Rebuilding after divorce: Feel those feelings (part 2)
I stood in my kitchen thinking about something I didn’t wanna do. I had to go to an office to get a copy of my second divorce decree. I’m getting married again and assumed I’d feel joy. But instead, I felt something crappy. My mind had created a vivid scenario of the office lady judging me. As I spun the scenario around and around in my head, my emotional state got worse and worse.
As I wrote about in my last post, “Rebuilding after divorce: Know what you’re thinking,” the first thing I did was a brain dump. I wrote down all the stuff swimming around in my head. Here’s some of what came out:
“This is so embarrassing.”
“People will find out I’m getting married again and make sarcastic remarks.”
“I look like a fuck up.”
It wasn’t pretty. I had a page full of thoughts that seemed like reality. There was certainly something wrong with me if I was getting married a third time. My brain was convinced. After taking a gander at everything I’d written, I realized what I was feeling.
Shame. I felt shame as a direct result of my thinking.
Here’s why. All feelings are because of thoughts. Believe it or not, the feelings you have are because of something you’re thinking. I know this may be a new way for you to look at feelings, so here’s an example: A dog got killed as it ran across the street. One person thought “Oh how horrible….that poor sweet dog and the poor owner!” That person felt sad because that sentence ran through their mind. But, let’s say another person saw the same thing and thought “Seriously? Who lets a dog run wild through the neighborhood? Idiots.” This person felt righteous. It was the same circumstance, but different thoughts led to different feelings. The first person felt sad. The other person felt righteous.
So, back to my shame. I knew the spinning thoughts in my mind were causing me to feel shame. Okay, so what did I need to do? Before I tell you, let’s talk about what we normally do. See of any of these sound familiar:
One: Avoid. Instead of feeling bored, frustrated, or sad, we eat chips and ice cream, binge Netflix, gossip on the phone, or clean the kitchen. It feels great in the moment.
Two: Resist. We feel guilty or scared and pretend everything’s fine. Think of pushing on a door while a force pushes back on the other side. Sooner or later, you can’t keep holding the door closed. Emotions always find their way back to the surface. Somebody or something will push those buttons sooner or later.
Three: React. We feel angry or hurt, so we yell, complain, punch somebody in the face, or cry and curse at the computer. (Oh, that’s just me.)
Four: Allow. This is what we should do, although it’s probably not the answer you’re expecting. You just have to feel it. You know the saying “The only way around it, is through it?” It’s key if you want to move on and change. I had to let myself feel the shame. This is new territory for most of us and it takes patience and practice. Imagine feeling angry and just sitting with it. Imagine not screaming, complaining, or eating it away.
I acknowledged the shame (heaviness in my body) and allowed it to be there. I felt it when I was driving to work, while I was on-air, and at home doing the dishes. It didn’t last all day, but whenever those thoughts came up I was able to say to myself “Okay, Im feeling shame, but I still have to go to work.” Oddly, I felt a big sense of relief by naming it.
The idea of feeling a negative emotion on purpose goes against everything we’re taught. We’re taught the goal is to be happy, all of the time. That my friends is a nonsensical pile of crap. We are human. We are supposed to feel both positive and negative emotions. It’s called being fully human.
Allowing emotions is relatively new in my life too. I have to check in with myself all the time. Often, when I have a shitty feeling I’ll watch TV or eat junk food. Sometimes I know I’m avoiding or reacting. It’s my primitive brain looking for instant gratification and relief. And I know I resist emotion by getting defensive sometimes.
But here’s the thing, feeling the shame wasn’t great, but it wasn’t horrible. I think it’s almost like a doc giving you a diagnosis, like, “You are feeling guilty.” Aha! Good to know. Except, with feelings, you are getting honest with yourself. You get curious about what thoughts are causing the feeling. It’s like putting those sentences in your mind under a microscope to find their effect. Again, you can’t deal with something you don’t know exists.
Shame. There it was. I let myself feel it and it passed in a few days. I let myself wonder if a thought like “I’m a fuck up” was serving me at all. Was there an upside to thinking “I’m a fuck up” and feeling shame? Of course not. Shame also keeps you stuck.
I decided to practice other thoughts like: “I’ve come a long way from five years ago when I said I’d never date again,” “My fiancé is stellar and I’m lucky to have him,” and “I’m a badass cause I’ve learned to trust my judgment again.”
Those thoughts brought me joy.
I know you can do this too. You can compassionately watch your mind and feel your feelings. Give it a try. You’re a badass too.
In the next post, I’ll talk about the actual visit to the office and what really happened.
Dawn Ziegerer is a certified coach who coaches divorced women over 40 who bring the shadow of a past relationship into a current one. You can reach her at email@example.com.