In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, I started thinking. We are always so surprised when things change. Even though we have a hint of change coming along, until it finally occurs, we hold on to a hope that it won’t. At the very least, it feels foreign enough not to be too incredibly uncomfortable – until it is.
It’s not dissimilar in a divorce setting. No matter how many clients I talk to about this, it always strikes me how the contrast of one night you are sleeping next to your spouse, and the next, you feel like enemies, even strangers. It’s quite a shock, no matter who is doing the leaving, to find your relationship completely switching gears, and ending.
No one really likes change. I’m not talking about the fish vs. chicken for dinner kind of change; I’m talking about big changes in your life. In its most primitive sense, your brain has a way of trying to keep you safe and change is something that sends up red flags that you might not be – warning you that you might not survive this one.
We have all heard of the fight or flight response –when an animal feels threatened, it kicks out a ton of chemicals and hormones to give them the extraordinary ability to run and take safety. The problem, of course, is that in situations of dramatic change, like divorce, our brain does the same darned thing. Often we feel like there is no safe haven and live our days in reaction to this shock.
Until we take charge of ourselves and change the way we think about our situation.
For most of us who have gone through divorce, often our deepest, most painful and sometimes unknown buttons get pushed - buttons created from what I call our false belief system that we are “less than”, not worthy or unlovable. Our fight or flight response kicks in – feeling abandoned and unsafe on a very deep level.
Interestingly, even if you were the one doing the leaving, you might feel abandoned too – abandoned by your partner in the marriage. You might also feel like a failure.
So, you have a choice here. In fact, you have a choice in every moment of your life as to how you will act and react. If you come from the place of action, you will be proactive in making decisions about your future. This is the opportunity. It is also the most effective way of moving past the pain and button pushing, and into creating a life you desire as you move forward.
If you are always in reaction mode, you are – tough love time – playing the victim. That keeps you stuck, and you will repeat the same patterns in your life over and over again.
One of the choices you can make is to see the divorce, as difficult as it is, as an opportunity for growth. It is often not until we are backed up against the wall that we change – It really is a matter of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable. Because if you don’t, you’ll stay in your comfort zone of keeping everything the same within, when everything without is changing. And, you might not have the tools to deal with this abrupt and stress-producing change.
A fascinating thing about our brains is that we would rather stay in something that we know, no matter how unpleasant, inauthentic or even abusive it is, rather than change our situation. Part of this is because of the change being scary component. The other is that we simply may not know where to begin to make changes.
It can feel daunting.
It really is a matter of getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and then finding a source of strength within and seek resources outside of yourself to create the changes to live the life you know you were meant to live. In other words, have faith, and move your feet.
And it is also an opportunity to take the time to reflect. Use some of the following suggestions to get you started. Then, make the decision (not a flabby “sort of kind of wish that I could that” kind of idea) that you will come from a proactive instead of reactive place, and make decisions with a new set of eyes.
Here are 5 ways you can use divorce as an opportunity for growth:
1. Identify what YOUR true values are – not the ones you inherited from your parents, teachers or religious leaders – yours! See where in your life you are not living in accordance with those. Make some changes!
2. Look at parts of yourself you’d like to improve upon so that you are living a life you love, not one of reaction. Do you commonly feel like a victim (“How could he leave me?” “I knew she never loved me.” “I’ll never find someone else.”) This kind of defeatist and victim thinking will only serve to keep you stuck.
3. Start paying attention to the way you internalize what everyone (especially your ex) says to you. One of my favorite lines I tell clients to use when feeling their buttons pushed is “What they say is about them, what you hear is about you.” Meaning, we are all narcissistic on some level, and when someone says hurtful things, they are usually speaking of their own wounds, their deepest fears and insecurities. When we hear an objective comment as personal, we are doing the same thing to ourselves.
4. Surround yourself with positive people who lift you up, not bring you down. You take on the values, attitudes and even “vibration” of those you associate with. Take a good hard look and put your friends and family in perspective. Do a little housekeeping, lovingly. You can have someone in your life who is a “negative Nancy” but keep them at least at an emotional distance and realize that “what they say is about them, what I hear is about me.”
5. Get some help to stay accountable for your shift in thinking, perspective and actions. You are knee-deep in the emotions and false belief systems, and it is very helpful to get outside perspectives so that you stop feeling like you are your emotions. Your darker, more negative emotions are signals that you are deep into your false belief systems. It is sometimes difficult to embark on self discovery when you are in that place of overwhelm.
It helps to remember that you can do this piece by piece, step by step. It’s not an overnight recreation of self! Be kind and compassionate with yourself. Treat yourself at least as well as you would a child you might meet on the street. In other words, don’t speak to yourself harshly.
Be tender with yourself during your time of transition. But, use the change in your life as an opportunity to transform and re-vision yourself, your life, and your priorities so that you are living more authentically and proactively.
Make the decision that you will embark on living a life you love! It is up to you.