Coping with sadness and grief

Pain and sorrow are natural feelings that serve an adaptive purpose. Disappointment helps you change your perspective on life and learn from experiences. These feelings allow you to adapt to changed circumstances, such as after the loss of a job, or a loved one. These feelings deserve your full attention at first. Allow yourself to experience them fully for a while, because there’s no clock, no defined length time on how long you should experience sadness, disappointment, and grief. Healing, adjusting, recovering a zest for life, taking new directions, filling gaps, and exploring the new are processes that start as you experience sadness and grief, and all take time.

There’s not set time as to ‘how long’ is good enough. You only know this.

The issue is that you need to avoid prolonged grieving and watch for any sign that your feelings are persisting past their expiration date. If you find that you become stuck in a downward spiral of paralysis, and you are unable to move forward, then now is the time to distance yourself from sadness and start building resources to grow through life’s challenges. Watch out for signs of becoming depressed, like seeing the world as a hopeless place, isolating yourself, and feeling inadequacy, guilt, shame or low self-worth.

Some resources are demonstrated scientifically to work better than others. Among them:

Gratitude. Counter your sadness and the gloom and doom that accompanies it by listing, every day, three good things that happened today. Keep a journal, or write them on post-it notes, have them readily available.

Get grounded. Some call it living the present, or practicing mindfulness.   Simply take the time to notice what is happening in the here and now. Use your senses,  – vision, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling – to become fully aware of what is going on around you. It is a kind of stop sign, that tells you to stop thinking about the grief and feeling it, if only for a little while.

Get going. There’s a tendency to stop doing the very things that make you happy and it perpetuates the sadness. Write down your moments of fun, and pay attention to activities you used to enjoy. Build them back into your life. Actions and behaviors will impact your feelings positively.

Connect. We’re biologically wired to connect with others. It makes us feel safe, calm, secure, and happy. Grief does the opposite. It disconnects you from others and bring our attention fully to the self. List all the people who are your sources of support. Now reach out to them.

Help others. We’re also wired to give to something larger than ourselves. Grief and sadness collapse awareness and lead to brooding and isolation. Get out of your ego-system and embrace a greater purpose through various contributions of your time such as volunteering.

Value yourself. Take a chance to reflect on your values, strengths and passions, what you do and what defines you. You’ve come so far in life for a reason. Use your strengths to plan how you are going to move on.

Face your sadness. Efforts to numb the pain with alcohol, oversleeping or social media overuse will be temporary. You would be delaying the pain, not erasing it. Escapist behaviors might also have consequences that add to your bag of pains. You only heal by confronting the pain. Allow yourself to cry or grieve in any way that is best for you. Acknowledgement of the pain is the first step toward recovering from it.

Bitter Divorces Are Destructive

Acrimonious divorces can bring you down to your knees financially, and destroy your health. Worse, they will emotionally injure your children.

The difference between a bitter and a healthy divorce depends on the choices you and your ex-partner make. A divorce involves a couple, not individuals. One or both of you can choose to have a bitter divorce. Conversely, both of you can choose to have an amicable one.

Most separations start with civility. However, one of the many causes or outcomes of divorce involves issues that developed during the marriage, such as resentment or an injury to self that can no longer be healed throught talking and repairs attempts. Divorce allows a partner to express their hurt and anger by opposing their former mate through the legal processs.

The fight might involve manipulation, generally about the children, the finances, or any form of social pressure. As one party throws allegations, the other feels a need to protect themselves and to respond in kind. An inexorable, escalating spiral of tit-for-tat retaliation takes place.

Characteristics of acrimonious divorces. They:

  • Lead to litigated adversarial stances.
  • Make it difficult for you not to counter if the other is warring against you.
  • Create bad feelings and anger that cannot be kept under control, and usually include  attempts to vindicate the past (e.g., he was unfaithful, she was a neglectful mother)
  • Involve mutual self-defeat.
  • Cause the children to suffer emotionally, as negative emotions cripple the parents
  • Mess up your health  during the process, which could last several months if not years. It could ruin any opportunity to rebuild a better life and relationship.
  • Are costly. Your economic resources could be used for your and your children’s’ benefit instead of being squandered.
  • You all lose.

Characteristics of healthy divorces:

  • They are civil, cooperative, and sometimes even amicable. Animosity and battling are kept to a minimum.
  • The reasons making a divorce go bad are fully understood and avoided (see next paragraph).
  • Have legal, economic and emotional objectives: they end the marriage within a reasonable timeframe without massive legal and other fees, distribute assets and income fairly, economic sacrifices are equally shared, both partners are allowed to grieve the end of the marriage and each can move on to new relationships without baggage.
  • They foster a sense of economic justice and basic trust as the other is not demonized. Communication remains effective, with mutual goodwill.
  • They achieve legitimate and positive goals for yourselves and your children.
  • Settlement agreements are negotiated before going to court. Economic issues such as child and spousal support are resolved, the property is equitably divided, and mutual rights and responsibilities as parents are spelled out in a fair custody agreement.
  • They minimize emotional impact on children and help them adjust to a new situation.
  • They transition to a new life for your all.

