How to Cope with the Psychological Trauma of Divorce?

Divorce is a challenging period in everyone’s life that often leads to mental trauma. The psychological consequences of divorce can be very serious. Therefore, it is necessary to know what types of psychological support can help in a difficult situation.

Divorce trauma is a condition when a person experiences a significant level of stress and discomfort after they have separated from their partner. This condition can manifest itself in various forms, from depression and anxiety to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Let’s delve deeper into the problem and figure out if divorce can result in PTSD, what causes psychological trauma, who suffers most in divorce, how to heal from divorce trauma, how to overcome divorce depression, etc.

Can Divorce Cause PTSD?

Psychologists’ observations suggest that a painful divorce can cause psychological trauma. If you don’t notice it in time and start taking action, it can really grow into some kind of PTSD. A person may have obsessive thoughts about the traumatic event, nightmares, anxiety, and a violent manifestation of emotions in response to a trigger reminiscent of the breakup.

According to the American Psychiatric Association (APA), PTSD is a mental condition that can occur after experiencing a traumatic event, usually a dangerous or threatening situation. A person with this disorder may develop intense fear, anxiety, and irritability.

For an individual to be diagnosed with PTSD, there needs to be some threat to their life or bodily integrity. Since divorce does not bear such a straightforward threat, it cannot apply to the formal diagnosis. So, while emotional trauma in marriage and even the heightened stress of divorce cannot directly lead to PTSD, they cause similar symptoms.

PTSD can manifest itself in panic attacks and various addictions, but most importantly, in an adjustment disorder, meaning one cannot live and function successfully. A person with PTSD experiences maladjustment in important areas of life:

  • In the social sphere, it concerns friendship, relationships, and communication with other people;
  • In the field of work, a person cannot engage in professional activities;
  • In personal life, the person’s communication, even with the closest family members, is severely impaired. For them, it looks like their life has stopped.

PTSD symptoms may occur during several months after the traumatic event and are difficult to control. Some of them include:

  • Repeated intrusive memories of the traumatic event;
  • Nightmares and trouble sleeping;
  • Feeling detached or lack of emotional response;
  • Increased irritability and easy agitation;
  • Decreased interest in previously enjoyable or meaningful activities;
  • Mood deterioration and depression;
  • Negative thoughts about yourself and other people;
  • Negative changes in behavior and relationships with others.

Indeed, numerous studies show a close relationship between divorce and anxiety, depression, social withdrawal, obsessive grief, sleep problems, anger, and a range of other symptoms typical for partial or full PTSD. To avoid this condition, the risks of its occurrence must be assessed and addressed timely.

What Leads to Psychological Trauma?

Psychological trauma is an organism’s response to an event or series of events that exceeds its ability to cope emotionally and psychologically. It can be caused by a variety of situations, including:

  • Violence: physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, such as domestic violence, rape, assault, or bullying.
  • Military conflict: participation in hostilities, living in areas with armed conflict, refugee status, or forced migration.
  • Childhood traumatic experiences: neglect, physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological abuse, discrimination, or bullying in childhood.
  • Unexpected or tragic events: natural disasters, accidents, terrorist attacks, the loss of a loved one, the breakup of a meaningful relationship, or a humiliating experience.

Psychological trauma itself does not have any specific symptoms or signs, but it has significant consequences for the human psyche and provokes the development of certain conditions and disorders.

Notably, trauma is not always accompanied by a physical threat to one’s life. The psychological impact, like the emotional effects of divorce, is enough for it to develop. A person should not necessarily be at the epicenter of the abovementioned events to experience traumatic consequences; their impact can be indirect.

The definition of psychological trauma can also be extended to situations when a person has a close personal connection with friends and relatives who have been directly involved in traumatic events. When an individual has to immerse themselves in the unpleasant details of such events due to professional duties, such as emergency workers, ambulance attendants, or journalists who work with shocking images or oral testimonies, they can also develop psychological trauma. Traumatic reactions are formed due to the biology of survival – when faced with a real threat, the human brain releases adrenaline and other hormones.

