Divorce can seriously damage your health. Here’s ways to cope.
Posted by: Sue Atkins
You won’t be surprised to learn that many studies have shown, that divorce can dramatically reduce a woman’s self-esteem, their confidence and their mental wellbeing as naturally, divorcing women are undergoing very high levels of strain and stress during this time.
This study carried out by Bharti Sharma and published in ‘Journal of the Indian Academy of Applied Psychology’, examined the effect of the passage of time on the mental and emotional health of divorced women of varied age groups. The participants of the study were 50 divorced women in the age group of (20-30) and 50 in (30-40) age group. Assessment of the impact of their divorce was carried out within a month of being granted and after 1 year post divorce.
The emotional health was assessed and measured through the Mental Health Inventory (MHI) & it found that divorced women experience better mental health with the passage of time.
Also, the younger women experience less emotional/mental strain as compared to the older women.
Divorce is also a major life transition that has far-reaching social, legal, personal, economic, and personal consequences as it is an emotional setback. The mental health indicators which are affected by divorce relate to depression, anger, low self-esteem, and anxiety. In many cultures women are considered as the binding force in the family, and it is often argued that women invest more in the family, take larger responsibility for the marriage/relationship, and therefore perceive divorce and family break up as a greater failure than men do.
Understanding the psychological effects of divorce can help you move forward after the end of your relationship. Many of the feelings after a divorce are perfectly natural as it is a major life change and you will experience confusion and uncertainty about the future. Similarly, learning how these feelings may affect your ability to connect with other family members, and especially your children, is important, as well.
I always remind my clients that going through a Divorce is a process NOT an event and I firmly believe that it is similar to the grieving process described by the eminent American Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying, that was inspired by her work with terminally ill patients.
However, I believe that there are 7 Stages that a divorcing person will go through before fully healing from the traumatic and life changing event and the reason I know this is that I have been through this harrowing event myself, so I know first-hand how you feel.
Healing from a major life changing event is not easy and it is not quick and it is not linear. I always say to my clients that it’s not like healing from a broken arm where it will take more or less 6 weeks and then you are better.
Healing from a divorce takes as long as it takes – as it is your journey. But it also takes what I call “Doing the Work” around yourself. You need to take the time to become reflective and self-aware and to take responsibility for your part in the break up while learning eventually to forgive yourself as well as your partner.
Forgiveness is the hard part but it is necessary if you are to become whole again and move forward with dignity, respect and kindness towards yourself.
It is all about what you learnt about yourself ultimately through your experience.
That is growth, that is development and that is how you learn wisdom, grace and understanding.
Remember your children are watching, listening and learning from you all the time so pause to ponder just what Blueprint for love you are teaching them.
Some people go through what I call “The Crazy Time” – some drink too much, some smoke too much or eat too much or don’t eat at all. Some sleep around, some retreat into a shell and don’t go out, some lash out in anger. Some jump into another relationships too quickly and repeat their patterns all over again simply with new partners.
It is important to interpret the stages as a rough guide, and to recognise where you are in the process generally.
There is no neat progression from one stage to the next or a defining moment. In reality, there are lots of “5 steps forward, 3 steps back” type moments. You can go through the stages linearly or in any order. Life is messy so don’t beat yourself up if you seem to have made progress and then find yourself back at square 1.
I believe knowing where you are in the process will give you a marker and sense of progression out of the darkness you might be feeling, because they are a good general guide of what to expect.
For example, generally, a long period of “depression” (not clinical depression), isolation, and loneliness can happen late in the grief process, even months after the heartbreak strikes. It actually is normal and expected for you to be very depressed and sad for around 9 months, but again this is only a guide, and if you add Empty Nest Syndrome into the mix, like I experienced, it may take you even longer to find your feet again.
Outsiders, family, colleagues and even friends don’t understand and often feel that it should be time for you to “get over it” and re-join the land of the living. Just knowing that your desire to be alone with your sad reflections and memories sometimes is normal and it will help you deal with outside pressures. You are acting normally but do be mindful if you need to talk to someone to help, support, believe in you and take you from where you are now to where you want to go slowly into the future with steady, small steps.
