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Posted By Gloria Vanderhorst on 01/25/2018


Throughout our lives, we experience various stress:  searching for a job, losing a job, adjusting to having children, loss of a parent, physical illness.  The science of psychology has studied the impact of these and many other stressors on our well-being.  At the top of the list for adults is the loss of a spouse.  And number two on the list is divorce!

I have spoken with highly competent and successful people who describe themselves as “totally crazy” while going through a divorce.  The break-up of a marriage and the disruption to a family is traumatic for everyone involved.  The rational, cooperative person that you used to be is now replaced by a hurt, angry, vindictive character that you do not recognize.  What is happening?  Will you ever be the same?

Your brain has downshifted from its usual logical cognitions to a survival instinct.  Instead of working from your frontal cortex where you can think rationally and creatively, you are thinking from the more primitive part of your brain where survival is threatened and you must protect yourself at all costs.  This is a normal and logical response to the threat.  Yet, we must recognize that in actuality our lives are not at risk and the downshift is ultimately harmful to us and those around us.

Can psychology help us at this time? How could talking with a psychologist make a difference?

You do not have to have a clinical diagnosis or chronic mental illness to benefit from therapy.  In the midst of a divorce when your brain has downshifted to the primitive survival mode, a psychologist can indeed be helpful.  Therapy can provide the needed psycho-education for you to understand what is happening and to begin accessing that frontal cortex more often while it is happening.  Therapy can provide emotional support and the opportunity for you to re-organize your thinking and your life so that you can adjust to the inevitable changes in your family life.  Divorce does not have to have a tragic ending.  Divorce can be a new beginning where the concept of family is expanded into a bi-nuclear system and relationships are maintained at a new level. 

Psychologists can provide the necessary support for you to take a new path that will be more complicated in many ways as you experience co-parenting, acceptance of new romantic relationships for you and for your ex-spouse and introduction to the expanded family relatives that come along with new relationships.  Several books are available for the psychologist to use as bibliotherapy as well.  One of my favorites is We’re Still Family:  What Grown  Children Have to Say About Their Parents’ Divorce , by Constance Ahrons, Ph.D. where she describes an expanding and accepting family structure that includes her new marriage and the relatives of her new husband and her ex-husband’s new wife and the extended family as well.  All of them end up developing ways of relating and supporting each other making the atmosphere for their children somewhat like a global community.

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