It is so easy to get stuck in the emotions of divorce or other loss, whether it be the death of a loved one or even a position in life, like loss of a job.
Dr. Daniel Amen of the Amen Clinics, who has done significant work on brain studies that have resulted in the SPECT brain technology that has helped with Traumatic Brain Injuries, explains that getting “stuck” in an emotion is a result of the thalamus, which is part of the limbic system, getting stuck in the “on” position. In his recent article, The Damaging Effect of Chronic Pain on the Brain, Dr. Amen addresses how chronic pain can actually affect the way the brain functions. He says that “…when your limbic system is overactive, you tend to get stuck on worrisome thoughts. It also indicates low levels of the feel-good neurotransmitter serotonin. When serotonin is low, people tend to be obsessive, moody, and inflexible.” Even though, Dr. Amen’s article focuses primarily on chronic physical pain, I believe many of his observations and suggestions are equally applicable to the emotional pain clients experience in divorce.
I see this phenomena regularly with my divorce clients – they become obsessive about wrongs done to them by their spouse and are unable to move past their anger, desire for vindication and revenge, which are often a result of plain old hurt and fear.
Many times, clients just need time to get unstuck, but sometimes they also need medical and psychological professionals to help them re-balance their limbic system to restore their ability to shift emotional gears. The first step is to recognize the problem. Dr. Amen offers ways to effect such a change: clients can learn to “thought stop,” or do biofeedback work, which along with his other suggestions, are a good place to start. He offers a number of “natural remedies” for treating these symptoms without the need for medication. In some cases, medical doctors do prescribe effective medications that help clients minds and bodies take a break from the tsunami of emotions that they can experience in a divorce.
Almost like changing the oil in a car, medication or counseling seems to help clients who are stuck in their obsessive thinking to being able to resume their ability to shift gears into a healthier perspective with renewed energy, optimism and hope. This renewal of energy, optimism and hope is not usually accomplished simply by engaging in the legal system; in fact, it can be counter-productive for a client to use his attorney as a mental health counselor – that will simply cost them more in legal fees and attorneys are not nearly as good at giving the support that clients need to get “unstuck” from their emotions as medication from a medical professional and/or counseling with a mental health professional.
While I am not endorsing or suggesting that divorcing clients need treatment by the Amen Clinic, some of their insights and suggestions can be very helpful for divorce clients to get their emotional gears “unstuck” and move on to the next, and hopefully satisfying and happy, phase of life.
For other resources to help in handling the emotions of divorce, I recormmend the following: Dr. Alan Wolfelt, an internationally known expert on managing grief, has a number of books on the subject, and Honoree Corder, who suffered through her own divorce and has authored a number of books ot help others going through that last, including, If Divorce is a Game, These are the Rules, The Successful Single Mom and Dad series, and The Divorced Phoenix: Rising From the Ashes of A Broken Marriage.