Open to Re-Birth: Starting a New Life After Divorce, #1
Starting a new life after divorce can either be an experience in bleakness and impoverishment of soul, or an opportunity for genuine psychological renewal.
So, how do I move towards the one, and avoid the other? It only ever happens by our being willing to enter into the death and re-birth inherent in the major life transition at the end of a love relationship.
Accept Divorce as a Rite of Passage
Divorce can be a chaotic experience, lacking in human meaning. If the individual interprets her or his experience in that way, a divorce can lead to a person experiencing his or her whole life as being on a meaningless and negative trajectory. This can often be experienced as an abiding definition of him- or herself in terms of guilt, failure and victimhood.
But there’s another more life-giving way of looking at divorce, which is rooted in archetypal human experience. We can see it as what anthropologists and /a-midlife-transitions call a rite of passage. Anthropologists looking at indigenous societies note that such groups see major life transitions as having three main stages:
- death of an old identity
- a period of necessary disorientation
- re-birth into a new identity
Anthropologists see each of the three as necessary to establish a new identity in the aftermath of a major life transition. In the death or dying stage, the individual must take in what it really means for the old identity to be truly dead. This is followed by a period of disorientation that is often mythologically characterized as “a time journeying through the underworld, or the land of the dead.” Finally there is the stage of re-birth, in which the individual must come to understand who they are now, and start to learn what it means to live out that new identity.
An important part of soul work around a divorce is to recognize the necessity for grieving the loss of the marriage.
To many, this may seem like the last thing they would want to do. Many who are recently divorced seem to be happy to be out of a relationship. They may even throw celebration parties. However, often this is a cover for the sadness, grief and despair that can accompany the end of a love relationship.
There may well be a time for celebrating certain aspects of a divorce, but authentic celebration cannot come before you acknowledge the genuine loss involved in divorce.
Very few people get married in a cynical manner. For most, marriage or long term partnership is filled at least initially with idealism, tenderness and warm visions of a shared future. To come to terms with the end of a relationship, then, is to honestly confront the emotional impact of the death of some hopes and dreams that a person once cherished. Mourning their loss is acknowledging the death of a certain part of oneself.
Most people know someone whose life is blighted because they have not dealt with the pain of a terminated relationship. Because these people will not let go of what their relationship once was, and hang on to pain, betrayal and rage, there is no room for anything new.
At the right time, one must let go. This includes letting go of regrets, bitterness and self-accusation. This can be particularly hard when couples have children, and must continue to engage with each other. Also difficult is letting go of the inner image that tells the individual who they “ought” to have been, and who they now ought to be. This can often lead to burdens of shame and guilt so great that they are difficult to acknowledge.
It’s an essential part of this major life transition to let go of who you “ought” to be, and to accept and allow yourself to be who you actually are, moving beyond your supposed shortcomings. This involves cultivating compassion for your suffering, wounded self, and appreciating your uniqueness as a person. Working on this kind of issue through case studies can be particularly effective.
Value Yourself , Value Your Journey
It’s very hard for many people to value who they are, and to value the uniqueness of their journey, so that they can start a new life after a divorce in a positive way. This can mean really needing to work hard at clearing away the negative messages and stigma that society often applies to those who undergo divorce.
Next time, we’ll look at the nature of soul work related to divorce, and how /a-midlife-transition assists the process.
Brian Collinson, Registered Psychotherapist & Jungian Analyst
PHOTOS: © Alon ; Dee Ashley ; Beth Scupham ; Adam Baker