How to Cope with the Emotional Effects of Divorce

By: Gitu Bhatia, Psy D
Last Update: November 01, 2016

Tsunami. Earthquake. Floods. These major natural disasters are often used to speak about the depth of emotions you feel at any stage of a divorce. Just when you think that you have worked it all out, you get hammered by the opposing attorney, or an off-handed remark your child makes about really liking your ex’s new significant other. Bam! And you feel like you are back to ground zero of emotions. How do you deal with overwhelming emotional effects of divorce, and what is normal?

There are times when you, your family, or your kids may just lose it. Losing it may be screaming and having a temper tantrum, or crying and feeling like you will never be able to stop. The intense emotions associated with a divorce, as well as all of the changes that happen during this process, can well up and feel like too much at times. It is important that you monitor how and when you “lose it.” For example, are you mostly angry or are you mostly sad? If you are more angry, you may want to try short bursts of exercise, journaling, or drawing to get some of the emotions out. In drawing, give yourself permission to grab a big black crayon and scribble – fast. Drawing emotions, like angerand despair, may just be big scribbles, but a healthy way to get out some of what you are feeling. It may be important for you to have a few people you can call at anytime when you feel emotions getting out of control. If the out-of-control feelings persist, you may want to consult with a psychologist who helps people get through divorce in a more friendly manner.

Conversely, some people shut down internally and don’t feel any emotions when they are overwhelmed. This is a way to cope that you likely learned earlier in your life. If you are feeling like a zombie, it is important that you try to look for times when you are able to feel emotions. At times, you may feel that you need to remain calm, and this is an important distinction. However, there is a difference between controlling emotions and shutting them down. Do a check in with yourself – write a list of things that you are grateful for, or think about a “thumbs up and thumbs down” for the day. Checking in with smaller emotional experiences that we all go through may help you begin to manage the bigger feelings that are harder to access at this time.

If you have children, it is very important for them to see a role model of someone who may feel very sad and overwhelmed, but can take care of themselves and continue to comfort the kids. But the first thing you need to do is check in with yourself. You will pull through this tough time. You can do it.

Dr. Gitu Bhatia is the co-creator of the Divorceworks app, a tool to help people manage their emotional journey through divorce. 

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