The question most of us want the answer to is “What to do when divorce is turning my ex into his or her worst self?” The answer to that is simple, although not what we want to hear. Nothing. We have no power over anyone else but ourselves and as horrifying as it is to watch someone we have loved and lived with turn into a person we hardly recognize, fuming with hate and anger, hurting us even when there is no gain for them in it, there is nothing we can do about that. Of course, we have our lawyer handle the legal stuff and be sure we get what we deserve both financially and legally but we cannot talk sense into our ex, change their mind, or behavior.
It is painful and shocking to see someone change during the course of divorce and do things we never thought they were capable of. We stare at them and wonder if we had ever known them. But it is even more shocking when it is us, turning into our worst selves, thinking and doing things we never thought we were capable of, feeling more hate in our hearts than we can even admit to ourselves.
It is so much easier to see this in our ex, to keep the focus on what terrible person he or she is becoming and how much we are being hurt by their actions. But chances are, divorce is bringing out some never seen or even known thought patterns and behaviors in us too. It is just harder to be aware of or accept, because we feel so justified to think or behave like this for whatever reason. The only problem with justifying destructive thoughts and behavior is that they destroy us the most. Yes, they have hurtful effects on the people around us, mostly on the subject of our wrath or revenge, but it does the most damage to ourselves.
The most important thing to realize and accept that whatever we do to others we are doing it to ourselves. That revengeful act or angry word will hurt us even more than it hurts the other person. It will steal and destroy more in us in the long run than in the person we intended it towards. Humanity's most accepted moral code of "Do to others as you would have them do to you" is not just a recipe for cordial living but a very self preserving principal. What we do to others we are doing to ourselves, so if I don't want to hurt or destroy myself I shouldn't try to hurt or destroy someone else. Including my ex spouse.
Sounds simplistic or far fetched? Not if we look at the effects of unmanaged anger on our health: high blood pressure, increased anxiety, depression, heart attack, stroke, insomnia, digestion problems, headaches, etc. That alone seems to prove the point. And let us not fool ourselves thinking that if we act our anger out in a revengeful, spiteful act against the ex, our anger will resolve and disappear. On the contrary. It will fester and get stronger, and start effecting our own body and soul, destroying good things in our own lives.
When anger starts manifesting in hurtful language and vindictive actions it is not acting as a protective emotion anymore (anger's primary function is to safeguard us from another person when in danger) but as a cover up emotion for something deeper within. It is crucial during divorce to be aware and understand our own anger and the exact source it's coming from. Primary anger is for us and it protects us. Secondary anger is against us and it will destroy us. Acting upon the wrong kind of anger can have disastrous consequences inside and outside the court room.
The question we have to ask ourselves when anger arises: Is my anger in this situation a primary, protective emotion, looking after and shielding my own goods and interests in the divorce, or is it a secondary, cover up, camouflage emotion, trying to hide my fear or shame? Not an easy one to answer, and it might take some digging and processing but we can't afford to confuse the two. Acting upon the second kind and letting it determine our words and actions during the divorce is a sure way to turn into our worst selves and bring even more hurt and pain upon us.
So what to do when you are turning into your worst self in front of your own eyes and can't seem to stop or reverse it? Get help. As much as possible. From people who themselves don't share your anger against your ex and can be subjective with you. Unload, uncover the fears hiding behind your anger, process, find ways to get back to your centered self, and decide on actions in line with your moral and ethical codes. And always remember: Divorce doesn't have the power to destroy you unless you hand your power over it.
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