The advent of a life crisis — breakup and divorce is among the most difficult — forces a person to chose a path. One direction can be destructive and therefore weakening, while another can build strength, wisdom, and awareness.
To help reduce pain and turmoil for the litigants in my courtroom, I asked them to write down their worst fears, concerns and ideal goals for their divorce. I began to notice the sheer act of writing these down created a major shift in the litigants’ emotional responsiveness and malleability in settling cases.
I find that when you dump your emotions, concerns, and goals on the page, you free up much of the emotional energy you use to manage your feelings. Too often, this emotional content feels like something you chew and chew, but can never quite seem to swallow. With these circular thoughts on paper, you are free to focus on goal-setting and aspirational thinking.
Writing will create what you will and is your most formidable ally in the divorce process — what I refer to as your Personal Manifesto. This document will be the tool you use to impose order on the disordered and chaotic experiences and emotions that lie ahead. You may think that goals and life purposes don’t feel relevant to the pain you are in. But not to take command of your life plan is to allow the result to be guided by chance, which is no guide at all.
Your Personal Manifesto for a Good Karma Divorce
A Personal Manifesto, or mission statement, is an organizing principle you will use to develop new perceptions and actions based on the core understanding that your old perceptions and actions may have created the problems you are now experiencing. Your Manifesto will become a sanctuary, a refuge, where you will be protected from the onslaughts of polluted thoughts about your divorce.
On those days when you are feeling disconnected from your true self, distanced from your aspirational self (the person you would like to become), and almost completely stripped of optimism and hope, you will have in your drawer your self-made antidote pulling you away from the dark side. You will have created a psychological home that will always be available to you during times of vulnerability. Often the reading of one sentence can trigger a shift in your perspective and bring you back from the brink.
The process of developing your Manifesto creates your first shift in attitude. You will not only be sculpting your aspirational self; you will also be emphasizing positive emotions and qualities you can use to counter negative thought streams. Ultimately you will be able to assign meaning to the pain in your life, and you can start to envision the possibility that pain is not always destructive, but can be transformative.
When you see your pain in a new light, it changes your relationship to adversity. In time the Manifesto will become your personal doctrine containing your own investigated truth so that when you refer to it, it will give you moments of inspiration and transcendence.
What Does a Personal Manifesto Look Like?
Your Personal Manifesto can be half a page long or a dozen, although I think once you get started you’ll probably find you have a lot to say. You may find yourself writing things you’ve never articulated to anyone — not even your former spouse or your closest friend. Keep this work in a safe place so you can be brutally honest and completely self-conscious.
As you begin, expect to create a series of lists, punctuated by the occasional revelatory moments. Don’t stop writing until you get it all out. Grammar doesn’t matter. Neither does spelling or penmanship. No one should ever see these early drafts but you.
That being said, this is probably an appropriate place for us to talk about what is discoverable in a divorce action. Many people do not realize that unless it is part of a document you send to or work on with your lawyer, anything you write could be subpoenaed if relevant. This includes your diary, a letter to your sister, even your emails.
Obviously, early rambling drafts of your Manifesto in which you rant, rage, and vent are included. I would destroy the early drafts once you’re finished with them, particularly if they contain thoughts, self-evaluation, or destructive fantasies you would not want spoken allowed in a courtroom.
Getting Started on Your Personal Manifesto
As you begin the process, allow your writing to recognize both the good and the bad in your experiences with your former mate. Understand that we don’t have to corrupt good memories in order to detach. Allow yourself to take into account your own multidimensionality as well as that of your spouse. Good thinking can become clogged with sabotaging thoughts and fears. You want to make sure you have not been tampering with the evidence.
Write out the following questions and answers and make notes on how you feel, including any insights that emerge.*
- Recall ﬁve things about your mate that you once treasured.
- Write down at least five offenses your mate has indicted upon you.
- List at least ﬁve offenses inﬂicted upon you by your mate that you have not mirrored to either your spouse or others.
- Picture and describe the kind of person you want to be now. How do you want to remember yourself ﬁve years from now, when you look back at what you were like during your divorce?
- Have someone take a picture of you when you are angry, then look at that photo and ask yourself how many times you want to relive that moment.
- Make a list of five heroes, real or fictitious. Next, to each name write three things you like about each one. What things do you have in common with them?
- If you are a parent, list all the positive qualities you think a good parent should have. For the qualities you do not think you possess, write down why you think you do not possess them and are these issues you can work on.
- Describe the ideal way you would like to handle your disappointment and resentment.
- What are the three greatest benefits you’ve reaped from your relationship?
- Make a list of things you are waiting for in your life before you can believe your life is “good”. Then note whether your spouse is keeping you from that goal and note how much power you may be giving to your spouse.
- Try reframing your negative thought patterns by shifting some attitudes.
Getting Started on Your Personal Manifesto:
Now, you can take each fear or negative and reframe it in a way that puts you back in control. Don’t be surprised if the development of your Manifesto occurs in several states. Your Personal Manifesto may include any or all of the following:
- How you feel in the present
- Habitual and reactive behaviors you want to change
- How those changes will beneﬁt your life
- The kind of person you would like to be
- Acknowledgment of your progress
- A statement about self-forgiveness for your setbacks
- Your intentions for your future
- A statement motivating yourself to keep going on this path
Trying to live up to the aspirational portions of these sentiments should be the heart of your mission. Some days you will do better than others, but on those days that are challenging—between the life that was and the life that will be—remember that you have created a team of thoughts to protect you against your own negative impulses. Use your Manifesto as your mantra to get back on your chosen path and perhaps ﬁnd an even better path.
Other articles from the Good Karma Divorce
- Getting Started on Writing Your Personal Manifesto
- Examples of Personal Manifestos
- Fortifying Yourself and Your Manifesto
This article was excerpted with permission from the book The Good Karma Divorce: Avoid Litigation, Turn Negative Emotions into Positive Actions, and Get On with the Rest of Your Life by Judge Michele F. Lowrance, published by HarperCollins Publishers ©2010.
Michele F. Lowrance has been a domestic-relations judge in the Circuit Court of Illinois since 1995. A child of divorce who was raised by her grandparents, Judge Lowrance has been divorced and has devoted her professional life to helping those similarly situated.