Reasons divorces go sour:

  • Though separating, you are still married. No matter how much distrust, pain and anger you feel, and the need for vindication or revenge, you are still emotionally connected. Fighting through a divorce is a means to ‘stay together’ for the duration of the proceedings.
  • There is no economic justice, such as an enormous financial disparity between the partners, where one feels victimized by the other.
  • There is no trust: one has demonized the other and has not given the benefit of the doubt when disputes arise.
  • No communication skills: communications are uneffective and their style is not conducive to future cooperative parenting.
  • There is no goodwill. Each expartner wishes ill upon the other and does not support the children in accepting the other’s new mate or lifestyle.
  • The nature of the legal system is adversarial and based on opposition instead of cooperation.
  • One or both partners’ behavior is abusive, stemming from a need for control or revenge, anger, flaring emotions, and because all that was disliked in the other and messed the relationship up is  now resurfacing during divorce: years of managed dysfunctions will now explode in the space of a few weeks. Tactics will include:
    – Contesting parental fitness (invoking drug abuse or various addictions, irresponsible, neglectful or abusive parenting, mental instability, reckless spending, etc.)
    – Endless spats of grounded or groundless allegations, some designed to drag the divorce and cause financial harm.
    – Intimidation and scare tactics, with threats  such as “I’ll get custody of the kids”, “I won’t pay”, etc.
    – Hiding assets well ahead of requesting for divorce or during the divorce, or failing to account accurately for one’s possessions.
  • The impossibility to reconcile emotions and rationality. On one hand, one must fight against the fear of becoming economically destitute, to protect self against the new ‘enemy’, or worry that the children might be stolen or their mind  poisoned by the other. On the other hand, there is the memory that there  was love once and the knowledge that the expartner is the key to the children’s emotional and psychological health.
  • If settlement agreements are unfair and unworkable or incomplete,  the feelings of bitterness and injustice that emanate from them lead to regrettable actions, such as defaulting on child support obligations or not adequately meeting the children’s economic needs. When flawed, the settlement will need to be reworked in court.
  • Negative feelings interfere with readjustment, growth, and new relationships.
  • Social circles are broken as family, friends and acquaintances take side, and sometimes even interfere with the divorce process.
  • Fears about custody arrangements and alienation from the children.

You can take measures to protect yourself and the children, and to  ensure a reasonable divorce or at least,  contain the effects of a bad one:

  • Minimize stressors in your life. Allegations and fights may be part of your divorce process. Each time you are accused of whatever fault by your partner’s lawyer , you will be emotionally flooded. Flooding impedes rational thinking and you could make a mistake in defending yourself as you create doomsday scenarios in your head and succumb to panic.
  • Whenever an allegation is thrown at you, sleep if off. Do not answer immediately. Allow your feeling of  injustice or rage to wither before you formulate an answer.
  • Be prepared. Anticipate your worst case scenario, such as losing significant parts of your assets, losing visitation or shared custody of the children, not getting enough financial support, etc. Plan accordingly. Follow up with a best case scenario and a realistic scenario will emerge.
  • Answer allegations one at a time. One at a time. Sort and address each issue separately when several are raised all at once. Collect whatever evidence you have, text messages, documents, statements, pictures, videos, any recorded media, and organize them in a folder, one for each allegation. Give that folder to your lawyer. Keep adding to it. Whether you ex partner’s allegation is correct or baseless, you need to collect mitigating evidence or evidence to the contrary. If you make an allegation, be prepared to stack supporting evidence.
    – Was he a big spender who imperiled family finances? Was she a gambler? Back it up. Get the receipts and credit card statements, match them against your documented income by way of bank or other statements.
    – Did he abuse the children? Back it up. Get records from doctors and counselors or ask for psych evaluations of the children. If you have photographs or texts exchanged after such incidents, print them out. If you are the accused, and you are certain that she purports such allegations so to deprive you of your custody rights, then appoint third parties to do the discovery for you. As paid and impartial professionals, they’ll bring their findings to the table.
    – Does he say that you are preventing access to the children? Keep a record of calls and visits. Stop attempting to minimize visits if no visible abuse has taken place.
    – Does he say that you are a drunk….. and you are? Mitigate. Show proof that you are seeking help for your alcoholism.
    – Does she say that you have some mental issues, and you do? Show evidence that you are undergoing therapy, taking medication, and seeking help.
    – What if you are not an alcoholic, you are not suffering from mental issues? Get a report from a GP and a specialist, then get a psych assessment.
    – Does he say that you are unwilling to compromise and you make unreasonable demands? Call a mediator, and show proof that you attempted conciliation on whatever issue he accused you of stalling.
  • Concentrate on the big issues. Petty ‘he says-she says’ fights  get expensive when handled by lawyers. Get third parties to help you, understanding that you, and you alone can keep your agents in check.
  • Do not attack the character of your ex-partner, especially to the children.  This could be construed as an attempt to alienate the children.Concentrate on managing your partner’s behaviors instead.
  • Keep it business-like. Don’t add fuel to the fire. If answering emails or texts is too emotionally taxing and risk a scathing reply, then have someone else handle it, or wait to read them.

