Challenging Your Self-Talk at the time of Divorce
Thoughts can trigger emotions. Challenging and changing your thoughts is another way to work with emotional triggers.
When we leave a relationship and have a marriage breakup ending in divorce we leave with our own assumptions about what went wrong. This creates a story that we tell ourselves, often over and over and over. It is our own story about why the marriage failed and you are now divorcing.
The more and more detailed we get about it: what our spouse did wrong, what we should have said at the time, what it really meant when he/she did or said whatever they did or said, the more the story gets blown up into full Technicolor. And whether your particular story paints you or your spouse as the “bad guy,” that story becomes a strong trigger for all of your negative feelings around the divorce and your soon to be ex-spouse.
Then the more often you tell the story and more you buy into it, the more inflexible and enmeshed in negativity you become. The story creates its own little conclusions: “My spouse is a jerk.” Or “I am stupid.” Or “I will never trust anyone again.” Or “I am obviously not lovable.” These little conclusions end up having big con- sequences. They become the “self-talk” that will guide your actions and decisions going forward. Learning to challenge this self-talk, and even the story that prompted it, is an important tool for taking charge of your emotions during the divorce process.
Here is an Inquiry Exercise—Challenging Your Story
One of the best ways to challenge the self-talk is to ask inquiring questions.
Byron Katie has done some wonderful work around examining self-talk through inquiry. Author, teacher Byron Katie can be found at: http://www.thework.com/index.php
Katie’s goal is to help us break away from the stories that create negative self-talk and keep us limited and unhappy. Katie says that our stories are based on the assumptions we make about others and that it is important to question those assumptions. Byron Katie describes her work as a way of “identifying and questioning the thoughts that cause the discuss finances, and you have identified that talking about money makes you feel panicky. Prior to the meeting, take a few moments to sit in a quiet space. Take a few deep breaths and imagine the meeting in your mind. Imagine yourself feeling totally calm and resourceful. If that seems difficult, take a few more deep breaths and try again. If you did feel calm and resourceful, how would that feel physically? What would your posture be like? How would you speak and listen? Get as much of that experience as you can.
Athletes use this visualization technique all the time to im- prove their performances. They imagine the ball landing softly on the green or how they feel soaring through the air off a ski jump. So rehearse yourself as being in the emotional state that you want to have. Whatever you do, do not rehearse yourself in your old panicked (or other negative emotion) mode! We often misuse the power of our imagination to rehearse everything we don’t want to happen rather than what we want! That just helps us get better at being worse than we want to be.
Heat of Battle Exercise—Push Pause
Naturally, there will be times when you get caught off guard—- life is full of surprises! You will get triggered and feel that rush of emotion before you know what is happening. When you do, stop. Push pause. Take a few deep breaths to calm yourself. Let the whole scene freeze if you need to. In most situations, just because it is your turn to say or do something, does not mean you have to! Keep breathing until you feel the emotion subside. If you still feel highly charged with emotion, you can even excuse yourself and take a brisk walk outside for a few moments. Or table the issue for another time entirely.
It may feel uncomfortable to push pause and remain silent. You may feel pressure to continue even though you know your emotions are at the boiling point. Stop. By taking the time to dif- fuse the trigger, the entire process will be much easier on you and produce better, more sustainable results in the long run. anger, fear, depression, addiction, and violence we often feel.” She teaches us to examine our assumptions by asking four questions. The questions seem simple, but if you take the time to answer them seriously, they can be quite profound and help you uproot negative thoughts and feelings that are holding you back. The four questions are:
1. Is it true?
2. Can you absolutely know that it’s true?
3. How do you react, what happens, when you believe that thought?
4. Who would you be without the thought?
Apply the four questions to your own story about your divorce. It is most helpful if you ask it about each part of the story. When asking these four questions, you want to not only apply it to the facts of your story but especially to the underlying assumptions that you have around those facts. For example, part of the story may be that your spouse had an affair. She has admitted it so you know it is true. But the underlying assumptions you have attached to that fact might be things like, “So she never really loved me” or “So, I can’t trust her about anything ever” or “I must have done something wrong that she would do such a thing.” Make sure that you ask the four questions about all parts of your story.
Seeing It Differently Exercise
Another helpful way to change your story and the negative self- talk it creates is to ask yourself the question: How could I see this differently? In this practice, without necessarily questioning whether your story and assumptions are true or not, you let yourself take on a different perspective.
Haven’t you noticed that people can live through the exact same experience yet tell a totally different story about it? For instance, you may have grown up at the same time in the same household with three siblings. More often than not, the four of you will be different and unique in the adults you have become. When you get together to reminisce about your childhood, odds are that your stories about those times will be different. One sib- ling will recall an uncle as mean and patronizing while another sibling will recall him as funny and entertaining. You might remember family holidays as warm and loving while your brother thought they were boring or stressful.
We all process information through our filters, but through this question you have the opportunity to try on other filters. “How could I see this differently?” Let yourself come up with a totally different story—especially different assumptions about why anything happened. Does this new story make you feel differently? Is it possible that there is some truth in this new story? Maybe there is a new perspective that gives you food for thought and calms down the negativity that your old story created?
The point of all of these exercises is to help you experience the control you have over your emotions, even those emotions that seem to tie you in knots and overwhelm you at times. Part of making your divorce process as easy and beneficial as possible is to take charge of your emotions and to get you in the state of mind to produce positive outcomes for you and your family. It does take a little work but you will find that the rewards are worth it.