The Psychological Trauma of Divorce

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By Brette Sember, JD Updated Aug 28, 2023


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The Psychological Trauma of Divorce

Divorce can be one of the most difficult processes we’ll ever endure. It’s not common for divorce to happen gently and amicably (although it can happen for a lucky few).

The process stirs up emotional issues and creates a lot of stress for all parties involved. It’s only natural for a divorce to have lingering emotional effects that can impact you throughout your everyday life.

Here’s what you need to understand about the potential for psychological trauma related to your divorce.

Changing your divorce strategy or preparing for the aftermath can help you transition from your divorce into the process of building a happy, healthy new future.

The Psychological Trauma of Divorce

What Causes Psychological Trauma?

Psychological trauma is a reaction to an overwhelming event, and it’s not just tied to divorce. Events like accidents, assaults, abuse, or grief can often have psychologically traumatic effects.

Divorce can be one of these events that cause psychological trauma for some people, although divorce does not always cause psychological trauma. Many people will be able to overcome negative feelings they experience during a divorce, but some of us need some extra help.

If the circumstances surrounding your divorce were unusual or extreme, they may meet the markers for trauma.

Markers such as sudden or unexpected upsetting events, feelings of powerlessness over a situation, receiving cruelty or abuse from someone, or memories of adverse events during childhood can turn divorce proceedings into a psychologically traumatic event.

The Psychological Trauma Leading to a Divorce

Divorce never occurs because a couple is happy.

The events leading to your divorce may be emotionally traumatizing. This is especially true for people who have dealt with domestic violence or cruelty in the time leading up to their divorce.

Even if the divorce itself feels almost like a relief, that relief doesn’t resolve the lingering trauma that may have stemmed from years of abuse or maltreatment.

If you were abused or maltreated by your spouse, you may need counseling to help you reclaim your happiness. The National Domestic Violence Hotline provides resources for people who are currently enduring or who have recently endured domestic violence.

The Psychological Trauma of a Divorce

The psychological trauma of divorce can stem from a single factor or a combination of several factors that are emotionally and mentally taxing. You may also have lingering feelings from the events leading up to your divorce, which may complicate the situation.

A Sudden Divorce

You may not have seen your divorce coming. If your divorce papers were a shock, you may have a difficult time processing the situation you’re in. Some divorces sneak up on you, leaving far more questions than answers.

A Stressful Divorce

Divorces that take place in family court can last for years. Your divorce may be one of the most draining events in your life for the foreseeable future.

When you need to spend a disproportionate amount of time handling such a stressful situation, it’s hard to find a reprieve. You may not be able to “put it down” at the end of the day and focus on other things.

This can keep you trapped in a negative or hopeless mindset for a very long period of time.

Being Intimidated By Your Spouse During Divorce

If your spouse has cruel or abusive tendencies, they may attempt to intimidate you during your divorce. If this is the case, you need to speak with law enforcement immediately.

There are measures of protection that can be taken if your spouse is attempting to intimidate, threaten, or blackmail you during the divorce process.

Revisiting Past Negative Experiences During a Divorce

Divorce tends to dig a lot of things up from the past. During a divorce, you’re likely to spend a lot of time reflecting on moments you’d prefer to forget. To some extent, this can be considered a part of processing and healing.

If it becomes overwhelming, it could be indicative of trauma you’ve experienced throughout your marriage. Divorce may bring buried memories or experiences to the surface.

The Psychological Trauma of Divorce on Children

Divorce can be especially traumatizing for children for a multitude of reasons. The first is that they have absolutely no control over the situation. There’s nothing a child can do or say to alter the course of events, and it has a huge effect on their life.

Their home life suddenly has changed without their knowledge or permission. Some children may try to bargain for what they want, and while their feelings should be considered, parents shouldn’t stay in a bad marriage simply for the sake of their children.

What’s more, many children overhear their parents speaking poorly of each other during a divorce. Even if you and your spouse take care not to directly mention anything negative in front of your children, most children are perceptive enough to understand what’s going on.

Children may feel like they’re being compelled to choose a side. Many children know they’ll only be able to live with one parent most of the time. They may feel abandoned by the parent they’ll spend less time with, or they may blame one parent for the actions that caused the divorce.

Children need a lot of help to navigate divorce mentally and emotionally. Children don’t have the emotional resilience of adults, and a lot of extra care should be taken to assure that children are adequately supported throughout the process.

Coping With the Psychological Trauma of Divorce

When you experience trauma, the effects don’t resolve themselves. You need to work towards healing from trauma. Counseling is a very effective solution for dealing with trauma and finding effective coping strategies.

You can’t erase the events that caused the trauma, but you can come to understand them from a new perspective.

You can choose to pursue counseling as an individual or with your entire family. Your children may need separate counseling to address their feelings. In some cases, it’s helpful for children to attend counseling alone.

It can also be helpful for you to attend counseling sessions with your children. You can learn how to cope and support each other as a family.

Healing takes time. You won’t feel completely better after just a few counseling sessions. You’ll need to regularly attend your appointments and make a genuine effort to incorporate new coping skills and strategies into your everyday life.

Be prepared to commit yourself to the healing process for as long as it takes for you to experience an improvement in the way you think and feel.

Minimizing the Psychological Trauma of Divorce

The psychological trauma of a divorce cannot always be avoided, especially if it’s the result of events that have already occurred. You can minimize the potential psychological trauma of the divorce process by choosing a gentler method of divorce.

You don’t need to drag your divorce through family court for an extended, expensive, stressful battle if you’re able to communicate safely with your spouse.

Raise the idea of keeping your divorce as smooth as possible. If you’re able to agree on how you’d like your marriage to conclude, you can file for an uncontested divorce.

The paperwork takes less than an hour to fill out online when you’re both sure of what you want. All you need to do is file it with the court and wait for a brief hearing. Your divorce can be over in as little as a few weeks without the need for lawyers.

If you need a little extra help working things out, try mediation. Divorce mediation is where you and your spouse work with a professional mediator who will listen to what the both of you want. The mediator can make suggestions and discuss options that might satisfy both of you. You’ll ultimately have the final say in the choices you make.

Mediation is much more private and far less expensive than arguing your divorce in court. If you can successfully avoid a court battle, you’ll save your family a lot of money, time, and stress.

Taking Care of Yourself

You need to take care of yourself at all points of your life, but it’s especially important to be mindful of self-care during a divorce. If you believe you’re experiencing psychological trauma as a result of your divorce or the events leading up to your divorce, it’s important to seek help.

You need to be your best for both yourself and your children. Your happiness is worth the effort.

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