Note: I  worked for the State of Colorado district courts as an investigator,  and as advocate in cases involving  custody of children caught in domestic disputes, separations and divorce. I was appointed to act in the best interest of the child. As such I am very familiar with acrimonious domestic and divorce cases, and I am fully trained to assess  impacts on the children caught in such situations.

How to Regain and Develop Focus and Productivity at Work and in your Personal Life.

Our minds wander about 50% of the time.* Add to this work and social interruptions and it is no surprise that you would have a hard time staying focused.

There’s another dimension to losing focus. More subtly, as our attention becomes divided and our thoughts fragmented, switching tasks demands more brain power and energy expenditure than concentrating on one thing at a time*.

Switching focus takes only 1/10th of a second, but it might add up to a 40% productivity loss in one day. The switching also results in cognitive overload, which is extremely tiring to the mind and the body. Further, the more you lose focus and turn to distractions, the more you become unable to sift relevant from redundant information. You are no longer able to learn and apply knowledge effectively.

The primary reason for a loss of focus and productivity is nowadays mostly created by the incessant interruptions from digital media. I will use this as an example in showing you how you can regain more focus and increase your productivity.

Are you like me juggling professional activities, family life, and perhaps an active social sporting schedule and a major project on the side (I’m writing a doc thesis)? Somehow your core activities need to fit into your weekly schedule and cannot be abandoned.

  1. Ask yourself “How efficiently do I make use of my time and where do I waste it?” and “What do I want instead?”

Formulate an intention clearly, because motivation gets you started, and motivation arises from the benefit you perceive in pursuing a course of action.
Precise formulation is an important first step to creating a positive frame of mind so that change can occur.* Research shows that behavioral change only happens while in active, positive states. The intention could be something like “Becoming focused and productive by removing needless distractions and only allowing a maximum of one hour a day for social media browsing by April. ” A clear intention states the goal, quantifies it, identifies resources and hurdles, and has a start and end date.

Since I could not answer the question, I began examining how I spent my days.

  1. Start with monitoring how you spend your day.

Set up a recording system. It could be your diary. Start writing everything you do for a week. Do so even if it is only a 15-minute activity. You are observing yourself. Keep yourself motivated by also getting some feedback from others: are you spending too much time facing your phone instead of people?

This exercise helps you determine your attention-grabbing activities or hurdles. The chances are that they have a pattern, such as a time of the day at which they occur most often, or, in particular, situations such as after an upset, or when you are tired.

You will identify the pattern by the end of one week. Gaining this clarity is essential to keep you motivated as you pursue your stated intention or goal.

I recorded my daily activities every 30 minutes and found several time-wasters after one week of self-monitoring. More importantly, I discovered that I would drift up to three hours a day on the web and handling irrelevant emails. I also noticed my pattern. It would start like this: I’d work for a while, and I’d turn to an incoming IM or an email notification flashing on my screen. I would open the mail, follow an online thread, then click on embedded links, find my way through attention-grabbing headlines, and I would then discover who are the 25 celebrities who have aged terribly. One hour later, indeed, my 5 minutes of IM interruption would have become an extended digital wander. I would lose any sense of time, erring through a stream of entertaining but irrelevant information. I added up to 19 hours a week wasted on the internet. I believe to be an average.

This wandering process is addictive because the net and smartphones deliver exactly what our brain craves: novelty, constant stimulation, and immediate gratification.

  1. Process your findings, but don’t implement a radical plan yet. 

As an immediate gut reaction, I tested sheer willpower for a while, restricting access to social media and apps, and scheduling every minute of my day on one of my core activities instead. I lasted three days and spent the fourth on an internet binge.

So much for my ambitious plan to eliminate distractions. I concluded that I needed not to eliminate time-wasters, but create a dynamic balance between the important stuff, my core activities, and the addictive fun of strolling on social medias when I needed a break. I also systematically listed the time wasters, selected the mostly harmless ones, and thought about how many of them I needed to be able to last through my day.

  1. Implement a progressive course of action. Motivation only works so far as you can create new habits.

Habits are formed one at a time, through repetition.

