Grieving from a divorce can be emotionally painful and difficult. Nobody said it was going to be easy but recovery will happen. It’s wise to take the experience of divorce and learn from it and prepare yourself for a healthier relationship in the future. To help understand what type of impact a loss of divorce can have on someone’s overall life and tips for grieving from a loss of divorce, I have interviewed therapist Dr. Penn Barbosa.
Tell me a little about yourself
“The topic of grief has been a fascinating subject for me. That’s because it is about loss and loss, or tragedy, is the basis of all great stories. Indeed, the story of an individual’s life is based on the rhythm of how he or she rises or falls to the occasions of his or her life.
When I was obtaining my Ph.D. in psychology from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology, it was necessary to specialize in a subject for my dissertation. If there is too much specialization, the writing can quickly become dry and boring. I needed a topic that could keep me motivated and engaged because I knew it was going to be a long haul. My dissertation, “The Anxiety of Realizing the Other is Dead” fit the bill. Also, I wanted to work with people who managed to find some resiliency in themselves in the direst of circumstances from combat veterans to small children whose worlds had died when their mothers did. My clinical training offered me this opportunity.”
What type of impact of divorce have on someone’s overall life?
“I believe the most devastating affect divorce can have on you is that it may rob you of your idealism. Without some idealism, a future marriage will not be able to succeed. Of course, too much of it can distort your perception of reality. A couple may have been too idealistic and their marriage may have been an unrealistic match. In fact, there was an interesting study done on what sort of people perceive reality most accurately and it turned out to be depressed people. But the problem with that is that if you don’t have any idealism, in the form of hope, you are depressed!
So a little idealism is essential. Why is that? First of all, to believe that romance is just around the corner allows you to take the difficult steps of dating again. And when you do find another, it will take idealism to help make your marriage work. Idealism supplies the dream; the dream supplies the meaningful goal; the goal supplies the motivation; the motivation supplies the plan and the plan tells you what actions to take. It is quite something what we humans are able to do. Out of something unreal (idealism) we create something real (our actions).”
What are some tips you can give someone for grieving a divorce?
“It is essential to do a postmortem of your marriage. The raw, chaotic material of your feelings and memories needs to be given form and shape. That way, you can get your arms around what went wrong. The more disturbing characteristics about your former spouse are based on some interpersonal characteristics you both shared. It is important to gain insight about your contribution to the dynamics of your x-marriage as speedily as possible, so you will not repeat these same mistakes in the future.
I’m sure you’ve met people who have told you they won’t make the same mistake they made with their first marriage. And then it becomes apparent that they have but by now he or she is already married again. For example, a woman marries a man who suffers from alcoholism. They get divorced and she swears she’ll never marry a man who drinks too much. She marries again and this time her new husband acts nothing like her former spouse. He’s responsible, doesn’t even drink and he works very hard in fact, a little too hard. She has married a workaholic. And like with her alcoholic husband, she is left alone many nights while he is at the office.
The question for her is not really about these men, why are they like that, but why does she find men who leave her for another? The other in this case is the alcohol or the job.
Consciously, or on the surface, these two men look nothing alike. To her unconscious mind however, these two men look similar enough. (For those of you who are skeptical about the unconscious, research is showing that the unconscious does exist.) Similar enough for what you may ask. It seems our unconscious minds do not let us get away with ignoring those part of ourselves we want to disown. It turns out she has disowned the part of herself that feels she is not attractive enough to keep the person she loves with her. She may compensate for this by trying too hard to be attractive and liked. And the unconscious has a disturbing way of bringing this to our attention. This can actually be a healthy thing because it gives us the opportunity to address those parts of ourselves that we and others find yucky but do not understand nor mention.”
That is why the best advice I can give is for you to do the work your unconscious mind has presented to you. Those blind corners about your personality you can’t see are often not remarked on by your family and friends because, hopefully, they don’t want to lose you. Even if they were able to tell you, they are probably not trained to tell you in a way you can hear.”
What type of professional help is available for someone who is grieving divorce?
“I would find a psychotherapist who can be direct and collaborative with you. It should take only a few sessions to know whether he or she gets you. A good therapist can focus on your strengths and resources. You can work together to focus on how you relate to others, better understand what are your unique difficulties that love poses for you, and bring about being able to feel loved. An in-depth psychotherapist will work with you to find out what your unconscious is trying to tell you. Once you are aware you are then able to understand the choices you can make. You cannot be free if you do not know what your choices are.
I’ll end with the results of a survey I once read. People, who were on their deathbeds, were asked what their biggest regret in life was. Most of them said that they regretted not giving love freely. They were not happy in how they loved. Your divorce can provide you with the lessons so vital for you to know how to be happy in love.”
Thank you Dr. Barbosa for doing the interview on grieving divorce. For more information on Dr. Barbosa or her work you can check out her website on http://therapypenn.com/.
How to Handle Divorce Anger
Helping Your Child Through Divorce and Separation
Recovering from Divorce