You can’t find an exact list of what causes trauma. Its development is influenced by the specifics of a person’s mental and emotional state. A traumatized person may feel overwhelmed and shocked and have difficulty understanding their experience.

According to a 2017 study, about 70% of respondents in 24 countries agree that they have been traumatized at least once. Another 30.5% say they have experienced traumatic events more than four times.

However, not everyone with a stressful experience will develop psychological trauma. At the same time, every person experiences psychological trauma differently.

So, despite the close relationship between divorce and stress, the visible symptoms and signs of trauma from divorce may or may not be present, and their manifestation varies from person to person.

The Psychological Trauma of a Divorce

According to some stress scales, divorce is considered the second most stressful life event after the death of a close person. The period is truly scary and may entail serious psychological consequences.

When you start a family, you intend to live with your partner for the rest of your life. No one plans to obtain a marriage certificate today only to break the relationship tomorrow. So, if you are forced to undergo divorce, stress is unavoidable, especially if the partner leaves unexpectedly.

The trauma of divorce is characterized by a state of grief, and the self-preservation instinct may kick in at this point. A person takes a defensive position, refuses to think about anything, denies the fact of separation, and gets a prolonged depression after divorce.

A Sudden Divorce

A sudden divorce syndrome is a type of acute marital crisis when the decision to terminate a marriage comes as a surprise for one of the spouses. In fact, the party who wants to leave does not decide it out of the blue. Usually, they give up on the relationship when they lose hope for any change after countless efforts. You may not notice their dissatisfaction only because they stopped complaining at some point. However, their revelation may shock to the extent of a deep emotional trauma.

A sudden divorce trauma may be especially hard due to its unexpectedness. When you get the news this way, you have no time to process the events and their consequences. Everything seems unreal and too hasty. Nevertheless, it’s not too late to communicate and clear things out. If you still can’t find common ground and the divorce is inevitable, try to accept the situation and avoid taking actions that will only aggravate it for everyone involved.

A Stressful Divorce

A highly contentious and emotional divorce has a high potential to cause mental trauma to both parties. The constant tension and endless unresolvable disputes electrify the air, bringing you closer to a nervous breakdown. The situation is especially threatening if you are highly sensitive and susceptible to emotional shocks, making you vulnerable to mental traumas of this kind.

The best way to avoid them is to opt for an uncontested divorce. However, if it’s not an option in your case and the prolonged litigations in the courtroom are inevitable, do your best to take care of your own psychological well-being. As soon as you notice the slightest divorce stress symptoms, take action immediately. Try relaxing techniques and follow this commonplace advice not to take the situation very much to heart. If you feel you cannot cope on your own, seek professional help.

Divorce Trauma and Children

Trauma from parents’ divorce is almost inevitable for kids since they are often much more susceptible than adults. Sometimes, even apparently calm children experience deep emotional distress.

Is divorce traumatic for a child? In fact, much depends on the couple’s culture of behavior and communication. Parents should remember that the child is not to blame for their quarrels and show it to the minors. If they are ready to cooperate for the sake of the child’s peace of mind, they will come to an agreement. When each spouse sticks to their own interests, kids suffer.

The manifestations of stress in children can be different. Some kids withdraw into themselves, feel their imaginary guilt, and consider themselves the source of their parents’ disagreement. Others become hyperactive, demanding constant attention. It should be borne in mind that even with outward indifference and adults’ assumptions that little children do not understand anything, the immediate consequences of such experiences are usually unavoidable.

Parents should explain the invariability of their relationship to a child. Kids must know they are not to blame and that parental conflicts do not apply to them. It is necessary to explain to them that sometimes, adults can be happier if they live separately. Let children understand that even after the divorce, both parents will take care of them and spend their free time together.

