal. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it’s critical. The scariest part about playing the victim is that if you don’t stop, you will be miserable. Indefinitely. Not playing the victim is the difference between misery and happiness.
Finally, not focusing on yourself is a way to stay stuck. Start thinking about you. Now. Of course, if you are a parent, your children’s needs come first. But you can’t take care of them if you don’t take care of you. It’s akin to putting on your own oxygen mask before helping others. It’s so easy to get run down, overwhelmed, and lost in the aftermath of divorce. The kids, the legal issues, finances, selling the house, moving, whatever it may be. For months I was in a haze. And yet, I was expected to function. I had to for my kids and my work. I was on autopilot and I was destroyed and empty at the end of each day. It was horrible. And it left me depleted. I still have hard days, but not as many. I get breaks from parenting now that we have a visitation schedule. I am feeling more balanced.
My kids and I have moved, made a fresh start, they are adjusting, and I am adjusting. Now, I have an opportunity to put energy back into me. What do I need now? What is my next chapter going to look like? I don’t quite have the answers, but I’ll figure things out as I go. I will keep writing and engaging with my community of online writers, whether via blogger groups or at conferences. I will make time to exercise and care for my health, mental and physical. I will rediscover what I want and what makes me happy. And, I will be happy.
While divorce is a traumatic life change, it’s a change, not a destination. You need not be defined by your divorce, or the period during which you recover. Find balance again, go on to write a new chapter, be happy, and unstuck.
Photo courtesy of author