Your Emotional Filing Cabinet

Working through the legal, financial, and even practical issues of divorce can trigger strong emotions. Here’s a way to make sure they don’t overwhelm you – or stop you from making wise decisions.

By Lynn Kaplan, Divorce Coach
Updated: October 28, 2015
Your Emotional Filing Cabinet

Anyone considering, immersed in, or wading through the years after separation and divorce knows of the intense emotional rollercoaster that goes along with this huge life transition. These emotions can be highly charged, and they can feel – or actually be – out of control. They can seep into work situations, and drain relationships with friends and family. These free-ranging emotions can get in the way of making wise decisions while working with mediators, lawyers, and other professionals, and they can negatively affect communication with ex-spouses.

Family members, friends, self-help books, therapists, and divorce doulas/coaches can help you find your personal path to wellness of mind and heart during and after divorce. There are also some proven tips and strategies to help you cope with the upheaval of emotions – and to make positive and long-lasting life decisions as you move through the process.

As you chip away at the piles of paperwork associated with the divorce process (from credit card and mortgage statements to tax returns and notice of assessments), the key to staying organized and in control is a good filing system. Labeling files, filling each folder with the proper documents and notes, organizing the folders in a filing box or cabinet – all of these actions help in managing the business side of divorce.

Now imagine setting up a similar filing system for your emotions. Begin by acknowledging and naming the emotion: grief, anger, fear, frustration, guilt, or even relief are all associated with this life transition. Working through the legal, financial, and practical issues of divorce can trigger strong emotions. Are you afraid of how your children might respond? Are you aggravated that your ex is not making support payments on time? What is the emotion you’re experiencing, and what is the thought or action generating the emotion?

Once you’re able to identify the emotion, visualize a file folder and a filing box in your mind’s eye, then place each emotion in its labeled file. The object of this exercise is not to repress or deny your emotions – just the opposite. You’re going to acknowledge each emotion, understand its importance and intensity, and then file it in the folder that feels right. You can take out and examine the emotion, or place it back in the folder until you have the time and energy to explore and resolve it. You can keep adding more files as necessary, while at the same time closing others you’ve resolved. Once you’ve set up your “Emotional Filing Cabinet”, you need to consider how and when to use it. The challenge will be to find the right time and place to file, examine, and resolve the emotions during this time of transition and upheaval.

For example, if you need to write an email to your ex-spouse regarding financials or scheduling, but there’s unresolved hostility between you, it’s easy to give those feelings of anger and frustration an outlet in your email. Although your feelings are real and understandable, will an angry email truly help to resolve the situation – or is it likely to make everything worse? Instead, open up the file that holds those emotions, then write a draft email letting those hot emotions out of their file in a controlled manner. Do not send this draft to your ex-spouse! If that SEND button is calling your name, send it off to a trusted friend, your therapist, your divorce doula or coach – to someone who will truly hear your pain and will be there to help you work through it. Then slip those emotions back into that file, put the file back inside the Emotional Filing Cabinet, and find the strength to write a calm, businesslike email – one that is more likely to produce the results you’re looking for than an email filled with angry accusations.

This method can also be applied to texts: by writing an emotional draft and sending it to a safe place, you can be “heard” without feeding the storm.

Use this Emotional Filing System when meeting with your mediator, lawyer, or financial professional – whenever you need to contain your emotions so they don’t prevent you from making wise decisions. You’ll know that the emotion is still there, tucked away in its proper file to bring out when it is safe and not detrimental to the present situation. Venting at the right time and place (and to the right person) can be key to your emotional recovery – and to preventing you from making “scorched-earth” decisions that will destroy your future.

You may have some extremely painful emotions that you may need to file deeply away until the dust settles. Find the right therapist to help you deal with the contents of this emotional file – which will be waiting for you, organized and ready to be opened. In addition to creating your Emotional Filing Cabinet, keeping a journal can be helpful. Finding the time in your daily or weekly life to write down how your emotions are growing and changing can assist in keeping them in place. A journal is also a good place to vent, to write down those strong, angry, frustrating, and sometimes irrational feelings.

Everyone experiences strong and sometimes overpowering emotions during separation and divorce; the key is knowing where to place each emotion, to understand and accept them, but to not let them get the better of you. Using this Emotional Filing System will help you on the journey to a balanced and productive life.


Using her training as a family mediator and parenting coordinator, Lynn Kaplan supports individuals through the logistical and emotional challenges of separation and divorce. She helps people across North America turn obstacles into opportunities, working with clients in person, via phone, or Skype. 


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August 26, 2015
Categories:  Coping with Divorce

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