As an individual who is currently going through divorce, I know firsthand the emotional distress that divorcees experience. Divorce brings up feelings of loss, sadness, anger, jealousy, grief, guilt, shame, embarrassment, and anxiety (to name but a few!).
All of these are normal feelings for one muddling through a divorce. While I have struggled at times with my divorce, overall it has gone better than I ever could have imagined. Yes, there have been days filled with depression. There have been moments of hopelessness. There are the occasional bouts of anger. Yet, on the whole, I greatly misjudged just how difficult the experience would be.
Self-Compassion is the Key to an Easier Divorce
Partly, this success is due to my having taught and practiced self-compassion for the past five years.
Self-compassion is basically being kind to yourself when things go badly. However, this is a greatly watered down version of self-compassion.
The goal is to treat yourself with the same type of kindness and compassion that most people extend to loved ones when they fail. When someone else makes a mistake, most people will react with some degree of kindness and understanding. Self-compassion turns down the volume on anger typically associated with huge mistakes while still maintaining your sense of personal responsibility. A 2007 study at Duke University found that ‘inducing self-compassion may disengage the relationship between taking responsibility and experiencing negative affect.’ This allows you to still take full responsibility for your mistakes while minimizing the amount of time that you spend beating yourself up as well as reduced the intensity of those ubiquitous destructive emotions I mentioned earlier.
The way in which you do this is to speak to yourself as if you were a three-year-old child. This allows for mistakes (which is a major path for learning), screw ups, and errors. Self-compassion is related to greater resiliency (the ability to bounce back from difficulty) which every divorcee can use.
New Study on Self-Compassion and Divorce
A study is coming out this month in Psychological Science on the importance of self-compassion for those in the midst of a divorce. The authors, David Sbarra, Hillary Smith and Matthias Mehl, state ‘Self-compassion can promote resilience and positive outcomes in the face of divorce.’
The study compared self-compassion to other major traits, such as self-esteem, resistance to depression, realistic optimism, or social intelligence. The findings?
Self-Compassion Accurately Predicted Quickest Positive Outcome Following Divorce
The only trait that consistently predicted positive outcomes following a divorce was self-compassion. That is amazing!
The study involved 105 participants (38 men and 67 women) with an average age of 40. They’d been married, on average, for 13 years and had been divorced for 3-4 months. The researchers had the participants call to mind their ex-spouse and then talk for four minutes about their thoughts and emotions related to the break up. This was done at three time points – initial visit, three months later and six to nine months later. The researchers looked at the frequency of intrusive unpleasant thoughts, negative emotions related to the divorce and their ex and how well they were getting on with life since the break up.
Those participants with higher levels of self-compassion recovered from divorce faster and were doing better after the nine month period.
Self-compassion, according to my former Cal classmate, Kristin Neff, is a combination of mindfulness (being aware of feelings of jealousy and anger, for example, without getting stuck in them), an awareness of the interconnectedness of humanity (we all suffer at times), and self-kindness.
Self-compassion, in my opinion, is an integral part of positive psychology in the sense that it is rapidly showing itself to be an instrumental tool in any happy, thriving, meaningful life.
To find out more, check out my award-winning self-help book, Guide to Self: The Beginner’s Guide to Managing Emotion and Thought which is currently available for free at www.GuideToSelf.com.
If you are angry about your divorce, please visit my new video blog (vlog) at AngerGeek.com for free tips on how to turn down the volume on anger!
To life, love and laughter,
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Founder Guide to Self, Inc.
Award-winning author, award-winning blogger, national speaker, emotion expert