Will I EVER move on after the abuse I endured in my marriage and divorce?
If there is one thing I have learned having been in an abusive relationship and from helping others through high-conflict divorce, it is that it is hard to wrap my head around all the unbelievable, mind-bending, heartbreaking, crazy-making, maddening things that took place. I have spent many hours wondering if I will ever be able to process it all. I must admit that even now I don’t believe I have gotten over some of the things that took place both in my marriage and after. I am not a therapist. I am not attempting to write this from the standpoint of treating trauma. I write this a human, a woman, a mother, once a wife, and a survivor of various kinds of abuse. I ask myself often…. how have the things that took place affected me? Are they still affecting me today? Who am I because of what I went through?
Processing. One major reason I became a divorce coach is because I desperately needed someone to talk to when I was going through my ordeal. I wanted to be that person for others. I didn’t just want to talk about it, I needed to talk about it. It was like my brain was telling me I needed to get a minimum of 20,000 words a day out on the topic or my head would explode. There is some evidence this is somewhat true. There is research from UCLA and SMU that suggests “affect labeling” or putting your emotions into words can reduce the fight or flight response that happens when we encounter stressful situations. Talk therapy or writing about distressing situations can help your immune system since you are alleviating stress emotions rather than suppressing them.
Danger. There is some danger in spending too much time thinking or talking about traumatic situations. A high-conflict divorce presents many opportunities for your body and brain to go into fight or flight mode. Many of these circumstances feel like a threat and our brains are hard wired to constantly scan the environment to protect ourselves from “enemies”. Ruminating can cause more harm than good if not kept in check. In the book The Mind and the Brain by Jeffrey Schwartz, M.D. and Sharon Begley, they discuss how we can actually create neural pathways with continued negative thoughts. The good news is, Dr. Schwartz also discovered that humans have the ability to “rewire” their brains to create new pathways using positive habits and thoughts. This is an amazing discovery because we now know we have control over our brains and how they function. The danger is that you may be making what has happened to you, your life story. There is a delicate balance between processing the pain and anger of your situation and letting it define who you are.
So, will you ever be able to move on after the abuse you suffered in your marriage and divorce? The answer is: It’s entirely up to you. All our experiences good or bad get woven into our life story. But they do not have to become your entire story. When I was struggling to process events during my divorce I took notice when I was stuck in a pattern of extreme frustration and anger, and I could not stop thinking or talking about it. Learning that I had power over my thoughts, and the physiology of my brain and the ability to shape it to think and do positive things for my future was very empowering. My advice is this: trust your instincts. You have incredible instincts that allow you to be self-aware. Have you crossed over from processing to being? How much time do you spend on thinking about the awful person or events in your life vs your hopes and plans for your future? Ask yourself how much power your thoughts have over you now. You have 100% control. Design the life you’ve always wanted.