Divorce – when the biggest feeling is fear


When the biggest feeling is fear, you’re all over the place. You can be frozen like a bunny in the headlights or have a total freak out and start acting like a crazy woman. During your divorce, it’s likely you’ll experience both more than once. And it’s totally normal. It’s ok. 


Fear can’t run the show forever though. You know that. You have to befriend it. Tame it. And then you’re back in control – fear can come along for the ride, but you’re in charge. 


Recognise fear


The sneaky thing about fear is that it rarely announces itself. No. It’s the chameleon of emotions, changing its colours to match your situation. It can present as overwhelm, confusion, anger, defensiveness or exhaustion. When the biggest feeling is fear, you might say ‘I don’t want to do that’, ‘I can’t afford that’, or ‘I can’t do that’. Your fear wants to keep you safe and keep everything the same. It’s the ego part of yourself and your ego doesn’t like change. Even when you’re not happy right now. Better the devil you know, right? 


Recognising your fear starts with a willingness to be open to the possibility that you’re plain scared. Yes, you’re overwhelmed, exhausted, all the rest of it. But fear’s hiding under it all.  When the biggest feeling is fear, it’s holding you back.


You are about to embark on, or you’re partway through a life-changing time. Divorce is challenging like no other life experience. It’s like being on a ghost-train in a house of horrors. It has exhilarating moments when you feel alive and excited and others when you’re terrified. 


Except that this is for real. The emotions are real too, but what’s driving them?


Accept that perhaps if you feel like saying ‘no’ or ‘I can’t’ it might just be your fear talking. 


When the biggest feeling is fear – name it


Naming your fear will help you get in charge of it. Now naming it can be as straight forward as calling a spade a spade. As a good Yorkshire girl, I’m used to just saying things as they are. ‘I’m scared – this is fear.’ If it’s helpful you can go a step further and give your fear a gender and a name. 


Give it a persona, maybe someone that scared you when you were small but now doesn’t hold power over you (a strict teacher or grumpy neighbour, perhaps). This may sound bizarre, yet it works for children – and we are just big children after all. If creating a picture of your fear in your mind it makes it easier to negotiate with, do it! 


When the biggest feeling is fear – tame it


If you were hoping to get rid of it completely – sorry, that’s not going to happen. And that’s actually a good thing. We need our fears to keep us safe but we need to learn when they are helpful and when they just get in the way. 


Fears that keep you away from the cliff edge, fears that stop you from driving too fast and fears that stop you walking alone at night down a lonely unlit street – these are good, life-preserving fears. 


When our fear is merely stopping us from changing the status quo, then it’s getting in the way.


Leave the financial stability of marriage? 

Are you crazy woman?

Who exactly do you think you are? 

You’ve got it good… well it could be worse…

You won’t cope without him…


Had these conversations in your head? That was your fear talking, and in situations like this, your fear is a liar. 


You are not crazy.

You are worth more than your current unhappiness. 

And even if it comes at a financial price at least in the short term, you know deep down that you’ll be happier in the long run. 


You won’t get rid of fear altogether, and you don’t want to. But you do want to get it out of the driving seat. 


Author Elizabeth Gilbert explains it like this in her letter to fear:


“You’re allowed to have a seat and you’re allowed to have a voice…but my dear, old, familiar friend you are absolutely forbidden to drive.” 


Thank your fear


Thanking your fear helps you let it go. It helps you recognise all the times fear has kept you safe in the past, and it means you let your fear know you will listen again when you need to. But right now moving forward requires change. It requires stepping into the unknown, into uncertainty and an outcome that may not be foreseeable. There’s absolutely no other way. 


You have to go through it and if your fear wants to support you, it needs to come along as a silent-partner-in-crime. It needs to recognise it will never be redundant. There will always be more fears!


Trust yourself not your fear


To get to the other side, you have to trust yourself more than your fears. If you are cautious by nature or you’ve been emotionally abused so much that now you’re no longer sure who the real you is, trust can be a struggle. I get it. It’s easier to trust your fear because it feels safer. But building trust is like building a muscle. You have to exercise it and push it for it to grow. And you won’t know until you’ve done it.


This week I’ve been working on trusting myself more. It’s often scary, but I don’t believe in asking clients to do something I won’t do myself. Integrity is the cornerstone of my business. I want to push through the fears of growing my business. 


Where it is right now is safe and comfortable. It’s at the place where, back when I started I wanted to be. Why? Because several people told me I’d never make any money being a ‘divorce coach’, that it’s not even a thing! 


I wanted to do it anyway but my fear was high – what if they were right? As a single woman I’m totally financially responsible for myself – there is no ‘back up’. What if it didn’t work? Fears ran riot…


I did it anyway. Now my initial goal is met and of course I’ve got bigger goals now -because life! That’s how it is. Guess what comes along… More fears! Because life. That’s how it is. 


In the last week I’ve committed myself to working with two new coaches over the next year. It’s a significant investment for me. Full of fear at the time and money I’m giving to this? Of course. Doing it anyway? Hell yes! Because I know that by investing in me and my business, both me and my business will grow. 


On the other side


On the other side is freedom. You recognise fear for what it really is – a mechanism to keep you safe. Not the ten-foot high barbed wire fence it feels like. It’s someone you can listen to, acknowledge and do it anyway. And despite the fact your fears will keep shouting in your head, if you choose to trust yourself and act, there’s not a thing they can do about it. 


Often on the other side of our fears is the realisation it wasn’t that scary after all. The epic blockbuster movie of disaster didn’t happen after all. Rather than the full fire-works you ended up with a dud. “What? Was that it?” 


There’s a sting with fear taming though. It’s not a one-time thing. Do the scary thing, see it wasn’t that bad, and do you think you’re fear’s learned the lesson? Hell no! Expect the same old ‘I can’t’ whispering voices this time. 


And the next. 


And the next.



Get support


Getting support to grow and face your fears is one of the best things you can do because it moves you through the paralysis or chaos quicker. 


When I signed with these coaches did my fear want to tell me “I couldn’t afford it”, “I didn’t need it” and I could “do it myself – it’s all on Google anyway”? 


Yes it did. Of course it did. It had a really good go. But I know that “I can’t afford it” is often code for “I don’t trust myself to get the benefit from this”.


So I’m doing it anyway because even though I can find information on Google for free, working with them means they’ll call me out on my fears and excuses. They’ll push me to do things I don’t want to do (for my highest good) and I’ll grow much quicker with their support than on my own.


So. If your fears are stopping you and holding you back, work on naming and taming them. Call yourself out. Get back in the driving seat. 


If you’d like support along the way, I can help you. When we work together I gently call you out on your fears. Help you reframe and move forward. Can you do it alone? For sure. Will it be quicker and easier with professional support. Definitely. 


Get beyond fear. Book in a chat with me today.

Emma Heptonstall, the Divorce Alchemist is 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. To find out more visit www.emmaheptonstall.com

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