The breakdown of a marriage, followed by the process of separation and divorce, tears at the fabric of our self-esteem and brings us to our emotional knees like nothing else. Regardless of who initiates the divorce, we question our worth as a romantic and sexual partner, as a parent, as a financial provider, and as a whole and effective human being with sound judgment. The higher the level of conflict and the more intense the litigation, the less likely we are to feel good about ourselves.
And so, during divorce, the ultimate acts of kindness are the ones we direct toward ourselves. In fact, I’ll gladly stand behind this radical statement: Self-kindness is the number one difference maker when it comes to navigating the divorce process in the healthiest, fastest, and least traumatic way possible.
From someone who’s witnessed and studied many divorces—including my own—here are my top 5 recommended acts of self-kindness before, during, and after divorce:
1. Give yourself a big, honkin’ break. The divorce process tempts us to get mired in self-blame, self-hatred, and guilt. Ditch the blame and focus on taking responsibility and future-oriented action. Give yourself extra leeway, and give yourself the same mercy you’d give to others. It’s not the end of the world if you bail on some commitments, get snappy with your loved ones, break into tears at work, spend extra money on a pair of shoes, or generally act stressed. You are stressed. And you’re human. Give yourself permission to be human. Repeat after me: “I give myself permission to be human.”
2. Do something rebellious. Embrace divorce as an opportunity for freedom and independence. Do something rebellious (but harmless), in private or in public, and let this act symbolize the shift in your identity. For example, change your appearance with a new hair color/style, a tattoo, or clothing that expresses the new you. Do something, eat something, or go somewhere that you’ve always loved but your spouse has always hated. There are so many directions to take this one. My clients have a blast with it. You deserve to flirt with forbidden fruit. This is an act of self-kindness because it helps you release and express pain, hope, confidence, and other emotions in a constructive way. It also helps you build your sacred relationship with yourself, which is the most important relationship you’ll ever have.
3. See a therapist who’s a good fit for you. Interview 5 candidates if you need to. Separation and divorce bring up incredibly strong fears and emotions—from intense sadness to rage and loneliness. If you don’t express, regulate, and process these emotions, they will linger in your psyche and harm you for months and years. I promise. And if you’re in a high-conflict divorce or your marriage involved any kind of abuse, it’s essential to get expert help. Pretty please, take my advice on this one. I’m also going to plug working with an excellent professional coach (like me) when you’re ready to take big steps toward your goals in life beyond divorce. A therapist-coach combo is amazingly powerful.
4. Let yourself feel joy, delight, and pleasure. Divorce is hard enough, y’all. There’s no law stating that you must keep yourself in a constant state of mourning, gloom, and penance. You’re allowed to feel good! So, when you feel like it—or even when you don’t—engage in activities that bring you joy and make you laugh. Enlist your friends or your kids for help on this one. If you’re clinically depressed and aren’t feeling joy or pleasure, that’s totally understandable (see recommendation number 3). But don’t give up on trying every now and then.
5. Do your self-care thing. I’m not a big fan of the word self-care, but that’s what everyone is calling it these days. Do what works for you—what actually relieves stress and helps you relax, release, and feel rejuvenated (or at least distracted in a healthy way). Gaze at beautiful paintings in an art gallery, go for a picnic in a botanical garden, sleep in, binge on shows, dance to loud music, eat comfort food, write in a journal, color in adult coloring books, get a massage or a facial, do martial arts, engage in spiritual rituals, and so on. This matters, a lot. Self-care shouldn’t be a series of one-offs. It should be a constant process and practice, especially when you’re going through hard times.
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