Divorce can be a devastating event, a time of strenuous transition, even for someone who initiates a divorce or separation. Often, many people who experience a divorce grieve over the loss as one does when a relative or loved one dies.
Both children and adults are affected during this onerous time. Children experience feelings of loss just as profoundly as adults. Children feel the disappearance of a familiar family structure, a loss of friends, a familiar home environment, a school, and church, most especially if a divorce has caused them to feel displaced. It becomes extremely difficult for children to establish any feelings of security after a divorce. These losses are also common to what adults are feeling. Adults experiencing divorce or separation mourn the loss of a companion, a friend, and economic security, even a perfect family.
The process of grieving, known as the “stages of grief,” was first introduced by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross and later extended upon by many writers. These “stages of grief” include shock, denial, guilt, anger, bargaining/depression, hope, and acceptance. The “stages of grief” do not follow one particular order, nor may they only be visited once, but it is likely a person will or has experienced each of these stages.Not everyone goes through all of them or in a prescribed order.
When people say they feeling nothing, have a completely numb feeling in their bodies, they are in the stage of shock. Panic may be present with this stage of grief, either preceding or following the feeling of numbness. A person may have difficulty concentrating or expressing themselves to another during the stage of shock.
However, when people altogether refuse to grieve, they are in denial, another stage of grief. Denial helps us survive the loss. Grief is a painful process; many people try to put it off, at least temporarily before dealing with it. Often, phrases such as, “ I don’t care anyway,” or, “She was never there for me anyway” are heard. Without addressing this stage of grief, a person can become stuck in this stage, making it hard for a person to move on to a healthier stage of life.
When a person begins to reflect and look back on what may have caused a divorce or what may have hurt someone, feelings of guilt begins to surface. Thoughts in this stage of grief are often phrased with, “If only I…”
A feeling that is often most present and associated with the grief process is anger. Anger is a necessary stage of the healing process. This stage follows after a divorce or separation. Often, blame is placed on a partner for initiating divorce or for breaking up a family or the ideal home. Anger can be self-inflicted, often towards oneself for the incapacity to prevent the divorce. Be willing to feel your anger, even thought may seem endless.
Many people feel alone, become isolated, or want to be alone when they grieve. What becomes a last effort before resolving some of the grief is the stage of bargaining. This may be in the form of a person bargaining with God, with himself or herself, or with one’s former partner. Usually when the last big effort to reconcile or mediate does not work, the person often experiences depression as a result. At times, the depressive stage feels as though it will last forever. It is an appropriate response to great loss.
Nevertheless, a more positive stage of grief comes in the form of hope. Hope is an essential part of the resolution process, a part that indicates optimism for the future, putting the worst behind you, and starting fresh.
Finally, with acceptance, the final stage of grief, one may be surprised to still have feelings of sadness, but it is shared with acceptance that there is no going back. In this stage, acceptance does not contradict the pain of the experience nor the joy or past experiences. But rather, one becomes complacent in the moment, and accepts the present as the only alternative. With this stage, a person is ready to face the future and be willing to learn to live with it.
Though these stages may be become present with a divorce or separation, it is key to remember that if you become stuck in any stage, you may need the help if a professional to move on or to help recover from your experience.
Ann Marie Termini, Ed.S., M.S., LPC