Try this first: when you wake up in the morning, immediately make a mental or written note of the 3 tasks you need to accomplish today to support any one of your core activities.   Then ask yourself “what do I need to do now?” and then, “is this really what I want/need to do?”. Once you have your answer, schedule the most important activities in your calendar, preferably first thing in the morning. Block whatever time you need to complete the whole task or a chunk in your diary. Allow this activity to become all-absorbing for that period. Commit to switching off the phone, the internet and other distractions during that time. Then do it. Notice how long you can last this way. This becomes your baseline.

You are now applying principles often discussed in time management: “one thing at a time” , “batch processing,” “working on what’s important first,” or using “concentrated time.”

My use of a progressive course of action is deliberate. Willpower is an energy that comes in limited supply*.

Discipline is an action that requires moment by moment intention and focus,- the very thing you want to regain and strengthen-, and, like any task, it is tiring to the brain and cannot be sustained through a whole day. Willpower is like a muscle, and growing it happens with the implementation of a rigorous training schedule that makes it stronger over time.

A behavior is a set of habitual actions. Forging a new course implies creating some new habits and only one at a time, so that your daily reservoir of will and discipline is not depleted. A habit, as it becomes an automatic repetition, requires less and less energy to sustain over time. Once seamlessly integrated into your life, you can then move on to the next new habit you want to form. Productivity and focus derive from handling one task at a time,  a wholly different concept to multi-tasking. There is no such thing as multi-tasking: the human brain is wired only for task-switching.*

  1. Add more periods of focus to that initial distraction free activity.

So far you only have one daily activity that is subject to your focus-enhancement goal. You have not yet attempted to disrupt or curtail your distraction pattern. You are allowing for the new routine in step 4 to become ingrained and automatic. It takes up to three weeks for this integration to occur.

At that point, move on to scheduling a new  activity, respecting the no-interruption rule suggested in step 4. Slowly integrate that new task in your day. Allow it to encroach on the distraction pattern you have uncovered in step 3.

  1. Test at which point you can no longer tolerate distraction-free time.

Whether you were able to work without distraction for 1, 3 or 6 hours, there come a point where your attention is exhausted and needs a rest. Take a break, and allow your favorite distraction to take precedence for a while. Monitor yourself and do not allow that break to exceed a given amount of time. You need to set that duration in a realistic way: the length of the break fits the length and intensity of previous work. Stick to the period you set. An alarm is a good way to get started.

  1. Exercise your focus  before you move on to lengthier periods of attention.

Keep scheduling a suitable amount of time for each new task, and repeat steps 4 to 7. Slowly increment your focus time, beyond what you uncovered at step 6. Week after week, you will find that you are flexing your focus muscle with more strength.

Be realistic. If your stamina, health, and other issues do not allow you to exceed more than one, two, five or six hours of focus, do not attempt to push greatly beyond your current limit. You would demotivate yourself. Simply identify what is your optimum, most productive pattern and challenge it from time to time.

  1. Continue building your attention practice.

You do this by creating routines and automatisms, or activities that you do without thinking about them. Although some activities might only be a few minutes in duration, consider treating them like any task you would start in Step 4 above. These micro-tasks are actually going to support decluttering your life, increase your wellbeing, vitality and productivity, and will keep strengthening your ability to focus.

  1. For each goal that you’ve reached……. schedule and set a reward, and give it to yourself.

An alternative is to think about what you have to lose if you don’t get your work done, though it is not as fun!

 

The following are routines that promote productivity and sharpened focus. Remember to only incorporate one at a time into your new routine.

–   Planning activities: taking a few minutes to plan your day and week ahead ; scheduling repeating blocks of your essential or regular activities ; waking up every morning deciding on today’s most relevant activities or/and going to bed and thinking of tomorrow’s important task.

–   Planning short recovery activities during the day. Recovery activities counter stress, even if only a few minutes in duration: meditating, taking a power nap, walking briskly to the coffee machine, using relaxation and mindfulness techniques.

–   Creating an “offline or digital free” zone in your day, in your week, or as a vacation during the year; leaving your digital devices out of the bedroom.

–   Learning to check and change your perspective: focus on what you need to make things happen, as opposed to rationalizing why they did not occur. Take 5 minutes to brainstorm, assess, plan and plot before you start a new task.

–   Ditching drama: review your email list, it might be time to unsubscribe a few senders; think about a conflict you may have with a colleague or a friend and sort it out ASAP (Don’t let the issue gain control of your mind. It is a minefield as any unpleasant thoughts are likely to lead you to seek distractions.)

 

Resources:

*A Wandering Mind Is an Unhappy Mind: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21071660

* Research on Multitasking: http://www.apa.org/research/action/multitask.aspx

* Fostering positive emotions for Intentional Change – an introduction: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/intentional-change-theory.htm

 

 

Emotional Blackmail or Real Call for Help? When your partner threatens to commit suicide.

“Come back. I’ll kill myself if you don’t.”