Some children take divorce so personally that they develop mental and even physical health problems. Depression, withdrawal, sadness, and insomnia are just some of the consequences of divorce for children. They experience feelings of anxiety and uselessness. The long absence of one parent can make a child feel sad and devastated.

Moreover, they may experience the impact of their childhood divorce trauma in adult life. Children from divorced families often develop a distorted perception of a family model and a twisted attitude toward themselves and the opposite sex, undergoing failed relations over and over. Studies show that parental divorce triples the likelihood of divorce in the future for their children.

Parents need to closely monitor their children and seek professional help timely. Instead of focusing solely on your marital disagreements, take care of your children’s mental and emotional well-being.

Coping With the Psychological Trauma of Divorce

Coping with divorce and its mental traumas is not an easy task. However, a few tips from psychologists may explain how to deal with divorce depression:

Accept Your Feelings

Mental trauma from divorce is a normal reaction to a stressful situation. Do not try to justify your feelings or use them to excuse yourself to others if you are devastated by divorce. There is no need to be ashamed of your emotions or think that you must cope alone. Accept them and seek help if you need it.

Spend Time with the Loved Ones

Support is important in any healing process. Therefore, spend time with people close to you who can support and help you through this period. Talking to them about your feelings can be beneficial not only for you but also for your loved ones.

Move and Exercise

Physical activity helps reduce stress and anxiety after divorce. You should find a way to move and do sports you enjoy. It can be anything from yoga to hiking, running, or gym workouts.

Rethink your Thoughts

Although it may seem hard, try to reconsider your divorce. Sometimes, negative thoughts about what has happened may stay in our heads for long. It’s worth trying to reframe them and see the divorce as an opportunity for growth and a new beginning. Try to find new hobbies and interests, meet new people, and discover new possibilities.

Seek Professional Support

If you feel that you cannot cope with the psychological consequences of divorce on your own, you should seek professional assistance. A therapist or psychologist can provide you with the support you need and help you find effective ways to manage your feelings, overcome your traumas, and cope with the delayed grief after divorce.

Finally, don’t forget that healing and dealing with divorce depression is a process that can take time. Though you don’t have to wait for the problem to be resolved on its own, try to be patient with yourself and allow yourself time to heal.

Taking Care of Yourself

Practicing self-care is the most important strategy in restoring mental health after divorce. Destructive behavior and attitudes will only aggravate your divorce sadness while you need to take the lead in your own life.

Practice Self-Support

Self-support is especially important in dealing with post-divorce depression. Create rituals that you enjoy: read books, listen to music, draw, or do something else that will help you de-stress and relax. If you feel especially anxious and tense, try practicing yoga, meditation, or breathing exercises. They can help reduce stress levels and find peace of mind.

Search for Meaning

Now, you are ready to engage in a constructive dialog with yourself. Remember, in the early stages, you don’t need to endlessly recall the past and look for mistakes in it. When you have come to your senses, found hobbies, and learned to ground yourself, you can begin to analyze past experiences without self-reproach.

Existential psychologists explain that instead of asking, “Why did I do this?”, one should ask, “What can I learn from this?” You may find out that, due to this event, you have become closer to your family and friends, found new interests, shaped the body you’ve dreamt of, and become a completely different person.

Meet Your New Life

Divorce and depression accompanying it are the kind of crisis that helps you face yourself.

For many people, their whole life in marriage is determined by their partner’s needs, leaving no time for themselves. So, when life confronts you with divorce, you find an enormous hole in your heart and the only desire to lie down and die.

You need to push yourself forward through despair and pain, further and further, towards new meanings. When you feel weak and helpless, the closest people will come to your aid; learn to lean on them first and then gradually on yourself.

People who can rely on themselves are no longer afraid to face the mirror, look themselves in the eyes, smile, wink, and go out ready for new encounters. They are ready to fulfill their plans, realize their dreams, and enjoy their new life.

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