Read my full article ‘The 7 Stages Of Recovery During A Divorce.’ Here
Common emotions during this time are:
The psychological effects of divorce on women are far-reaching, but one of the most basic emotions women suffer from is guilt. This can be true whether you initiated the divorce or not, as many women in both situations often feel at fault & blame themselves. If you initiated the divorce, you may feel a sense of guilt & responsibility for the end of your relationship. This is especially true if there are children involved as women often feel as though they are responsible for breaking up a family and causing emotional trauma. But guilt is a negative and unhelpful emotion as it can keep you stuck and swirling in confusion late at night when the rest of the world is asleep.
“Guilt” has been defined as “a bad feeling caused by knowing or thinking that you have done something bad or wrong” and the two important words in that definition are “bad” and “wrong.” When you are feeling guilty about something, like the decision to get divorced, what you are really saying (and possibly punishing yourself with is) that you are “bad” and “wrong” for having made the decision to end your marriage/relationship.
But ask yourself:
Is It True?
Imagine that you have asked an old wise independent observer to look at your situation dispassionately – they have your best interest at heart but they are detached from the problem.
What would they say to you?
Pause to really ponder that answer.
It may free you up to move forward.
5 Types of Guilt.
Guilt can paralyse you and of course Sigmund Freud wrote a great deal about guilt but there are 5 basic causes for feeling guilt.
Guilt Cause #1: Guilt for something you did.
Guilt Cause #2: Guilt for something you didn’t do, but want to.
Guilt Cause #3: Guilt for something you think you did.
Guilt Cause #4: Guilt that you didn’t do enough to help someone
Guilt Cause #5: Guilt that you’re doing better than someone else.
There’s no doubt that guilt is a complex and interesting emotion and you have probably asked yourself one (or more) of these questions a thousand times: “Are things really that bad?”, “Am I giving up too soon?”, “How can I do this to my kids?”, and “Am I going to regret this later?” If these questions are rattling around in your head, chances are you are on a divorce guilt trip and it would serve you to understand and analyse what’s causing your guilt so you can rid yourself of it and feel better.
The end of a marriage, or a long-term relationship, is devastating to both parties. Women, especially, often feel enormous grief at the loss of their marriage. Their dreams for their future may be wrapped up in their hopes around the relationship, and now those dreams and expectations have been snatched away. Increased responsibility for children, housing, finances and lifestyle combined with the realisation that the life they intended no longer exists correlates with the fact that women are more likely to suffer from depression after a divorce.
After a divorce, women experience a great deal of anxiety. The future is uncertain and therefore, so is your security. Even in these days of independence, lots of families still divide up the responsibilities with men ‘doing’ the finances. I work with many women who experience embarrassment and stress as they have delegated solely, or mostly relied on, their husbands for financial support. Trying to figure out how to support themselves, and often times a family, may prove to be a real challenge initially. That’s why I have created my ‘Suddenly Single Retreats’ where women can come to get empowered with knowledge and advice around their legal, financial and parenting issues. It’s a place to Take Stock, Take Charge, and Take Off.
Of course, over time, some of the effects of divorce affect women’s lives positively, particularly if you were very unhappy, or trapped in a violent or controlling environment. Relationships run their course, people change, expectations change, kids grow up, people fall in love with other people, boredom sets in. Life is messy and many women report feeling a sense of relief especially if the relationship was particularly stressful towards the end.
One of the amazing things about women is that we usually have a greater support system than men. Because of this, when we experience setbacks, we are more likely to turn to them for comfort and guidance and move through the problems together.
After the initial shock, women may be more likely to expand their personal and professional roles seek out new careers, or volunteer opportunities and take their lives in a new and exciting direction. But if you find yourself stuck, distressed or isolated do reach out to other women in the same place as you to get the support, encouragement and help you need.
If you’d like to work with me 1-2-1 give me a call on 01883 818329 or drop me an email Sue@TheSueAtkins.com