Emilia was very distressed when she arrived at my office. She had moved in with her boyfriend recently, and after their first ever argument, she had suggested she would take a break and spend a few days at a friend’s place. He threatened to jump off the building’s roof if she was to leave him. They had then spent the rest of the evening and night discussing and patching up things. She was shaking when she narrated the event, and was wondering how strong was her partner’s love that he would want to do this if she left.

The media and our culture reinforce that we must believe in Romantic Love, promoting the idea that we cannot live without the other as natural and desirable. Our culture elevates this to the apex of any expression of true love and emotional achievement. How many times have we heard or said things like “How could I live without you?”.

This feeling is natural in the early stages of a relationship when we fall head over heels in love with our new partner. Nature has wired us that way, it is a necessary step in ensuring we survive by reproducing. That feeling implies a high, a surge of passion that is so powerful that indeed for a while, we feel we can’t live without the other, and we express it. We’re addicted. But the media and culture get it wrong, when they try to convince us that this is the only way to be in love and that such feeling must endure and is sustained….forever. In reality, the stage of love intoxication lasts only anywhere between 2 months and 2 years.

After that, we go through many stages of love, until stability is reached or we leave the relationship instead. But whatever the point in a relationship, there is a difference between saying “I can’t live without you” and “I’ll kill myself if you leave me”.

The first sentence is stating that we’re intoxicated by the other, and hence the statement is naturally very emphatic. This stage will pass. The second statement implies that if we exercise our free will (to leave or stay), then we control our partner’s destiny (to kill oneself or not) and they, in return, need to use coercion to impose their desire for togetherness upon us.

This second statement is not love. It is an attempt by one partner to control the other, because things are not going their way in the relationship, by making them responsible for one’s feelings and behaviors. It is emotional abuse.

This form of control may stem out of mental illness, such as your partner being borderline, bipolar or very severely depressed. If your partner is ill, s/he might have every intent to follow through with that threat, in which case you need to take it seriously and immediately call a doctor, mental health practitioner or the emergency services. These partners are using this form of control out of necessity, like a desperate cry for help.

But more often this kind of control is not caused by a momentary romantic love high or by mental illness. It is a particular strategy for coercing you to do as is demanded of you or to scare you out of a personal choice. The person’s decision to live or die becomes conditional on your response. It generally happens when the coercive partner fears or hunches that you might leave the relationship. It is a manipulation of your care or feelings of love and a pressure meant to provoke fear. You would then give in to the coercive partner’s demands to avoid a tragedy. Over time, the coercive partner will repeat the threats because they have learned that the manipulation worked.

If you are thus threatened, you might go through stages of fear, feelings of responsibility, anger, resentment, grief, guilt, and exhaustion. It might traumatize you. All those symptoms are identical to those felt by battered partners in an abusive relationship.

There is only one way to handle a partner who threatens to kill themselves if you leave them: stick to your boundaries and decisions. If you intend to severe the relationship, do it, regardless of what they might say.

If your partner is mentally ill, do the same, but call emergency or other services as well.

Sticking to one’s limits does not imply callousness, it means delivering your message in assertive yet respectful ways and using a behavior that matches your words.

One might feel guilty about doing this. But we need to remember that a personal choice remains a personal decision, even if it concerns choosing to live or die. They make the decision, not you. A partner’s choice to use suicide threats, that is to be abusive, is their choice, their strategy, not yours. As such, you need to let them be responsible and accountable for their choices.

The threat of suicide is one of the most violent psychological aggression one can be subjected to. It can traumatize. Unless the threatening partner is ill, it implies that this person does not respect you enough to care about your feelings and does not know how to handle relationships healthily. They will keep on using this same threat over, and over again. Do you want this?

Here are some tips for asserting your boundaries:

Do not argue nor fight. Once your partner uses words such words as “you make me want to die”, do not protest nor rationalize. This includes confronting them and saying things like “you are manipulating me”. Do not get embroiled in a power struggle. Only warn that you must take the threat seriously and call for help. Then please, do it.

Do not give into the threat, and stand firm. Instead, take precautions. Call emergency services, suicide watch services, friends and family of your partner, ask them to keep an eye on him/her, warn them of impending crisis. But do not stay nor yield to emotional blackmail.

State your boundaries and decisions, while expressing your care and concern for the person. Then call for help and walk away.

Get over your feelings of responsibility. You are not responsible for anyone’s choices and decisions, unless for yourself and for your young children. What an adult person does or not is not dependant on you. If you give in to blackmail tactics you are reinforcing the blackmailing behaviour. You will remain hostage of your partner’s behavior.

If the person threatens to self harm or to kill themselves over the phone. Hung up and switch off the phone. Possibly tell them first that you will not yield to threat. Then call for help. Notify police or a relative.

We broke up: now what?

Leaving a relationship is difficult and may be one of the most emotionally painful experiences you will live. If you decided to be the ‘quitter’, you may think that this is easier because you are prepared and you have already mentally adjusted. The person being left, your partner, is likely to have more difficulties handling the breakup, as s/he is not fully prepared mentally and emotionally. S/he may have missed the cues, and is taken by surprise. However, leaving is not easy for either side. Each role brings its own issues. In any case, the break up will affect many areas of your life as you pick up the pieces and deal with the disappointment of a broken experience.

