Is anger useful in divorce? Reflecting on the marriage separation advice we provide our clients throughout Australia, anger is a prevalent emotion.
If you are reading this, it is probably because you are angry. Angry at your ex, perhaps angry with yourself or the world. And you want to know whether you are normal.
Without stating the obvious, anger – and even some type of conflict – is a normal emotion in the context of separation. Divorce is not fun – whether you are the leaver or the leavee. Divorce calls into questions your sense of identify; who you are; the disposable-ness of your relationship; and the specialness of you.
And it might seem obvious now but divorce often rewrites your history; and your future and sense of order are uncertain. Your present may be dark; a fog. Or you may feel like you no longer have a voice.
No wonder you are angry.
What is anger?
Anger is, of course, a signal that something is very wrong. For most people, divorce is a trauma. And with trauma comes physiological changes both in your nervous system and cognitive functioning. In essence, you are experiencing a heightened state of arousal. While your underlying emotion will usually be pain caused by fear or grief or hurt – it is masked by your anger.
You might feel that being angry masks the pain – and gives you energy and purpose. You may feel powerful – even if only in the moment.
When angry, our limbic system (the more primitive part of our brain) overrides our neocortex system (the problem solving part of our brain) and adrenaline floods through our body. It impairs our ability to think clearly – we react – “You cannot do that to me” or “You are wrong”. Anger serves to protect us as it triggers a fight, flight or freeze response – reflexes useful when we were cave people. Unfortunately in divorce, it is difficult to run away from your ex or the financial negotiations – the parenting arrangements – or the hurt. It is also almost impossible to do nothing – and fighting then seems to be the only answer. Anger and fighting seem to be something that you can control.
Our marriage separation and divorce advice on anger management
So here is the marriage separation advice… and now I am going to ask you a question that you don’t want to hear. I want to know deep down inside, whether you think fighting with your ex is the only answer?
Truly, will bearing a deep seated resentment or grudge against your ex help you – either physically, emotionally or in your communications with them – or the relationships with your children; or anyone else? Will blaming them make things better for you or your kids? Will it change your ex’s behavior? And will it have a positive impact on you and those around you? Will you like yourself?
Ask yourself how anger makes you feel. Do you believe that you can think rationally when you are angry?
Accept your anger, without letting it consume your rational mind
We know this all sounds preachy. We are not saying that you should ignore your anger. Embracing and accepting your anger – but not acting in response to it – is a positive thing. Sitting calmly and doing the Richard Gere thing in Pretty Woman – “I am very angry, I am very very angry” – can have surprising benefits. It is cathartic. Going for a run; writing everything down (and then ripping it up); getting some sleep; screaming into a pillow; talking with friends; mediation; yoga; focusing on your breath. All of these things can help you to self-soothe. Personally, I like to stick out my tongue… childish I know but it helps me to have a laugh!
Sinking into your anger – not reacting but accepting where you are, and who you are, without a need to do anything immediately – will help you to find compassion for yourself and your circumstance. And it will help you to recalibrate.
Ask yourself why you are angry
Looking beneath your anger can also help you to understand what your fears are, and therefore help you find solutions.
We know anger is a normal part of your divorce process. But it can be a positive or a negative one. Accepting and not reacting to your anger is the first step on your journey to a new – and a different – you. You cannot control much about WHAT is happening to you right now – but you can choose WHO you want to be in your divorce. The choice is yours.