Divorce | The Grief Stages of Divorce Recovery | Getting Through It All Takes Time
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Divorced, Depressed, Angry..When Does the Grieving Process End?
Divorce is one of the most painful emotionally disturbing situations a person will endure aside from suffering the death of a loved one. Grief is a normal reaction to a painful situation most people cannot understand until it happens to them. When divorce happens, the grieving process becomes an inescapable part of the divorce recovery process. As two people go from being one flesh into being torn apart, the marriage dies and the people are left to pick up the remaining pieces of their lives. But it is even more complicated than that with divorce, while the divorce symbolizes the death of a once valued relationship, the actual relationship is not really dead. The fractured pair may have to go on seeing each other at work, at church, deal with children of the marriage, and/or settle the financial affairs. These people may have mutually close and dear friendships that effect other core relationships in life. Unlike the finality and closure that a funeral brings with death, the divorce has lasting emotional pressures and makes it very difficult for the people involved to move through the stages of the grieving process in order to emotionally heal from the pain of separation and death of the marriage. The timeframe to complete the grieving process depends on each individual person and their willingness to face the painful emotions that occur in each of the phases of the grieving process to begin successful divorce recovery.
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What Actually is Grief and the Stages of the Grieving Process?
I've heard grief described in many ways, have seen it demonstrated and worked through in many ways too. It is personal and unique for each person. Each person has to find their own ways of dealing with grief upon the death of a marriage. Though no matter what methods are used effectively, the five stages of the grieving process must each be faced and processed in order to come out the other side without a lot of emotional baggage to carry around. Grief is a heavy sorrow, sometimes so heavy you can feel the extra weight physically holding you down. Some people feel deep sadness, desparate hopelessness, extreme loneliness, or the flip side shortly thereafter feeling anger, bitterness, and even hatred. Some feel numb or void of any emotion, blocking the feelings because of the level of pain that would be present. It can sometimes be a roller coaster ride of emotions and there are times when you will ask the question, "Will I ever get through this pain and feel normal again?" Understanding the stages of the grieving process will help to identify and accept the stages in order to work through the feeling as it occurs, not stuffing it down deep, only return another day. Understanding that to feel an emotion as it is happening is crucial to successfully process the emotional pain. No stage lasts forever when allowing yourself to validate yourself. The six stages are shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally the end result, acceptance.
Stage #1: Shock
Shocked as the dumpee of a broken marriage, you may be asking yourself, "Why is this happening to me?" or "What is going on?" The shock factor may appear instantly and so overwhelmingly that a numbness occurs from the disbelief of the situation. The mind is attempting to grasp hold of the emotional barrings, The mind will actually attempt believing that this is just a silly mistake and tomorrow upon waking up, it will all be back to normal (whatever normal is). During this phase the emotions are usually on hold. The dumpee is unusually stunned and distant like sucker punched. This allows for some emotional padding of the inevitable pain to come. This stage acts to prepare the person for the reality at hand. The dumper is usually further ahead in the grieving process of the broken relationship and has likely already experienced the initial shock stage when the decision to end the relationship was made sometimes months or years before. Sometimes the situation is not shocking since both people have realized for some time that the end was coming. However, when it actually arrives one or both people could get stuck in denial: Stage #2 of the grieving process.
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Stage #2: Denial
Shock and denial can sometimes be reversed in the way feelings are processed during the grieving process. In denial a person actually pretends that the current bad situation is not happening and goes on like nothing has changed. The person can go from asking, "Why" to saying "This won't happen to me" which is also a temporary emotional suppressant. Sometimes creating a greater emotional pain can be a distraction from the immediate reality. People do this by having pity parties or wallowing in the remorse or regret from past mistakes. I'm not lovable, no one wants me, my spouse doesn't love me because... I am not pretty enough, skinny enough, fat enough, whatever to infinity. Hopefully the phase of denial is very short lived in most cases, but in the scope of things it is crucial to escort us into stage #3: Anger.
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Stage #3: Anger
Denial and Anger sometimes overlap. Deep repressed anger can be harmful for everyone involved. Anger must be faced and managed effectively. If anger is not controlled and used for personal growth, it will control you. Unexpressed or unresolved anger is mostly the source of clinical depression. Internalizing anger can turn very ugly over time when it becomes unleashed rage. Volcanic emotional eruptions through screaming, physical abuse and/or bashing things in an outburst of rage has no positive outcomes. Suppression through internalizing the anger leads to ulcers, migraines, heart attacks, colitis, menstrual problems, high blood pressure and other health issues that come from repressed emotions. Admitting the feeling of anger and controlling rage can be very therapeutic indeed. Anger is a legitimate human emotion and should be expressed without violence in a constructive way. Slashing tires, phone calls in the middle of the night or other harassment is not constructive. Nobody wins in this situation, everyone is a loser. There are effective and productive ways to resolve anger. There are anger management courses available when a person does not the ability to do it by themselves.
Phase #4: Bargaining
The theme for this phase is non-acceptance of the divorce. Bargaining is a last attempt of manipulation to avoid the pain of the death of a marriage or relationship. Denial is still prevalent and using you to try to get what you want...no pain and your way. This can get ugly if the manipulation is out of control in an attempt to win back the other person or forcing the other person to love them in a fanatical act. Wrestling with the issues of lost self-esteem can be so hard that a person can do and say things that are totally out of character and would never consider doing or saying at any other time. Grief does that to people. Many people resort to bargaining with God as if God will act upon the petition with a condition attached. We do believe sometimes we are being punished for something and by pleading our case before God, it will change the other person's decision. Remember that a person who is grieving does not think rationally while doing whatever they can to avoid the pain.
Stage #5: Depression
Depression can be mild to severe. Most people do not know when they are depressed, but seem to feel tired all the time and want to sleep more. There is a long list of symptoms, but the most prevalent is withdrawal. Perhaps this person will not return phone calls, maybe not go into work, or even not eat. If you suspect someone is suffering depression, it is best to physically check on them. The depressed person going through the grieving process needs space to heal, but is also very fragile at this point and may need to know others care. Each case is different based on the person, so use good judgment when trying to be there for someone. It is good to check in and even bring a meal, but do not smother the person. During depression it is very hard to concentrate on anything for very long. Sometimes the opposite occurs where a person will have insomnia or want to eat incessantly. While it is important to give a person space, after a period of time in seclusion, it is time to get someone out or if you are person depressed decide to go out. Then do it. Set a date, time and make a point to reenter the world. It is extremely important not to get to comfortable in seclusion. If it has been months and the depressed person cannot reenter the world, it is time for professional intervention.
Stage #6: Acceptance
The depression starts to lift and at last, the glimmer of light exists at the end of the tunnel. This does not mean that the pain or anger is totally gone completely. You still might be somewhat depressed or sad. There may a host of issues to deal with on the table, but it does mean that you are coming to terms with your new world and are willing to begin the steps of rebuilding your life. The person starts to remake the bed, wash the pile of dishes in the sink, take a shower, which could have gone by the wayside during the heavy grieving cycle. The appetite begins to return to normal and the person may even phone friends to share a meal. Hope begins to reenter the mind that life is worth living once again and life will go on in a different, maybe even better way.