A break up affects people at many levels: emotional, social, psychological and material. No matter who breaks the relationship, the partner with the most economic power will “win”, i.e., will suffer the least damage at least in the social and economic realms.  The aftermath of the breakup may result in resentment, retaliation, and anger from your partner and your own anger.  Then there will be material demands such as dividing property, finding a new place to live, deciding on child custody, working with lawyers, and setting new boundaries with your ex partner. This whole process may take weeks or months and even years, as you adjust and rebuild your life and create new beginnings.

You may be hurting right now, even if you are the one who decided to break it off. The pain tells you that you need to heal and learn from this experience. Yet, many of us seem to rush into a new committed relationship before we have had time to take stock about what went wrong and why the relationship ended.

Although we are all different people, breakups follow similar patterns. Moreover, all crises, as they end, follow a similar pattern!

The following may help you make sense of the feelings and situations you may experience with the end of a relationship and other various crises. It is a road map to what to expect over time, until we can say that we have recovered and became wiser about the experience. These feelings and attitudes may happen in succession,  a cycle, or concurrently.

Denial comes first, no matter if we are the one who leaves or the one left behind.  Denial is a wonderful mechanism that allows us to only feel as much pain as we can handle in a given moment. Denial prevents us getting overwhelmed. As we adjust we come back to realities and over time accept what is. Denial subsides gently over weeks, months, or sometimes years.

Acceptance that the relationship has ended breaks denial.  It involves asking honest questions about what caused the separation. If you are the one leaving, part of that work is already done, yet if the separation results in a flare up of destructive emotions involving anger and retaliation, there will be denial as you are experiencing the outcome of your partner’s wrath… and the consequences of enacting your own.

Fear.  We don’t know what comes next as the fabric of our life disintegrates and we have now an empty slate, where we are free to recreate, alone, whatever future we want for ourselves, not knowing whether we have the courage to move on and meet the unknown.

We now slowly start adapting to new circumstances. Some of us are now single parents and must become self-supporting. We have an empty slate. This can be paralyzing.  Unless we can identify and face our fears, the main one being fear of an unknown future, we are likely to experience all of them, unprepared.

The next feeling we experience it of loneliness. Some habits must be altered as you are now totally alone and no longer including another person in what you do. You need to transmute loneliness to aloneness, a state where you are comfortable being on your own and with yourself.

Let’s look at friendship. We may need the presence of friends more than ever when we separate, yet separation and divorce may be threatening to friends as they feel they may have to side, or the separation forces them to question their own relationship. You must be aware that some social relationships will end with the breakup. This may be a time to assess who around you understands the emotional pain you feel and your new status, without rejecting you.

Guilt and rejection are natural feelings during a separation and generally the person who breaks it off feels guilt for hurting the other, while the other feels rejected. Those feelings last as long as the “separation honeymoon”. During that stage everyone tries to behave. Then, within generally three months of the separation, anger is expressed, and the outcomes may be devastating. But, anger is necessary in the process of letting go.

Whether you are the one who leaves, or the one left behind, we brought a lot of our past in that relationship, and the past often determines the present course of events.

Anger can be the most explosive step, and still is absolutely necessary.  Many people discover a brand-new side to themselves and experience rage to an extent they never thought possible. The rage is generally directed at the ex-partner and their property. Rage, if handled properly, is an excellent means to distance yourself emotionally from your ex-partner. In some cases, this emotion becomes extreme, as it also always involves vindictiveness and bitterness. Besides physical harm, an extremely destructive form of expressing anger consists in using the children as a vehicle. If you need to hit below the belt, do not use the children. It is they who will suffer most. Also, remember that if anger could not be expressed in the course of the relationship, it will erupt as you separate and divorce because buried feelings are now allowed to surface.

Grief is the most emotionally draining part of a crisis, yet it is critical to the recovery process. It combines sadness and despair, and may come out as a continuous self talk about the situation, feeling drained, emotional numbness, loss of reality, depression, sleeplessness, significant weight loss, rapid mood changes, and developing illness. A particular note: suicide ideations are common in approximately 75% of persons experiencing grief.

Letting go is another step that happens progressively. It is important to stop investing emotionally in a dead relationship, as this is an investment without chance of return. It is best to invest in your personal growth and fully disentangle. Adopting a no-contact policy for a while and removing mementos are good policy while you still feel fragile. It doesn’t have to be forever.

Then come self-worth. Some relationships that end in separation were destructive to one or both partners’ self-esteem and their sense of self-identity. Self-esteem is often at its lowest when the love relationship ends. To improve self-worth, you must come to terms with the various feelings experienced during a breakup. A separation can become an opportunity for growth and self-discovery. But to do this, you must make a decision to change.

