April 7, 2022
By Lisa R. Murray, Esq. and Valerie Sher, Ph.D.
What is Resiliency?
Resiliency is one of the most important qualities we can cultivate. Resilience is the ability to recover quickly and keep functioning from difficulties and adverse situations. It’s the ability to adapt and adjust, both physically and psychologically to difficult situations, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress. This can include family and relationship problems, serious health problems, workplace or financial stressors, and as we’ve all experienced, major world events such as the pandemic, and war/global unrest.
Difficult experiences, such as divorce, can cause us to forget our normal coping skills and put us in crisis mode. Getting support from a therapist or spiritual guidance counselor, having a good support system of friends and family, and having a collaborative team of professionals such as the Collaborative Divorce model can help you focus on what you need to take care of yourself, and connect to your strengths and coping skills. Resiliency can be developed at all ages. Cultivating resiliency in yourself helps you to build resiliency in your children.
Divorce is considered to be the second most stressful life events second only to the death of a loved one. This makes sense as divorce can represent a kind of death of a relationship in its historical form. And like a death, it requires comprehensive changes to your life and identity. Resiliency can help you and your children adapt, cope, and move forward into what’s next.
Things to Consider:
- How have you adapted and adjust to working from home, home schooling, limited social engagement, and possibly family members getting sick or dying from Covid?
- What strengths have you called on in the past to help you function and move forward during adversity?
- How might you have helped your children develop resiliency during the pandemic? How might you help your child generalize those skills and apply them to navigating the uncertainty and stress of divorce?
What it looks like
Resiliency can look like a lot of different things and includes many skills and tools, including:
- Acceptance – Resistance to what’s happening often contributes to feeling stuck and keeps us from moving forward. Radical acceptance is saying, “I may not like this but it’s happening, so what can I do, what choices do I have?” This not only paves the way for moving forward, it contributes to a sense of empowerment as opposed to feeling like a victim of what’s happening.
- Self-Awareness – Knowing what you’re feeling, what you’re needing, and when you’re out of gas and need some self-care are all important elements of resiliency. When we know what we’re feeling and needing, we can do something about it. We can reach out for support, we can take a time out. Maybe we need some exercise, movement, or play to reduce our stress. Having healthy outlets where you can talk about and express what you’re feeling is critical to resiliency. When emotions can move through us, we’re not spending a lot of energy managing them. As a result, we can have more space to think critically.
- Focusing on the Little Things – Sometimes it’s the little things and going back to basics that helps us gain a sense of routine, structure, and accomplishment. Things like getting out of bed, making a meal, or taking care of personal business can help us take baby steps, and slowly we find a new rhythm and get into a groove.
- Reevaluating and Assessing – Thinking critically about what you can realistically do now, or during a transition period can help you avoid feeling “in over your head” or overwhelmed. As you create two separate households, you may not be able to do everything you did before; whether it’s spending the same amount of money, doing the same number of activities, or giving to others. Reevaluating personal commitments, or those Starbucks expenditures, which can add up will help you feel a sense of control, adjustment, and accomplishment. Larger life goals may need to be put on hold and reassessed in the new paradigm. This doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do those things in the future once you have transitioned and adjusted, and a new normal is established. And, your goals and what’s important to you may change as you go through this transition.
- Boundaries – Setting boundaries is an area many struggle with. While you want a good support system, well-meaning friends and family may want to know about every detail of what’s happening to you, talk about your ex, or give you advice about what you should do next. Your children may ask for information about “who did what to whom”, or who was at fault. This information may not always be in your best interest or the best interest of your children to know. Learning to appreciate their concern and desire for information and to help, while, at the same time setting clear boundaries will protect you from having to retell your story over and over again, getting trapped in your story, and will protect your children, friends, family and community from information that cannot be rolled back. Let yourself be in the driver seat regarding what is discussed, the topics you need to talk about, and letting people know you’ll reach out if you need to talk or would like their assistance in figuring out what you will do next. And, learn how to tell your children that some things are “adult matters” and not for them to know, and reassuring them that you and their other parent will work out all of the details. Setting boundaries is another element of feeling empowered — you are putting yourself in control of the information you give and receive. It gives you space and time to be thoughtful about what is shared and with whom, what you’re giving energy to, and to determine who your allies are and who simply benefits from your divorce drama.
