We all have stories we tell ourselves. And people with high-conflict divorces tell themselves awful stories that are steeped in shame.
I’ve failed because I don’t have an amicable divorce.
I’ve failed because I can’t co-parent with my ex.
I’ve failed because I can’t convince my ex to do what’s right for the kids.
I’ve failed because I lost custody.
I’ve failed because I can’t get my ex to approve of me even though he never approved of me when we were married.
Are you using shamed based narratives?
The clients I see, sit in my office and tell me variations of these shame-based narratives. Their narratives torture them almost as much as their exes. The more these stories follow the well-worn groove in their heads, the more women become entrenched in behaviors that are unproductive, self-defeating, and damaging.
They respond defensively to hostile e-mail, which invariably invites more hostile communication. They try to manage what goes on in the other parent’s house, which invites greater unmanageability. They litigate for years, a process that often ends in psychological and financial disaster and can alienate children caught in custody crossfire. When a divorce remains all-consuming, women tend to shrink their worlds and their opportunities: they develop chronic health problems, they can’t hold jobs, they lose friends.
All of this behavior stems from believing that if they just tried hard enough, they could get their ex to see the light, or co-parent with a fundamentally unreasonable person, or win a custody battle against a terrorist. Although their behaviors never yield successful results, women don’t want to stop them, because if they did, the awful story they’ve told themselves would be true: they’ve failed at divorce, they’ve failed at co-parenting, they’ve even failed as parents.
But what they’ve really failed at is moving on.
In order to survive a high-conflict divorce, women need to tell themselves new stories based in reality. Having a bad divorce does not make someone a failure. All the Gandhi-channeling and positive-thinking mojo in the world will not turn a high-conflict ex into a reasonable person. And despite what many well-meaning mental health and family law professionals preach, co-parenting is not always possible, or even advisable.
Once women recognize the stories they have believed about themselves are false, they’re ready to re-write narratives based not on the quality of their divorce, but on a healthy self-concept. A realistic re-frame of a destructive narrative might be:
5 Positive Thoughts That Will Help You Survive a High Conflict Divorce:
1. I’ve survived a bad divorce and have come out stronger.
2. I choose not to engage in an ineffective co-parenting model but instead practice healthy detachment through parallel parenting.
3. I have the wisdom to know what I can and can’t control.
4. I have gracefully let go of a custody battle I couldn’t win.
5. I no longer give my ex free rent in my head and I focus on the things that matter.
Re-framing a narrative requires discipline. Although that old story made you miserable, it still beckons you out of habit and familiarity. Accepting the new, healthy narrative will take time, and only comes with practice.
I liken this process to meditation: when you catch yourself thinking or behaving according to the old story, watch the destructive thoughts float by without judgment. Once you become aware that you’re slipping back into patterns that do you absolutely no good, tell yourself your new story and behave as you would if you believed it were true.
Because most likely it is.