After all this,  there is a period of transition. You want to understand why the relationship ended, perform a kind of autopsy.  This allows you to work on yourself and built different relationships in the future. During that stage, if you do the job, you will understand the various influences  of your family of origins, your social circle, how your own habits and patterns contributed to shaping the relationship. Now is an opportunity to work it all out.  This transition, if well handled, will prepare you to become free to be yourself.  Here are some of the qualities you might work at:

Trust. Build a basic level of trust in yourself as you adjust to singlehood. Too often, we think we cannot trust anyone from the opposite sex anymore after a separation. Loving means to risk being vulnerable again and risking being hurt again. It does not mean that you have to withhold your trust.

Openness. Stop pretending to be someone you are not and to be feeling what you’re not.  It is time to take off the mask and drop the shield. Wearing a mask cannot be sustained over time, as it consumes too much emotional energy and prevents intimate connections. Be yourself, at least with your (new) mate and friends.  Keep the veneer for work and social, non-intimate relationships.

Love. A relationship forces us to ask what love means to us. Often we think that a relationship fails because we are not lovable enough, when in fact it was our partner’s definition of love that was, maybe, not appropriate for us. Learn to love yourself first and foremost, so that you can give love and receive love.

As children, we ought have received unconditional love from our parents. When this was denied to us we turn to our partners and we’re bound to be disappointed because the only unconditional love we can get as adults is the love and unconditional regard we give ourselves.

After a relationship end, we may find another relationship very quickly. It seems that this new relationship has everything which lacked in the previous one. It is not necessarily so. What has happened instead is that we are becoming who we want to be and we are taking back our power and taking responsibility for what we feel as we become clearer about what we want.

Too many people believe that rushing to a new committed, long-term, relationship is going to make them feel ok again. This will not work out. The healthy way to look at those new relationships post-separation is as “rebound.” They are transitional and designed to make you feel whole again. They fulfill the  purpose of making us feel better about ourselves and emphasize passion and romantic love. Yet, be aware that they are built during a needy time in our life. Ensure that your new partner is aware of this. Also learn the skill of healthy termination.

Sex. Conventional wisdom has it that being single guarantees lots of free sex. The other side of the coin is that having a partner ensures stable and safe satisfaction of sexual desires.   People may fall into extremes after a separation: that of no sex at all because of the pain, or that of near compulsive sex, – one night stands – by beaming anger, loneliness, self-doubts to their sex drive. What matters is to find how the emotional aspect of your relationships supports your sexual relationship and whether you can respect your partner and share similar moral value systems about what you consider appropriate sexual behavio

About being single.

There are a few more hurdles that you need to overcome before you can say that you have handled your separation successfully and that you have rebuilt a life to your liking, such as learning to live alone and become once again an independent person. It has drawbacks, especially for women. Single women do not fare well economically compared to single men and couples.  It is also a stage in which you may become stuck for fear of being hurt again if you haven’t done your homework. Look at the benefits: now you have the freedom of choice. As you look backward and take stock, you have come out stronger and more emotionally resilient. You know more about yourself. You have worked through many feelings and experiences. You are free to choose to remain single or try another relationship!

A special word about children. Children of divorce go through the same process described in this article and need to rebuild too. As they follow your example, they will adjust more quickly as a result and grow emotionally resilient. Also, research points to single parents becoming more responsive to the needs of their children, because of what they have learned during separation and divorce.

Stress: Handling it with a compartmentalized life

Life is like a sailing ship. A ship that is sea-worthy has a number of separate compartments. When in stormy weather, one compartment might get damaged but will not cause the boat to sink. When the bottom compartments take water, the second and top decks keep the ship afloat. If the second level also goes, the top decks still keep the structure afloat. Only when water invades all levels of the vessel, does the ship sink.

This image applies wonderfully to your life: you are the captain of the boat. As you identify the compartments that make up your daily activities and your life, and ensure that each is balanced or at least minimally catered for, they keep your life afloat. They absorb the stress of any one damaged area.

While areas may overlap for some people, the lower deck usually comprises work, major undertakings and projects (such as education, purchasing a home and more), partner and social circle. The middle level’s compartments are partner, children, house, family, friends and community, pets, holidays or leisure time and learning something new. The upper deck includes diet, health, physical exercise, spirituality and time alone, indoor and outdoor hobbies.

If one or more of the lower and middle level compartments or even whole levels get flooded, it is then another area that might help you shed some of the stress. For instance, you could rely on family and friends when you have work-related problems or a severe dispute with your partner.

The upper deck is critical. Looking after your health and turning to your all-consuming hobbies such as music will allow you to get some respite away from one stressful area. That stress would be absorbed by another compartment, even if only momentarily.