- Focusing on Yourself – The more you’re focused on your ex, the less you’re focused on taking care of you and those who are in your care. When you find yourself worrying or obsessing about what your ex is doing and with whom, ask yourself, “What do I need?”, “What would make me feel good?”, or “What do I need to take care of?”
- Slowing Down – Slowing down means not making choices too quickly simply because you want it to be over with. Slowing down can prevent you from making costly and emotionally hurtful mistakes. Don’t get a tattoo, buy a new car, or do anything drastic you may regret later.
Things to Consider:
- Think about the coping skills and strengths you’ve had to access in order to function in a time when everything was changing.
- Think about what you’ve seen in others as they’ve navigated serious health, workplace, emotional challenges. What do you admire about them?
Why you want it
When we’re not able to be resilient, we may become overwhelmed, unable to function, experience significant depression, anxiety, or other health/physical ailments. When we are not resilient, we are more likely to turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms such as withdrawing, drinking or using substances, overeating/undereating, acting out, or engaging in other negative, destructive behaviors. When we are in a state of constant distress, it takes a significant toll on our bodies. We are not in a regenerative state. We are susceptible to burnout, overwhelm, and illness. Developing resiliency helps you stay healthy.
We want to be resilient because it gives us a sense of courage, competence, and agency – the ability to make things happen. When we are resilient and can quickly change direction, access our coping skills, adjust to what life throws at us. We are more adaptable and can “go with the flow”, without it throwing us on “tilt”.
Resilient people become even stronger, cultivate more wisdom (learning from the past), and are able to move forward more quickly.
In the arena of divorce, non-resilient people often spend more time and money fighting in court, experience significantly more emotional stress/distress, require more resources, and impact their children and families in negative or damaging ways. The cost can be enormous to physical mental health and wellbeing, and financial stability.
Things to Consider
- How would resiliency help you at this time in your life? What might change if you were able to be more resilient right now?
Teaching Resiliency to Your Children
Teaching your children to be resilient is one of the most important things you can teach them. As children struggle with the effects of divorce, they may feel helpless, express intense emotions, and exhibit poor or regressed behavior. These are all a sign that they’re struggling to cope.
As a parent, you can start by modeling acceptance, healthy emotional expression, boundaries and the skills discussed above. Ask your kids to talk about what they’re feeling and give them space to express themselves and talk about their concerns without trying to fix or minimize them.
Parents often want to rescue their children from painful feelings, but the truth is, you can’t. Helping them process the divorce by thinking of different ways they might think about things, considering what they can do in any given situation, and generally problem solve helps them to have agency and feel empowered. Be a coach of positive thinking and behavior or a challenger of negative thinking and behavior. Don’t be a rescuer.
Engage them in distracting behaviors, such playing, watching comedies. Too much heaviness is hard to handle. Finding things to balance the difficulties can be so helpful.
Some of the traps people fall into that affect our ability to be resilient include:
- The Blame Game -> When you are in blaming mode, you are operating from a victim mentality. How can you move to being empowered and the creator of what’s next?
- Right/Wrong Game – We all make mistakes, we all are imperfect. When we’re quick to be right or feel superior, we are trapped into only seeing our perspective. There’s no one way to leave a marriage or restructure a family into two households.
- Fair/unfair Game – Life is not fair sometimes, accepting that simple truth can be key to moving forward when life seems unfair. Life sucks sometimes.
- Resistance/Not Accepting What’s Happening – Resisting what is true is the definition of suffering. In Buddhist philosophy, life is painful, and suffering is what we layer on top of the challenges of life. How can you practice radical acceptance?
Developing resiliency while you are going through the divorce process can seem like a challenge and one more thing you must do. But, finding the seed of resiliency in yourself and cultivating it as you navigate your divorce can help your divorce go more smoothly, for you and your children. Teaching your children how to be resilient by modeling resilient traits and behaviors will help them adjust and adapt to their new lives. Working with a Collaborative Divorce team of professionals who can give you support and guide through the divorce efficiently, can open up space for you to tap into and strengthen the skills that make you resilient.
For more information about Collaborative Divorce visit CP San Mateo – (collaborativepracticesanmateocounty.org).