One of the questions I'm most often asked about all of the painful emotions around divorce is, "How can I make it stop?"
Repeating, painful, cycling thoughts. Strong, self-torturing emotions. Lack of sleep. Lack of appetite (or self-medicating through food). Irritability. Despair.
Many of the patterns of suffering that accompany divorce have their roots in just one place: your thoughts.
In your heart, you know that it makes no sense to obsessively ruminate about things you can't change. But, you feel you need to do something. And your mind can trick you into thinking that, if you worry enough, or if you can just figure it out, then somehow, you can change the outcome.
That somehow, you can turn back time.
Long after you've finally made peace with the idea that you can't change the fact of separation and divorce -- that it is what it is -- the mind still won't let go.
This is when clients turn to me with the plea to "make it stop." It now turns out that there's scientific evidence for one of the things I've been teaching women all along: how to gently and repeatedly guide themselves away from triggering thoughts that lead into a spiral of pain. The kind of pain that feeds into a host of other problems: insomnia, headaches, digestive problems, low-energy, depression, and more.
Your brain has a delete button.
Turns out that the latest neuroscience says your brain has a delete button.
Thoughts you no longer use are pruned away, during sleep, to make room for the information you do need to remember and use.
How does the brain know which trains of thought to hardwire into permanent rotation? They're the ones you rehearse over and over again in the course of your day.
Want to make sure that certain thoughts stop torturing you? Stop thinking about them.
"But that's impossible!" you say. "They just keep coming back no matter what I do!"
This is where the new research can give you hope and relief.
The more you can shift your thoughts away from troubling subjects and toward attractive, interesting subjects (what I like to call bright, shiny objects), the more the positive thoughts will be reinforced during sleep and the troubling thoughts pruned away.
Consciously decide what's important to you, so you can remind yourself to shift your thoughts.
Here's a little bit from the research (see the full article here):
"You actually have some control over what your brain decides to delete while you sleep. It's the synaptic connections you don’t use that get marked for recycling. The ones you do use are the ones that get watered and oxygenated. So be mindful of what you’re thinking about.
"If you’re in a fight with someone at work and devote your time to thinking about how to get even with them, and not about that big project, you're going to wind up a synaptic superstar at revenge plots but a poor innovator.
"To take advantage of your brain’s natural gardening system, simply think about the things that are important to you. Your gardeners will strengthen those connections and prune the ones that you care about less. It's how you help the garden of your brain flower."
A few simple tips on how to stop upsetting, repetitive thoughts in their tracks:
Check out this Facebook live video I did a couple of weeks ago as part of my Wednesday Q&A feature on The Dynamic Divorcee Facebook page. It's a little over 5 minutes, and after you watch, keep reading for an additional technique that helps you help your unwanted thoughts to let go.
Secret sauce: Let your painful thoughts know you understand them and care about them.
If your wrenching, tormenting repetitive thoughts refuse to let go, here's an additional strategy to try.
Give your thoughts a designated time to run wild. Go ahead and tell them that you understand how they feel, and you get what they're trying to do. They're looking everywhere for a better, less painful outcome to your divorce.
It's the same idea as crying yourself out. Sometimes you just have to let all of these feelings express themselves. You have to honor the way you really do feel instead of trying to pretend that everything's okay.
- Set a timer for 15 minutes. If you can, go lie down and relax your body. Be comfortable and warm. Let your thoughts go wherever they want to go. Let your thoughts know that you're there to hear them. Notice that your thoughts aren't "you." They're separate from your soul and spirit. They're not who you are.
- Give your thoughts total freedom until your timer rings.
- When your timer goes off, thank your thoughts for trying to help and protect you, but let them know that they're painful for you, and that you can't allow these thoughts to overtake your mind 24/7.
- Decide on a few "safe thoughts" that you can think instead. (See the video above for some guidance on this.)
- When it's not your designated time to let your worrying thoughts to take over, you'll gently replace these thoughts with "safe thoughts." You can let your negative thoughts know that you'll be giving them time and space to run wild at a designated time, but that you need to take steps to move your life in a direction that your worrying thoughts will also approve of. (They're just trying to help you, after all.)
Do you have a question about emotional healing from divorce? I'm happy to help. Here's where to get in touch.