Why are People so weird with me when I talk about Divorce Pain?

I just got home from a night at the movies with my friend (who will remain nameless). I felt awful. The deflated feeling was what I could imagine an insect feels after being squashed and scraped across a pavement.

I had just retold my divorce story to her (ok, it was the second time) but halfway during my story, she looked out the window. Even when I stopped talking, she was so absorbed in her own thoughts that she just kept staring out the window. I was shocked. Had I said something wrong, was I boring her? Was she that disinterested in what I was saying?

Whilst I sat in silence with her absorbed in her thoughts, the conversation in my head went something like this:

  • It’s ok for everyone if I feel the pain but I cannot be a basket case
  • I am expected to discuss the break up with my friends but only once (don’t overdo it as no one wants to hang around with a miserable person)
  • I must not mope around, it’s not ‘healthy’ – it also makes people feel awkward
  • I must be productive and professional at work (don’t bring emotional baggage into the office)
  • But whilst doing all this, at the same time I must not look ‘too happy’ (or face being branded as insensitive or immature)

ARGH. I stopped dead in my tracks and realised something: I was alone in my break up. No one really understood how I felt.

This thought didn’t make me angry.

I realised that when I talked about my ex-husband’s indiscretions, she was wondering if her own husband could ever do something like that. I could see that all she wanted to do was go home to check if they were ok. (Months later, I asked her about this and she admitted this was the case too) I excused myself quite briskly and left to give her the opportunity to do that. I realised at that moment that friends are fantastic, but we all have our own lives, our own issues and if anyone was going to help me – it would need to be me.

If the truth be told, I totally avoided people after my ex and I split. The first time I told anyone was about 3 months after it happened. It reminded me of going to one of my best friend’s mum’s funeral. I felt so awkward. I was standing next to her, both of us wearing black and her face a picture of despair and grief. We had been playing dolls literally a week earlier and now I had no idea what to say to her and just looked down at my shoes. I couldn’t wait to get out of the church and away from this coffin and away from her pain.

When I got home from my dinner with my friend, I stayed up all night Googling relentlessly and the next day I took myself off to the British library for a spot of research. Surprisingly I found recurring evidence that as people, our ability to handle life’s full range of emotions is limited to the actual life experiences we have had. If nothing hectic had actually happened in our lives, we never had the opportunity to carve those learnings into our neural network pathways and experience knowing, understanding or compassion in drastic situations. For most of us, we are cool with happiness, laughter and can handle slight disappointment and some setbacks but raw despair, grief or overwhelming failure is something, that unless you have experienced it, it’s not easy to navigate through the minefield. If you think about it, did anyone ever pull you back in school and teach you how to deal with a traumatic circumstance BEFORE it happened?

When my friend looked out the window, at first it looked like intolerance but what I actually saw in my friend’s face that day was fear and overwhelm. She was scared of catching whatever disease I had because if we were so close and it could happen to me, it could probably happen to her too. She felt awkward. She wanted to help but didn’t know what to say – I really got it. I remembered feeling totally helpless at my friend’s funeral and I could imagine what she may have felt in that moment with me.

What made people like Nelson Mandela so extraordinary was he had walked through the valley of the shadow of death and he had huge experiences whilst he was in jail for 27 years. Nothing he would ever encounter in coming out of jail would be as huge as what he had encountered during his prison sentence.

So, what is the point?

Divorce grief is normal and natural but as a society we have been ill prepared to deal with it

Grieving after the loss of a relationship is about a broken heart, not a broken brain. All efforts to heal the heart with the head fail because the head is the wrong tool for the job. It’s like trying to paint with a hammer – it only makes a mess.

I found recurring evidence that as people, our ability to handle life’s full range of emotions is limited to the actual life experiences we have had. If nothing hectic had actually happened in our lives, we never had the opportunity to carve those learning’s into our neural network pathways and experience knowing, understanding or compassion in drastic situations. As human beings, we are far better prepared to deal with minor accidents than we are to deal with grief. For most of us, we are able to deal with happiness, laughter, slight disappointment and some setbacks but raw despair, grief or overwhelming failure is something that unless you have experienced it, is not easy to navigate through.

Your Friends and Family may not understand what you are going through

Although your friends and family are an important part of your life, you may find that they are ill equipped to adequately support you with your loss. I personally found that even though my friends and family were well meaning, they often said or did things which were inappropriate. Every time I hung out with them, they would try to take the pain away so we all had a pleasant time together. I would leave their company feeling superficially better but almost like I had moved two steps backwards, invalidating my emotions or my right to have them. It was only a matter of time before I realized that I was going to have to get divorce support elsewhere.

Before you find yourself getting upset with your friends or family for not being better equipped or trained to help you deal with your loss, remember that they are probably trying very hard. They have been conditioned by society to deal with loss in a particular way. It’s really not their fault. They love you very much and whatever actions they take, remember that their commitment in the background is to try and make your pain go away. They hate to see you suffering or in pain. They will do whatever they can think of in the moment to achieve this. Here are some points to bear in mind about friends and family. You may be able to relate to some of them:

  • They are afraid of our feelings
  • They offer intellectual theories and want us to stay positive
  • They have no idea what to say, try to change the subject or pretend to not hear us
  • They don’t want to talk about divorce

Give the people in your life a ‘Weirdness’ Pass

Give everyone in your life a ‘Weirdness’ Pass. This is a ticket you grant to them allowing them to say weird or inappropriate things to you whilst you are dealing with your divorce. They just don’t know any better and no one trained them in how to handle you.

NOTE: The important thing to remember is not to take on board anything that they say. Remain aware at all times of what they are saying, the myths and possible generalizations in what they say so you guard against getting enrolled in any intellectualization that they might offer you.

Until next time, I wish you well and send you love and light!

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