Photo of a woman who looks sad and is laying down. She is experiencing difficult emotions.
Going through a divorce can trigger difficult emotions.

You may be wondering how to manage difficult emotions better.

Are you having thoughts about how no one will ever want you, there’s something wrong with you, or
you’ll be alone forever? Or you may be struggling with difficult emotions such as panic, self-doubt, anger, or dark moods. You may feel broken, messy, and less functional in your life.

Some days you can see a future that is more hopeful but it’s hard to stay there. You get mad at yourself
for falling back into the muck.

A good therapist can help you understand what is happening to your nervous system.

It can help you learn how to regulate this emotional rollercoaster through the lens of your nervous system.

Our nervous system is always at work behind the scenes, managing safety and risk for us by changing
our physiological state. This means our moods, our thoughts, and our physical symptoms are linked to
these state changes.

There are three states we move between frequently. When we sense we are unsafe, emotionally or
physically, hormonal signals activate our fight-flight response. Our system literally prepares to run or
attack to ensure our survival.

In this state your thoughts will reflect feeling anxious or irritable about yourself, the world, and the
future. Your symptoms may include racing heart, irritability, wired and tired at once, obsessive scanning
of social media, or lack of appetite.

When certain conditions are present, survival may call for a freeze state. This means our system will
conserve life energy. We become still and passive, avoiding notice.

Here your thoughts will slow, you may feel defeated, hopeless, depressed, or that life is not worth living.
Symptoms include exhaustion and wanting to isolate.

When we can return to a state of safety, our nervous system becomes regulated again. We feel better
and more hopeful even though nothing has changed in our circumstances.

It’s important to remember that from the nervous system perspective, an emotional threat is the same
as a physical threat. Our system will function automatically, outside our conscious awareness, to protect
us during a traumatic experience.

How does this relate to the process of separation or divorce?

Divorce is an attachment trauma. When we lose our main person, even if we choose it, our nervous system perceives an emotional threat. Abandonment, grief, guilt, rage, resentment, relief, and loneliness are normal feelings to process during
a divorce. What is also essential to work with is the impact of our nervous system in the healing process.

The cycling between states of activation – fight, flight, freeze, and back to regulation – is what creates
the painful and confusing stuck states that often keep us from moving on.

The good news is that we can begin to change our capacity. When we practice moving towards
regulation in therapy, we feel more empowered and less out of control. Our process of healing and
letting go is jump-started.

With a more grounded and functional state, we’re also in a better place to approach the many tasks of
divorce, such as mediation, household transitions, or being present for our kids. We’re less reactive to
slights and stories that generate resentment.

There are likely to be many activating experiences as you approach these tasks. Now we can
make a plan together. You can track and trust the signs of your return to a regulated state. If you are
interested in working with me in therapy or joining a workshop, I’m glad to talk.

~Jodie Stein, MFT

[email protected]