Why You Should Never Let Temporary Emotions Guide Your Divorce
Divorce and impulse control: These two things can seem diametrically opposed.
It’s hard to be sensible and stay calm when the stress of divorce hijacks your emotions. And yet, during a divorce, you must make many critical decisions that require a cool head. Your actions now could affect you for years to come.
The science of temporary emotions
The human mind experiences a constant flow of thoughts that come and go. Many times, you may not even be aware of these thoughts because they are so fleeting.
But when you’re in the middle of a highly emotional event such as your divorce proceedings, your thoughts become super-charged with feelings. These feelings can create an emotional response that’s almost impossible to ignore.
While emotions can be good, helping you empathize and react positively to others, they can also be overwhelming, leading to destruction. They can cause you to act like a caged animal who is completely and totally out of control. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and expert on emotional and social intelligence, calls this response an “amygdala hijack.”
When your security seems threatened, the primitive part of your brain can jump into fight or flight mode. As a result, you may make quick decisions in a quest to “protect” yourself. But these quick decisions can be poor decisions based on temporary emotions that soon go away. In the meantime, you may inadvertently hurt yourself or others.
How to recognize temporary emotions
Temporary emotions are usually the ones that show up in times of overwhelming distress. Death. Job loss. A family emergency. Divorce. Feelings run in high gear when your well is running dry. Put a couple of people together with these high-revving emotions, and it can hit a fever pitch.
Before you get to that point, there are likely some warning signs that occur. One or more of the following might happen to you:
- You can’t eat
- You can’t stop crying
- All you want to do is sleep
- You don’t want to be around other people, even friends and family
- You’re experiencing all sorts of physical symptoms: headaches, stomach pain, vague body aches
- You’re drinking too much or taking drugs to take the edge off your despair
- Your work is suffering
- You feel hopeless and may have even wondered whether life is worth living
Before you know it, with resources low, you have moved into feelings of anxiety, depression, overwhelming anger, and fear. And even if you have the sense of self to know these reactions are destructive and transient, you may have little strength left to fight them.
Tips for dealing with intense temporary emotions
You might feel like you want to “get back” at the person who caused you heartache. But your emotional suffering and anger will keep you stuck in victimhood.
Your intense emotions and impulsive actions will not help you get emotional justice. On the contrary: Destructive feelings hurt you more than anyone else.
Take a deep breath, and switch your focus to your best interests rather than punishing your soon-to-be ex.
- Be mindful of your feelings. Check in with yourself constantly. With self-coaching, you may be able to get a handle on yourself before you go into a full-out emotional response.
- Consider the consequences of your impulsivity. This is a logical thought process you may have to force yourself to do. But it can be helpful. Can you afford to suffer the consequences of what you want to do right now?
- Get outside support and perspective. Don't enlist the help of someone who will amp up your anger. Instead, get the help of a therapist, divorce coach, or level-headed friend who can instill some practicality and common sense.
- Promise yourself to shelve the impulse until the next day. Then, stop ruminating and thus giving it more power. The next day, chances are it will look very different.
- Unpack what you’re hoping to get out of your actions. Then, consider whether it is likely to happen.
- Organize yourself and your thoughts. Understand what you need and want and how to best get it. Hint: It's not with hurtful emotional responses.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. Your intense feelings are part of your ancient survival mechanism. Divorce is hard. Heartbreak is hard. Healing is hard. Giving in to an impulse is easy, but dealing with the consequences of that impulse isn’t. You’re hurting enough … don’t hurt yourself further.
At Hello Divorce, we know divorce is more than just a legal transaction. It can be emotionally overwhelming, sometimes getting the best of your good judgment.