Strategies to Override Negative Thoughts After Divorce
It is completely normal to be plagued with negative thoughts during and after divorce. It’s a challenging time where you’re facing loss and uncertainty and your prior coping strategies may not be quite up to the task. Here are some actionable strategies that you can employ if you’re struggling with any of these common negative thought spirals after divorce:
Negative Thought – “I’m not good enough.”
This negative thought can arise from any divorce, especially since the end of a marriage often brings with it a sense of failure. It is especially common when there was infidelity or abandonment, as those actions are easily internalized.
If you’re struggling with feeling like you are not enough, try some of the following:
- Gather up old letters, cards, emails, texts, etc. from people who love and care about you. Assemble these into a “smile file” (this can be tangible or digital) and set aside a few minutes a day to look at it to remind yourself of what others see in you even when you’re having trouble seeing it in yourself.
- Build up your physical strength or endurance. The interaction between the mind and body is completely amazing. When you begin to feel the strength and capability in your body, you will also begin to believe in your mind.
- If your ex’s voice is in your head saying negative things about you, take pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and refute each and every one of their claims about you. This exercise can help to remove the power that their words have over you.
- Volunteer. Time spent giving back to others is also time that you’re out of your own head. Additionally, you’ll benefit from seeing the positive impact that you can have on others.
- Limit your social media exposure. It has a way of bringing anyone down.
Negative Thought – “I wish things could be different.”
This is a persistent negative thought for many people. Some wish they could go back to the way things were (or at least the way they thought things were). Others direct their energy towards trying to get their ex to act or respond differently (which is a frustrating and ultimately fruitless exercise).
If you are ruminating on the past or wasting energy trying to change your situation, try some of the following:
- Start a daily gratitude practice. I like to use an app for this purpose, but you can also use a journal or even an audio or video recording. These can be brief (1-3 things each day) and simple. They are a powerful reminder that even though you’re dealing with unwanted change, there is still good in your life. And whatever you nurture, grows.
- Take a piece of paper. Divide it into two sections and label them “Things I CAN change” and “Things I CAN”T change.” Then, brainstorm at least 5-6 entries for each. Commit to spending your energy only on the items in the first column.
- If you have a tendency to reach out to your ex when you shouldn’t, make it more difficult to contact them. Remove their number from your phone. Block them. Lock your phone in your car when during those periods when you’re more vulnerable.
Negative Thought – “I can’t move on without closure.”
The search for closure keeps many people stuck after divorce. We tell ourselves that we need resolution and answers before we can let go and move on. Yet often, those wished-for accountabilities never appear.
If you’re having trouble accepting a lack of closure, try some of the following:
- Start a journal. Focus your entries on those questions that are still haunting you. Explore some likely explanations. Keep going until you land on something that feels like truth. Once you find it, accept it in.
- Create your own closure ceremony. Perhaps you burn old photographs or repurpose your wedding dress. Take something that had meaning in your old life and metaphorically (or literally) bury it.
- Complete this sentence, “Because this happened, I have learned…” Once you can identify what you have learned from an experience, you have moved forward from that experience. The lesson IS the closure.
Negative Thought – “I’ll never be happy again.”
Divorce can be a heavy, dark cloud obscuring any hope for happiness. It’s easy to buy into “the good old days” and assume that the upcoming moments will continue to be bathed in darkness.
If you’re mourning the loss of the life you had and wondering if you can ever be happy again, try some of these:
- Spend time in nature. It has an amazing way of reminding us that death and renewal are natural cycles. Marvel at the new growth fed by the decaying matter. Delight in the sliver of sunlight peeking through the clouds. Soak it in. All of it.
- Set yourself up for laughter. Go see live comedy (even if you’re by yourself). Rewatch your favorite funny movies from your youth. Try puppy yoga (seriously, it’s impossible to keep a stoic demeanor). If you prime the pump for levity in these small ways, you’re setting the stage for something bigger.
- Schedule smiles. Put one small thing on your calendar every week that you look forward to. Every 1-3 months, schedule something bigger that you enjoy. Don’t allow yourself to talk yourself out of these. It’s easy to get caught up in the, “I won’t have without my partner.” But that sentiment is only true if you allow yourself to believe it.
- Have conversations with an elderly person who has a positive outlook. Ask about their experiences. Most likely, they have endured several upheavals in their life that they worried they wouldn’t recover from. And yet they did.
- Write down the expectations you had for your life that you now fear are gone. Analyze them. How many are TRULY out of the realm of possibility now? I bet it’s fewer than you thought.
Negative Thought – “Why did this happen to me?”
When life throws curves that cause us to careen off course, we often wonder what we did to deserve such fate. It feels unfair as blows reign down on our unsuspecting frame.
If you’re feeling victimized or consumed by thoughts of rumination and self-pity, try some of the following:
- Read either fiction or memoir that features people overcoming obstacles. Not only is it motivating, it helps to remind you that bad stuff happens to good people all the time and that people often overcome great obstacles to become great.
- Identify a way that you can create some purpose from the pain. Can you reach out and help others that are experiencing similar? Are you able to apply your knowledge and skills to assist people that are also facing this situation? Maybe your gift comes with an artistic bent, using this to fuel your creative endeavors.
- List your particular traits that make you better able to handle this situation than somebody else. Are you a good problem-solver? Maybe you’re amazing at networking and bringing people together. Whatever your strengths, focus on how they can help you now.
- Occupy your mind. An idea mind often wanders to the past and gets lost there. Put structure in your days to limit your down time. Add activities that keep you busy and keep you moving.
Negative Thought – “This is too overwhelming.”
Moving on from the pain of divorce and rebuilding a new life are huge undertakings. If we had the means, I’m sure we would all love to hire an entire team to help. But more often than not, we’re left to do it alone.
If you’re feeling paralyzed by the sheer enormity of the challenges in front of you, try some of the following:
- Identify a very small step that you can take immediately. And then, before you have a chance to overthink it, act on it. Inertia is a powerful force, yet it only takes the smallest nudge to upset it.
- Channel your stubbornness and determination. Find a picture of you that represents your inner strength to you. Put it where you can see it along with a promise that you WILL recapture that spirit again.
- Create accountability in your life. Enlist technology to remind you to tackle the small tasks and friends to ask if they have been crossed off the list.
- Link things that you have to do with things that you want to do. Make all the calls to your lawyer with your favorite cup of coffee in your hand or only wear your favorite socks when you’re on your intended walks.
- Create a doable, but challenging goal for yourself. There is great power in a finish line as it provides both a needed distraction and the motivation to keep moving.