Try this simple exercise: review the areas of your life; the list given above is an example. Draw a boat, such as the one below. The size of a compartment reflects the amount of resources you dedicate to them. The number of compartments you choose will reveal the areas of your life. Maybe you have a particular area that is not reflected in the drawing below: just add it! boat 1

Ask yourself how much time you dedicate to each compartment, and how well you cater for each area. Fill in details for each compartment. Perhaps you have multiple hobbies or sports activities.

Remember that it is the energy and time you invest in the upper deck areas that will keep you going if your lower and middle levels get flooded and while you take steps to pump that water out. This ability to draw on various resources is what ultimately helps you keep your balance during times of stress and perhaps crisis. If you find that you have too little compartments, now might be a good time to think about what you want to create.

Adapted and expanded from Powell, 2009, The Mental Health Handbook.

Stress Busters on the Go – When Time is Scarce

We all know it: the remedies for stress busting are a regular exercise, well-being or self-care routine, any activity you could practice a few hours a week. The issue is that we need find the time to free our timetable and attend training. Further, it is unlikely that an hour at the gym or in a yoga class will offer enough relaxation to offset a day or a week of stressful activities. The benefits of any routine will only last so long.

The following are some rapid exercises that you can practice on the go. They take only a few seconds, 3 to 20 seconds to be exact. They are highly effective. All you need to do is remember them, and use them as often as you need them.

You can practice several times a day if need be. You can do them before a difficult meeting or other challenging situation, and as you progress through your busy day, when you feel you want to give yourself a breather. They keep you grounded, alert, focused throughout the day, every day. They give you a micro-break and integrate seamlessly with your various activities. You will find that you feel less restless toward the evening, and racing thoughts won’t keep you awake all night.

These short exercises act as a swift pattern-interrupt, a kind of switch-on/switch-off button that prevents stress from increasing further. They take your focus off a trigger. They allow you to perform a quick ‘mental reset,’ as you would do at home with your internet WiFi router when it doesn’t pickup signals. The principle is the same.

• Intentional Listening.
As you engage in your usual activities, identity the faintest sound around you. It could be a clock on the wall or the engine of a car in the street. There are many sounds, so please, select the faintest one. Listen, while you are still doing what it is that you do. A few seconds are enough. You have somewhat split your focus between your present activity and that sound. Neurologically, it is restful.

• Diversions.
Ever found yourself in a tense situation? You might be arguing on the phone with a client, or being stuck in traffic, and you’d rather have it done and over with. Then focus on what it is that you are touching now. Is it a pen? The wheel of your car, your seat? For a few seconds, focus on the feel of that object. Again, as you focus your attention on your current activity, give your brain the means to rest, by tapping into your sense of touch. The brain responds well to touch: it is an immediate prompt to get back to reality, by sensing what is material and tangible. It is grounding, and hence relaxing.

• Notice the breath.
Simply notice how you breathe. Is it choppy? Uneven? Or is it slow and steady? If your exhale is shorter or jerkier than your inhale, you are in stress. If your exhale far exceeds the length of your inhale, you won’t be alert. Decide that your next three breaths are going to have an inhale that is as long as the exhale. This would take 10 to 15 seconds at the most. This is all you need to do. If you are extremely tense, then make sure your exhale is slightly longer that your in-breath.

• Acuppress.
Sitting at your desk and tired or stressed? Using the table as support for your elbow, use the supported hand’s thumb and middle finger to gently touch and perhaps slightly press the inner corner of your eyes, on each side of the nose, right under the eyebrows. You can also place your index between your eyebrows, and pace your breath (see above). There are nerve endings in that corner of the eyes. Touching or squeezing them provokes a parasympathetic (relaxing) response in the brain and then the body. Slow down your breath (see above) as you do this exercise.

• UnSloutch.
Stress expresses itself in our posture, as much as bad posture adds to stress. Whether you are walking or sitting, bring your shoulders up toward the sky, roll them back and down, and immediately get your shoulder blades close together. This will open your chest forward. Tension builds in the upper part of the shoulders and the neck. This leads to eye fatigue and migraine, among other things. Bringing the shoulder blades together in the sequence described, is a powerful counterbalance to tension buildup in that area.

• Intention.
Take a few seconds to observe what you do right here, right now. What do you see? How is the ambient temperature? What do you hear? Can you feel your heartbeat? Is anything happening within your body? Can you describe the color of the nearest object to your left? Now go back to your routine.

• Water and touch.
Next time you use the sink, listen to the water flowing from the tap. In an office or home environment, it is the closest we have to the sounds of nature: the sounds of water are intensely relaxing when you focus on them.

Resources:
Block, S. (2005). Come to Your Senses: Demystifying the Mind-Body Connection. Atria Books
Ortner, N. (2013).The Tapping Solution: A Revolutionary System for Stress-Free Living. Hay House
Rosen, R., Yee, R. (2012) Yoga of Breath: A Step-by-Step Guide to Pranayama. Shambala Publications