Get through Split with Support
Divorce Support: Sharing Experiences Can Spur Emotional Recovery from Divorce
One woman felt she could heal from her divorce better if she could share her experiences with other people, so she started a divorce support group. Fifteen years later, that support group is still going strong, and Micki McWade has written two books on the subject. McWade’s idea to share her story as a way to move through her divorce was on target, according to psychological experts. Expressing feelings about the divorce process, whether it is in a support group, on the Internet, or with family and friends, can be a positive step in healing.
Micki McWade, the author of “Healing You, Healing Me: A Divorce Group Leader’s Guide and Getting Up, Getting Over, Getting On: A Twelve Step Guide to Divorce Recovery,” said she turned toward support groups because they had worked for her in her recovery from alcoholism. The part of Alcoholics Anonymous that resonated with her was the support from others as she talked about her experiences.
So she put together her own group in New York in 1993. She said she wanted to find a way to get through her divorce in a positive way. She didn’t want her children to have to watch her struggle through a difficult time, so she leaned on others for support, she said.
The process of listening to other people talk about their experiences, and comparing it to one’s own divorce journey can make it all easier, McWade said. McWade has a Web site that details a 12-step process to get through divorce at
www.12stepdivorce.org. I think that knowing, first of all, that you are not alone in this. It is a very important piece of information,” McWade said. To share one’s story, but also to hear other people in the group share their stories, helps people to understand that divorce is normal today. It is not strange or unheard of.”
She said that the feeling of isolation when one is experiencing divorce can be one of the biggest obstacles to overcome. Especially when many friends are married or part of couples. Finding a group of people to listen, who know the feelings involved in the divorce process, and who are living it themselves lends comfort, McWade said.In her groups, McWade said, the rules are simple: Each person has a chance to speak for a maximum of five minutes. No one may take during this time, and no one may speak after someone shares their thoughts.
She said that when a support group works properly, getting people to feel comfortable sharing comes naturally. Generally, participants want to talk about what they are feeling, she said. People won’t be afraid they will be attacked or embarrassed. People can take their time or not at all.” McWade said.
When a participant speaks, he or she can talk about anything that is on his or her mind. In other words, I can say what’s on my mind, and no one is going to say no you’re wrong,” McWade said. It’s my turn to speak.” And after the participant shares, no one should respond to the content of the sharing, she said. It can take the meeting off track, she said, and often the participants don’t know enough about every aspect of the participant’s situation to offer advice. Someone will be really upset and choked up about something, and the natural instinct is for people to comfort someone,” McWade said. Then people jump on bandwagon with advice. It becomes overwhelming. We discourage that.”
Instead, during a break in the sharing process, participants are encouraged to talk to each other about what has been said.The focus of the group meeting is to simply share feelings, and to leave it at that, McWade said. We just let the person be in the moment, and that in itself can be really healing,” McWade said.
SHARING CAN KEEP DIVORCE IN PERSPECTIVE
Talking to others about divorce can help answer the array of emotional questions that arise, said Susan Silverman, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice in White Plains, N.Y. Silverman contributed to “A Handbook of Divorce and Custody: Forensic, Developmental, and Clinical Perspectives.” Divorce is high on the Richter scale, there. It is probably the second most stressful thing one goes through,” Silverman said.
She said that, as one’s life begins to change as a result of divorce, one of the first unconscious questions one might hear is, Will I survive this?” By discussing feelings about the divorce or sharing experiences with others, Silverman said, one learns how to survive divorce. Talking to people helps answer those questions and keep things in perspective,” Silverman said.
One of the benefits of talking about divorce is coming to the realization that a person going through a divorce feels less alone. You see that others have gone through similar experiences,” Silverman said. Another benefit is learning about how others solve similar problems. Exchanging ideas and information can be extremely valuable, she said. It may not be the right answer for you, but it gives information,” Silverman said. With a divorce, in particular, there is a lot of factual information to figure out.”
There are several venues for sharing and getting support, Silverman said: Internet blogs and chat rooms, face-to-face conversations with friends and family, meeting with a therapist, attending, support groups, both peer-led, and professionally-led.
However, Silverman offers some cautions, depending on the venue. If using Internet resources, use judgment, and common sense, she said. Websites can be a great place for gathering information and talking to others, but the information on the site is not completely confidential, she said. As soon as you use those keystrokes, they are there, and they are there forever. Anyone can read what is written,”she said.
The only truly confidential place to discuss one’s experiences, Silverman said, is in a therapist’s office. She also said that one must be aware of how it feels to talk about divorce. She said that venting used to be considered a positive way to release pent-up feelings and de-escalate heightened emotions. She said that really is only true if the released emotions are then channeled in a positive way. There’s got to be another step after that, otherwise, we end up feeling worse,” Silverman said.
She said the best way to vent emotions is to have the release, then owning up to the emotions and taking personal responsibility for them. How can I use them? I feel angry and betrayed, but what do I need now not to get stuck in that bad place? Move on from that point,” Silverman said. Explore the thoughts and fears that arise in the divorce process. It is natural to feel anxious, angry, hurt or vulnerable. But make sure those feelings don’t linger and become all one thinks about. It doesn’t stay mired in the past on something that really cannot be changed,” Silverman said. It opens up possibilities.”
Look for ways to refocus the emotions on the positives that can come next. If one is getting stuck in the past, and can’t stop thinking about the hurts and frustrations of the divorce, professional help is in order, Silverman said. If it feels helpful, it probably is,”Silverman said. If you find after sharing, you end up feeling more intense, that’s a tip that it’s not working.”
THE MOTIVATION HAS TO BE CONSTRUCTIVE
Equal to gauging the feelings as a result of sharing is acknowledging the motivation behind it, said Debra Mandel, Ph.D., a psychologist and author of “Dump That Chump: From Doormat to Diva in Only Nine Steps “ A Guide to Getting Over Mr. Wrong.” If the goal is to spew, then I don’t think it tends to be very helpful,” Mandel said. She specializes in relationship issues, and her website is at www.drdebraonline.com.
Complaining and whining is not going to set one on the path of recovery, Mandel said. Then someone can be more entrenched in a victim mentality,” she said. Instead, the process is more positive when the motivation is to find solutions to the emotional pain, to find resolutions that arise or to find ways to keep moving forward through the divorce, she said. The key to understanding if one is on a positive track or a negative one, Mandel said, is to evaluate the feelings that linger. When someone sounds angry and continues to feel angry about the resolution to the marriage, then they are going to stay stuck in that cycle,” Mandel said.
Feelings of anger can propel one forward through the emotional process of divorce. But if the anger doesn’t ebb, then the process stalls, she said. The best sign that sharing is helping in healing is that one is taking responsibility and ownership for one’s own experiences. There is no finger pointing, Mandel said. Instead, there is a focus on how to move on and do better next time. Mandel said she recommends that people find the expression that is best suited to them, whether it be through speaking, writing, or even drawing.
The process of expressing one’s feelings of divorce can be extremely beneficial if healing is the goal, Mandel said. It can have a two-fold benefit. It can be personally cleansing, and it can actually help other people,” Mandel said. Sharing experiences is a way to bond with people who are going through a similarly difficult experience, and together they can find their way to their new lives. They are doing it also to rebound,” Mandel said. It’s a new status from married to divorced. It helps people acclimate to that.”