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Dealing with Emotional Trauma - The Psychology of Divorce

posted 24 Feb 2013, 14:06 by Mpelembe   [ updated 24 Feb 2013, 14:07 ]

In addition to being a legal and financial battle, a bitter
divorce is also known for being an extremely taxing
emotional ordeal. In fact, the emotional toll of a
adversarial divorce is sometimes compared to the experience
of losing a close friend or loved one.

People who attempt to help their friends deal with
difficult situations such as bereavement or divorce are
often puzzled by their apparent inability to communicate
with their grieving friend. In many cases, well-meaning
people are rebuffed by shows of despair or anger which
leave them feeling intimidated, unappreciated, or bitter.
The problem is that people fail to understand the
psychology behind emotional traumas such as divorce.

According to modern psychology, people who experience
severe emotional trauma undergo five stages of responses to
the situation.

The First Stage: Denial

This stage is fairly well-known by both the popular media
and culture. Unfortunately, people who are "in denial" are
more frequently mocked or parodied than understood or
sympathized with. The truth is that the denial stage is a
very real, very normal response to emotional trauma that
does not deserve the trivialization it receives in the
popular media. People in the denial stage are attempting to
deal with their problems through simple avoidance. Because
denying a problem allows people to "resolve" the issue
without ever facing it, it is usually the first response
that occurs.

The Second Stage: Anger

At some point, people realize that they can no longer just
ignore the issues. For example, a divorcing spouse will
eventually recognize that their marriage is falling apart.
During this stage, the spouse will become very hostile
anytime the issue of their divorce is brought up. They will
blame their spouse, their family, God, outside influences -
in short, everything and anything outside of themselves. To
someone on the outside, this stage often appears irrational
and ungrateful, especially to people who find their
attempts at sympathy met with angry outbursts. It is
important to realize, however, that the angry response is
not intended to be a personal attack; it is, instead, a
progression in the way the divorcee is handling the

The Third Stage: Bargaining

Once a person enters the third stage, they stop blaming
other people or outside forces for their predicament, and
instead start looking for ways to "fix" the situation. They
propose irrational or implausible deals in order to save
their marriage: "I'll do _____ your way if we can just stay
together." While the promises made in the third stage sound
good on paper, the reality is that they will rarely be
carried out in practice.

The Fourth Stage: Depression

The blame game comes full circle in the fourth stage.
Having tried and failed to save their marriage in the
bargaining stage, the spouse begins to blame themselves for
what has happened. They shut out people and feel strong
self-pity and self-loathing. Although the extreme feelings
triggered in the depression stage can be warning signs in
some cases, in most situations this is stage is merely the
lead-up to a final resolution.

The Final Stage: Acceptance

It may take a long time, depending on the person, but he or
she will eventually come to accept what has happened in his
or her life. At this point, the spouse has worked their way
through four incomplete and unsatisfactory responses to
emotional trauma, and it is the result of these experiences
that gives them the ability to understand and accept the
changes in their life. This is the stage in which a
divorced couple can speak about the divorce without anger
or bitterness, and may even be able to resume a normal

Divorce is a complicated matter, both legally and
emotionally. Every case and every person is different and
must be dealt with on a specific, individual basis.

About the Author:

Joe Devine
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