Loving yourself isn’t vanity, it’s sanity’ says author Katrina Mayer. And she’s right. Especially when you’re getting divorced. Separation and divorce bring a whole load of work, stress and emotional turmoil. Without building in some serious attention on yourself, you’re in danger of burnout. So here are 7 ways to show yourself that essential loving kindness during divorce.
1. Name and allow your feelings
Here are a few things I hear from my clients all the time:
- I just want it to be over
- This is so hard -I don’t know if I can do this
- I feel so useless
Here’s the thing. I want you to normalise things feeling difficult in the midst of divorce. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to get used to feeling rubbish all the time, and think that’s it forever. But I do encourage you to realise it’s normal to feel like this. It’s not that you’re broken, or lacking in some way.
When you allow yourself to feel the difficult feelings, and let them in, it takes away a little of their power. It also means you can notice them happening: you can think to yourself ‘Ah, I’m feeling that ‘useless’ feeling right now’. And by noticing them, you create distance between you and them. If you can notice that you’re feeling useless, not all of you is consumed with feeling useless! Ironically, allowing yourself to sit with your difficult feelings creates space for them to move on.
So, don’t instinctively push away your feelings. Allow them to exist, with kindness for yourself. They are there for a reason, which we’ll come onto next.
2. Learn from your feelings
Whatever it is you’re feeling: anxiety, anger, worry, nervous, it’s telling you something. Our feelings, particularly your difficult ones, show us what we care about.
So, for example, if you’re angry about an email your soon-to-be-ex has sent, consider what’s under that anger. Is it a sense of injustice, or taken for a ride? That’s a signal to you that your boundaries have been breached.
If you can allow yourself to spend time with your feelings, quietly ask yourself what they are telling you. If you’re worried about your children, it’s simply because you care about them, which is a good thing! The worry has done its job. You can thank it, and then concentrate on the next part: what is it about your children that’s concerning you, and what can you do about it?
If you can approach all of your feelings with the sort of loving and kind approach you might have towards your children, it allows you receive the messages they are giving you. Quite often, because we still have monkey minds, our emotions convey necessary thoughts like ‘it’s important I look at my bank accounts to ensure I can budget properly’ with overlaid catastrophising anxieties like ‘Aargh, I don’t have enough money and we’re all going to end up starving and homeless!’. That anxiety is really laying the drama on thick. Which is helpful in the sense that it’s bringing it to your attention.
But if you can stand back and mentally say, ‘Thank you anxiety for making me aware of this, you’ve done your job now’, over time, your brain will learn to see your difficult emotions as rather overdramatic couriers! They are delivering a message, but there’s no need for them to hang around.
3. Say no
One of the most loving things you can ever do for yourself is to say no. Women especially are conditioned to please, to be good to say yes, to help. Does that sound familiar? Do you feel lazy or awkward, or unkind if you don’t put yourself forward to volunteer at the school cake sale, or to take the children bowling at the weekend, or whatever other requests you’re on the receiving end of?
This is your permission to say no. Sure, it’s great to be a helpful community member, neighbour or friend. But you don’t have to be that person all the time. And if there’s ever a time in your life when you don’t need to take on extra stresses or responsibilities, this is it. Set yourself a challenge. What can you say no to this week?
4. Say yes
Of course, sometimes we need to remember to say yes! In the midst of the demands of divorce, running your household, work, parenting, caring for other family members and whatever else you have going on it’s hard to remember you are a person too.
But you are a person, and to feel alive you don’t just have a need for food, water, clothing and shelter. You have a need for fun, for creativity, to be looked after yourself. So what can you say yes to this week to recognise your own desires and needs? Is it a massage? A night out with friends? A karate class? Buying a fancy notebook and spending an hour with good coffee in a cafe journaling? Tune in to what you need, and make time for it.
5. Take regular small steps forward in your divorce
Just like difficult emotions, if you keep avoiding the difficult things in your life, they just loom larger. You can try and shut them in a box in your brain, but they’ll spill out sooner or later. Living with that constant fear of the monster under the bed is more stressful than actually getting on with it.
But how do you make progress with your divorce in a loving way? With small steps. If you set yourself small, achievable tasks, and complete them, your brain will get a dopamine hit. You’ll feel a sense of satisfaction. You’ll build your confidence. And you’ll also be getting yourself closer to divorce.
Taking regular small steps forward, in a managed way, is a world away from being switched on with your divorce 24/7. It’s about having a plan and knowing what to do next. If you don’t know where to start, get your copy of the fully updated How To Be A Lady Who Leaves: The Ultimate Guide To Getting Divorce Ready here.
6. Take a break from your divorce
As I say, making progress does not mean constantly working on your divorce. Build in breaks. Nothing works if it’s switched on all the time. Consider the breaks as essential battery recharges, so you can move ahead again next time.
I advise ensuring you build in three types of break when it comes to your divorce:
- Daily. Allocate time each day where you do something for yourself that is nothing to do with your divorce or other obligations. If this feels totally unmanageable, start with just five minutes. And work up from there, to an hour, if possible. Tip: actively do something during this time, even if it’s listening to a podcast while drinking your tea. Don’t just tell yourself not to think about your divorce – you can guess how well that will work!
- Weekly. Aim to have a divorce-free day a week, where you don’t make any progress, open any emails, or do any planning. Give yourself permission to feel free of it all.
- Periodically: whether it’s holidays or Christmas time, there will be some times in the year where you’ll want to switch off from your divorce for a week or two. And this is absolutely fine. Just make sure you leave everything in good order and let your solicitor know. For more detail on preparing to take a break from your divorce, read my Christmas blog here.
7. Get the support you need
However strong and resilient you are, no-one can go it alone all the time. In fact, asking for help is one of the strongest, most loving things you can do for yourself. It means you can move forward, knowing you’re not alone. Knowing that you’re not working blind. Knowing that you are seen and heard. Please don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help.
And I’m here to help too, whether it’s:
- Walking you through the process in my book: How To Be A Lady Who Leaves: The Ultimate Guide To Getting Divorce Ready (now also available as an audio book)
- Supporting you and other women in The Absolute Academy, with weekly clinics, Q&As and a community to ask questions with other people who get it
- Giving you tailored, specific coaching and advice when and how you need it, through my one-to-one coaching services.
Whatever else you do, take time to show yourself loving kindness as you get divorced. You’ll be healthier, stronger and happier for it.
Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is the author of the Amazon best-selling book How to be a Lady Who Leaves, the Ultimate Guide to Getting Divorce Ready. A former lawyer, Emma is a family mediator and founder of Get Divorce Ready the online self-study and group programmes. Emma has been featured on BBC Radio, The Telegraph, the iPaper and in Marie Claire Magazine. Emma is also the host of The Six Minute Divorce Podcast. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com