Relationships can be challenging, even after they have ended. This is especially true when dealing with a divorce or family separation—in your or in the life of a family member or loved one. In this week’s blog and podcast, I speak with licensed marriage and family therapist Vienna Pharaon about how divorces affect our mental and physical wellbeing and how we connect with others, why it is so important to give ourselves the mental space to deal with the pain associated with a divorce or separation, why we need to work on our past if we want better relationships in the present and the power of healthy conflict in a relationship.
Vienna’s own experiences growing up in two separate homes after her parents long and painful divorce inform her practices as a therapist, and her emphasis on integrating the self and dealing with the past to heal the present. Our history can impact what we say and do in the present and how we relate to others, because our experiences affect our memories and choices—as I have said many times before. If you or your parents or someone very close to you has gone through a divorce, it is important that you create space in your mental life to say that it has impacted you, even if you don’t know what the impact is just yet. Be ready to take a good look at your history. Yes, this can be scary and challenging, but it is the first step to healing—Vienna saw this in her own life and in her relationships.
Understanding our families and the impact this has on us as individuals is so important. When we start doing this, we can use the container of our relationships to grow, develop and heal ourselves and the way we relate to others. This is not a “blame game”—looking back at the impact your family history has had on you does not mean that you are looking for a scapegoat for your problems. Say your parents got divorced when you were a young child. You can say that they “did the best that they could” and still acknowledge that the situation was hard and impacted you in a negative way.
This process also does not take away from who you are today and what you have accomplished. Naming your pain does not mean taking away the gifts or resiliency you have developed along the way. Your resiliency can be a “badge of honor” that helped you thrive despite your circumstances, but don’t let this narrative block you from exploring and deconstructing your past hurts and trauma, especially if this is affecting how you relate to yourself and others in the present.
The thing to always remember is that although we can fake it to others for a time, we cannot fake it to ourselves. If we want to live in a transformative and empowered way, we need to line up all the parts of our self; we need to live in a fully integrated way. What our life looks like on the outside should also reflect our internal life. If it just appears like we have it all together but our thinking is a mess, we will experience cognitive dissonance, which will affect our mental and physical health and our relationships, potentially setting up a toxic cycle of fighting, bitterness and divorce.
What are some of the signs that you may not be living an integrated life?
- How do you react? When you find yourself reacting to certain triggers and situations in your relationships, it is a good idea to stop and examine how you are responding to others. How do you react? Why? What sets you off? How do you feel when you react in this way? Take a good look at the context of your life. Where do you disconnect, from yourself or others?
- What is your origin story? Get to the root of what you say and do, or what may have happened in your past that is affecting how you react today. My app SWITCH may be helpful during this process, as it is a great tool for helping you learn how to manage your mind, deal with the roots of your issues, and overcome negative thought patterns and behaviors that impact your relationships through the mental process of reconceptualization(it is now on sale at 50% off for a 3-month subscription).
- How do you bring this into your relationships? Talk this through with the people you love and trust. Try to see where your past may be affecting the way you relate to the people in your life. Find a safe space to be vulnerable and honest. Seeing a licensed Family and Marriage therapist may be helpful in this case, or you can check out Vienna’s excellent online course, Get The Love You Want, at http://www.newyorkcouplescounseling.com/virtual-offerings/. You can get $50 off this course with the code "DISCOUNT50".
As you go through this process, do not be afraid of conflict—this is where we can grow and learn things about ourselves and our relationships. Conflict often holds the key to some of the most important information we can learn about ourselves and each other. It is a flag in the ground telling us there is something we can learn from here. And we have control: we can choose how we see and respond to conflict. We can choose to learn something new about ourselves and the person we are in a relationship with. Yes, this is hard work because so many things are activated inside of us when we are in conflict, but when we learn to navigate it, we can use it to our advantage!
The same can be said for conflict within ourselves. If you are going through or have gone through a divorce, be compassionate with yourself—give yourself space to not know what may happen. Give yourself permission to feel, to change, to take accountability, and to express what you are going through, and to choose how you would like to be in the world moving forward. This gentle and curious inner dialogue can help you heal and move forward. So, if you are feeling guilty, angry or frustrated, get to know these emotions. They are giving you information about your experiences, so pull up a chair and compassionately explore how you feel and why: let your feelings speak to you.They may point you to something you need to work on in your life. Create space for ownership, growth and accountability, but never let go of the human within. We all make mistakes, we all have emotions—we are all human!
For more information on relationships and mental health, listen to my podcast with Vienna (episode #176) and check out her website. If you enjoy listening to my podcast please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing! And keep sharing episodes with friends and family, and on social media (don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).
2:08 Why Vienna loves being a marriage and family therapist
6:27 How can we deal with divorce and heal ourselves?
17:30 How your past can impact your present
23:55 How do you recognize when you are not integrated as a person?
31:00 The power of conflict
36:00 How can you help parents and families going through a divorce?
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