How to Cope with the Trauma of Divorce

When I started doing things that were out of character and saying things to colleagues that confused even me, I knew things weren’t right. I started realizing that I was in trauma during my separation.  I had to find out hope to cope with the trauma of my divorce.

 

STRESS or TRAUMA?

 

It’s now in the zeitgeist, and we’re all being shown trauma. But back then we were only dealing with “stress”. It was because I was stressed that I was doing these things, I would say to myself. But then I started investigating.

 

One day I spoke with a lawyer friend Helgi Maki, about the insensitive behavior from the lawyer’s I was dealing with. The fact that I went through 4 lawyers was an indication of not just incompatibility but a real lack of empathy on their part. I couldn’t find a lawyer who would defend me in this process. In my discussion with Helgi, she casually mentioned, “so you get traumatized from your divorce and then again by the lawyers.” Yes, exactly!

She has since become an advocate for a legal system that is trauma informed and speaks across the country on the topic. My hero.

 

What is trauma exactly?

According to the American Psychological Association

Trauma is an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable emotions, flashbacks, strained relationships and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea. While these feelings are normal, some people have difficulty moving on with their lives.

PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder, is an anxiety problem that develops in some people after extremely traumatic events, such as combat, crime, an accident or natural disaster.

People with PTSD may relive the event via intrusive memories, flashbacks and nightmares; avoid anything that reminds them of the trauma; and have anxious feelings they didn’t have before that are so intense their lives are disrupted.

Previously focused on war veterans, they are constantly expanding their definition of PTSD to now include divorce and domestic violence.

Divorce effects all areas of your life – from your mental wellbeing, physical health and your financial status, not to mention your social status and the dismantling of your family and friends. This is foundational trauma.

The trauma you go through in a divorce is debilitating and can last for years and possibly the rest of your life if you don’t learn to cope with and heal it.

And then there’s another thing to consider when we are talking about divorce. It’s the impact of past trauma on this current event. Your inherited trauma affects your life.

 

Inherited trauma

In Mark Wolynn’s book – It didn’t start with you

He discusses a method of therapy called – Family Constellations.

Developed in the 1978 by BERT Hellinger.

Bert Hellinger, the founder of this work, who studied and treated families for more than 50 years, observed that many of us unconsciously “take on” destructive familial patterns of anxiety, depression, anger, guilt, aloneness, alcoholism and even illness as a way of “belonging” in our families.

This form of therapy addresses how we are linked energetically to our ancestors and family systems. Now we know scientifically with epigenetics, that we are linked to the traumas of our ancestors up to 3 generations.

So, the trauma you are carrying isn’t always yours in this lifetime. So how do we cope with trauma if it isn’t even ours? There are standard treatments and then more.

 

Standard Treatments

The standard treatment for trauma includes CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and pharmaceuticals, however there are studies that show a very small percentage recovery rate using these methods.

 

There has been success with a (CBT) therapy called RTM (Reconsolidation of Traumatic Memories), focused mostly on war veterans.

RTM involves taking the patient to the point of memory recall when the body starts having a reaction, such as increased breathing, heartrate elevation. Once this state is reached without experiencing the trauma fully, the therapist then helps you reframe the event, thereby reducing the impact and memory completely.

All good, but this doesn’t address the impact on the body and the damage that trauma causes.

It can alter your brain,“such as the loss of neurons in the hippocampus through the effects of cortisol, the stress hormone”

But first let’s look at the 2 types of trauma states.

Types of trauma states

Acute trauma is identified when there is one single event – a car accident, death, school shooting, etc.

Chronic trauma is when the trauma is repeated, over a prolonged period, such as in domestic violence or years of being in an abusive marriage.

According to the APA. Symptoms of trauma include:

  • Shock, denial, or disbelief.
  • Confusion, difficulty concentrating.
  • Anger, irritability, mood swings.
  • Anxiety and fear.
  • Guilt, shame, self-blame.
  • Withdrawing from others.
  • Feeling sad or hopeless.
  • Feeling disconnected or numb

This corresponds to the levels of heartbreak or grief – shock, trauma, pain, anger, denial and isolation. The brain area that registers emotional rejection also registers physical pain. So no wonder it feels like you’ve been punched in the gut when you first break-up…this is shock.

Where are you in these levels and how do you take action now to reduce the effects of the trauma you are going through?

Healing your body from trauma

We are all afraid to be in pain, but when you ignore it and numb yourself with food and alcohol or meds or distract yourself with busyness, work etc.; this only serves to prolong your suffering.

We have to do whatever we can to minimize the effects of trauma on the body by introducing alternative treatments:

 

  1. Find alternative forms of therapy like family constellations and holotropic breathwork.

 

  1. Do somatic techniques by leaning into the pain. Acknowledge the pain. Ask your body what it needs.

 

  1. Sleep is essential now. It allows the body to repair and re- establish balance.

 

  1. Get grounded every day with meditation, and walks in nature.

 

  1. Eat nurturing foods, warm, soft easy to digest, small quantities. Introduce magnesium bisglycinate at night to help your body repair.

 

  1. Find a therapist who does more than talk therapy, such as EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) and EFT- Tapping.

 

Make these your everyday practice to cope with trauma.

 

  1. Sleep
  2. Self-compassion
  3. Ground

 

After all these years of dealing with my own trauma, I have found that using a holistic approach is the only way to cope with trauma.

Comments

  1. Christine Wagner

    Thank you for giving me hope for healing and encouragement to move forward after 34 years of marriage. There were many ups and downs and until this last year I never knew the secret until my adult children told me about my husband’s other child. A mountain of trauma was dumped on me to find out my husband was living a double life.
    I am healing and giving myself a lot of self care, grace and love.
    Blessings for helping people like me to give me the hope to rebuild my life.
    Christine

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