Rebuilding after divorce: Know what you’re thinking (part 1)
Not long ago, I went to an office to get a copy of my official divorce decree. My second divorce decree. I’d describe the woman behind the counter as an annoyed civil servant. She kinda rolled her eyes upon seeing I’d already been divorced twice, yet wanted info about getting a marriage license. I made a comment like “third time’s a charm,” but she wasn’t amused. For her, it was just another day at the office, serving nut jobs who are stuck on the revolving door named “marriage.”
That scene sounds pretty shitty, doesn’t it? Maybe you feel bad for me. Or maybe you agree with the lady behind the counter. Well, there was no lady behind the counter. That particular visit never happened. That scenario only existed in my mind. My brain is great at making stuff up. And yours is too.
For days preceding the actual visit, my mind was in a negative spin. I’d convinced myself that it would happen just like in the first paragraph. I just knew there would be a lady there I’d have to interact with. Here’s what was on repeat in my brain before I ever stepped foot inside the office:
“This is so embarrassing.”
“She will think I’m a loser.”
“She will secretly be making fun of me behind my back.”
“People will find out I’m getting married again and make sarcastic remarks.”
“I look like a fuck up.”
I was just stating the truth.
Except I wasn’t.
The truth is, those are thoughts. Our brains come up with about 60K thoughts every day. Most of the time we don’t realize they are thoughts — we think the stuff in our heads is just obvious reality. The truth. Facts. The way things are. Common sense.
The truth is, your brain is full of thoughts and facts. Most of them are thoughts, but we think they’re facts. So what’s the difference?
A thought is a sentence in your mind. They’re often descriptive and contain adjectives. On the other hand, a fact is something everyone would agree on. A fact could stand up in a courtroom.
Here’s an example: “My ex-husband is a jackwad because he said I was fat” is a thought, not a fact, even when all your friends agree. Not everyone would say he was a jackwad. His mom may think he’s the best son on the planet and his boss may think he’s the most loyal employee on the team. The fact: “I have an ex-husband and one time he said ‘you’re fat.’” Everyone would agree he’s your ex-husband and a hidden camera could prove he said those words.
Now, let’s go back to the thoughts I had about that office visit. Why did my brain spew forth such nastiness? Believe it or not, my well-intentioned, primitive brain was just trying to keep me safe from embarrassment. It’s a nice thing, this primitive brain. It keeps us alive, but it also keeps us stuck. It also tells us we should avoid feelings like embarrassment at all costs.
So, I was in a quandary. I knew something was off if I was feeling negative about the visit and positive about the marriage. I’ve been on this awareness journey for a while now, and after a few days of feeling bad, I actually realized they were thoughts. Not facts. So I had to come up with the facts:
- I need a copy of my official divorce decree from my second divorce to get remarried.
- I will visit an office to get a copy of the decree.
- It will cost 25 cents to get the copy made.
- A person will wait on me at this office.
That was my first step. To separate the thoughts from the facts. And sometimes it’s harder to do than it looks. I had to realize that “I look like a fuck up” was just a thought. And how did I know it wasn’t a fact? Because lots of people would disagree with me.
I had to be aware of what was happening in my head before change could happen. You can’t change anything until you’re aware it exists.
So what should you do to take the first step toward change? If you don’t like something happening in one area of your life, try this: Do a brain dump about it. Take 15 minutes and write down all the things rattling around up there. The first few entries may look something like this:
- “My mom should quit telling me how to live my life.”
- “She’s from the old days and she just doesn’t understand.”
- “She is so controlling and I hate going to visit her.”
- “Last Friday, mom said ‘you should quit dating losers.’”
- “I can’t believe I ever married that douche.”
“Men can’t be trusted.”
- “I will never get married again.”
- “My husband had an affair after 12 years of marriage.”
Which of those are thoughts? Which are facts?
Start there. Write down what’s on your mind. Don’t edit yourself. You don’t have to show it to anyone. Write down all those dark thoughts too. Nothing changes until you bring it into the light. There are no good thoughts or bad thoughts. Don’t judge them before they come out.
See if you can separate the facts from the thoughts. The first step on this journey is awareness. Awareness of what’s in your head.
Next week, I’ll tell you exactly which negative emotion I was feeling and what I had to do to be able to move forward.
Dawn Ziegerer is a certified coach for divorced women over 40 who bring the shadow of a past relationship into a current one. She helps women create a better life. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.