How can you understand the chaotic feelings during a divorce?

By Dr. Lami
September 10, 2013
CA FAQ/Emotional Issues

Divorce is like grief, and when we grieve there is no right way to do so; nobody grieves 'correctly'. The experience is chaotic and circular. Although there is the occurrence of identifiable feelings (such as shock, denial, anger, fear, disbelief, and acceptance), there is not an identifiable linear order to cope with these feelings, and this is what appears to be difficult for most people. There is no formula to teach a person how to overcome the chaotic feelings a divorce can evoke.

The initial reaction of shock stems from an unexpected reality, and places a person in a position where conflict arises between 'what is' desired and what 'there is.' We feel that we have lost control over our reality, and our lives, and the more we try to control it, and resist accepting it, the more the shock, fear, anxiety, and other feelings will be present in our mind. What we resist, persists!

The fear of letting go and consequently not having control over the situation shakes a person at their core, and people have different ways to react to their perceived loss of control. The professional literature refers to them in the following way:

  1. "Emotional Withdrawers" who turn inwardly and withdraw from friends and social contacts;

  2. "Emotional Out-warders" who turn outwards and tell anyone who will listen about their painful situation;

  3. "Emotional Runners" who run away from the situation, and are most likely in denial, having difficulties acknowledging the situation.

No matter what your reaction mechanism is, it is important to recognize it and ask yourself why it is that you are acting this way. What is it you are avoiding or afraid seeing, or Feeling, or acknowledging?

Let's understand the dynamic that takes place at the subconscious. Once married, a person's identity is largely formed by their partnership and by the support system it provides (family, friends, community, home, stability, security and more). With the loss of marriage, our entire identity is called into question. We must redefine how we identify ourselves in the world.

Redefining the world as we have known it requires the "letting go" of many preconceptions and challenges our sense of safety. If a person is unable to accept these sudden changes (i.e. I do not accept reality as it is and I want it to be different), depression, anxiety and other challenging mental states will emerge.

It is therefore important to understand all these feelings and be aware that they can be an integral part of the divorce process. Hence, it is vital to reach out and seek professional help. There is no shame in seeing a therapist that will help you recognize, make sense of and learn how to deal with all the emotions that surface and can overwhelm you!

Dr. Lami is an internationally renowned psychologist with over 18 years of experience helping her clients effectively deal with challenges associated with the process of divorce. Her services include Psychotherapy, Coaching, Evaluation (including Affluenza), Expert witness, Speaking and Consulting. She regularly writes on relationships and has been featured in the media. Visit the firm's website at or

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September 10, 2013
Categories:  FAQs

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