Let’s face it. Divorce is tough. Known as one of the greatest life stresses, a breakup — especially one involving children — can cause debilitating pain.
But why do some people seem to recover more quickly while others wallow in anger, sadness and anxiety for years?
Might those quick-to-get-back-on-the-horse divorcees have been less in love? Less attached to their partner? More callus about the whole affair?
Those were some of the questions University of Arizona researchers set out to answer as they studied a group of recently divorced adults and followed their progress for a year.
And far from being less attached or loving, those who recovered faster shared a surprising personality trait: They all had a high degree of self-compassion.
The researchers broke down self-compassion into three simple concepts:
- Kindness toward oneself.
- Recognition of a common humanity.
- An ability to let painful emotions pass.
It seems that the ability to recover and move on from painful experiences is directly related to these mental skills. But then can they be learned?
The U of A team, David A. Sbarra, Ph.D., who led the study along with his colleagues Hillary L. Smith and Matthias R. Mehl, aren’t sure if these skills can be acquired or whether they are just part of one’s human makeup.
I lean toward the side that the brain can learn just about anything, and I think that most cognitive therapists and those who study neuroplasticity would agree.
“Your loss is something painful
but normal for humans.”
Let’s break it down:
1. Kindness toward oneself.
Kindness toward oneself is simply the absence of negative dialogue in your head.
If you carry a critical voice inside yourself (perhaps one that chastises you for your role in the relationship failure or admonishes you for not getting over things quickly), then you can replace those negative thoughts with more positive words, such as “I did my best with what I knew at the time,” or, “I will allow myself the time I need to mourn because I know this, too, will pass.”
2. Recognition of common humanity.
Recognition of a common humanity is the acceptance that you are only human. And that your pain has been felt by others who survived this. At the highest level, recognition of a common humanity might include feelings of compassion for the partner you are angry with.
3. Ability to let emotions pass.
An ability to let painful emotions pass can be increased through meditation, exercise, pro-social behaviors like charity work and random acts of kindness, and reaching out to family and friends to find support.
These are the proven natural anti-depressants. Exercise, relationships and altruism.
Finally, understanding that your loss is something painful but normal for humans can help you change your perspective about your situation.