This material is adapted from the award-winning book by Ed Sherman, “Make any Divorce Better.” Ed Sherman is one of the founders of Divorce Helpline. His dedication to providing compassionate and cost-effective personalized legal support to those facing divorce resulted in the unique service model that distinguishes Divorce Helpline from other California divorce attorneys and divorce document services.
Pain is natural and almost unavoidable when you break up, but people have many ways of unwittingly increasing their pain and prolonging it. A lot of your pain may be entirely unnecessary.
Most unnecessary pain is caused by a very bad habit — negative thinking. There are self-defeating thought patterns that keep you stuck in anger, anxiety or depression. Whether they are aware of it or not, people are almost continually describing the world to themselves. It’s that quiet, constant voice that forms your attitude — your predisposition to experience things negatively.
Don’t be too quick to decide that you don’t do this. It can be so habitual that you may not even be conscious of it. That’s what makes it hard to deal with.
Negative thinking causes you to paint your life in black with too broad a brush. The way you see things will be one-sided, overly simple and unbalanced. Negative thinking keeps you boxed in, limits your possibilities, keeps you from seeing solutions and prevents you from moving forward with your life.
What you think turns into what you feel. If you expect the worst, that may be what you get. Here are some classic examples of negative thinking:
• Over-generalizing is when you think or say things like, “You always put me down,” or “I’ll never find another mate,” or “She only wants one thing from me.” You have picked on one negative feature and made it into your total understanding. Try to stop using words like all, always, every, never, only, and totally, and so on. Never use words like “never.
• Labeling would be, “He’s a selfish person,” or “She’s a bitch,” or “I’m a loser.” You pick on one negative quality and let that represent the whole person. This keeps you angry at others and disgusted with yourself.
• Blame of self and blame of others makes it seem as if the fault for your misfortune is all one-sided, but life is never like that and blame has unfortunate side effects. If you blame yourself, you are trapped in guilt. If you blame your spouse, you make yourself a victim, avoid your own responsibility, and prolong your anger. That’s all over now; the fact is that you each made your own choices and are responsible for your own actions. Now, get on with your life.
• Filtering happens when you see only the negative or threatening side of things. Focusing on your fears and losses will keep you in a state of anxiety or depression.
• Catastrophizing is when you exaggerate potential threats and stay focused on anticipated harm or disaster. “I’ll never be able to pay my bills.” “I can’t survive this pain and loneliness.” You expect the worst and don’t expect to cope.
To avoid the consequences of negative thinking, you have to become more aware of your inner voices and attitudes. Try to notice when you are scaring yourself or seeing things through an all-black filter. When you catch yourself at it, stop. When the negative thoughts start again (and they will), catch them again. Keep at it.
Don’t be self-critical and put yourself down; just observe and be patient. Give yourself a little reward each time you catch yourself — a cookie or a balloon. Don’t laugh, it works. So just do it. Make yourself think in a more constructive vein: concentrate on solutions instead of problems, think about past pleasures and fantasize about future ones.
Try to make yourself take a more balanced and rounded view of things. Stop and breathe. Take a walk. Go get some flowers; make your space nice. Keep your attention focused only on things you can see, touch or smell.
Travelling from grief to growth is very hard work and it can take some time. Don’t put yourself down if you don’t succeed overnight. You can get a lot of help with this job from a good counselor.
If you have questions about any aspect of your divorce process, please give us a call at 1-800-359-7004. We’re here to help.