Any relationship breakup is hard, but a family breakup with children involved is especially difficult. We spend so much time making sure our children are coping and dealing with the practicalities, that our emotional healing is often left by the wayside.
You will likely experience a whole range of difficult emotions, such as loss, sadness, anger, fear and confusion. Add feelings such us relief and moments of exhilaration to the mix, and you can be excused for wanted to shove them under the rug and deal with them another time.
According to the Counselling Directory, ignoring negative and confusing emotions:
“Could lead to mental/emotional issues such as anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and dysfunctional relationships. It is important to identify and acknowledge the emotions which you are feeling rather than ignore them.”
The question is: How do we work through our emotions while we have so many other balls to juggle?
Here are some tried and tested ways to cope with your rollercoaster emotions during a breakup.
ACCEPT THAT ALL FEELINGS ARE OK
The very first stage to deal with upsetting emotions is to accept them. This is really simple and hugely effective.
If you are feeling angry, rather than fight it or try and ignore it, instead accept it. Allow yourself to feel angry, accept that you have a right to feel that way. There is no need to act on the emotion, just allow it to sit with you. Eventually the feeling will pass, and you can give yourself a pat on the back for accepting it.
Keep doing this and slowly it will become a habit and you will be much better placed to deal with day-to-day emotions as they creep up on you.
LET IT OUT
There will be times when you feel particularly emotionally. This may be caused by a trigger or simply through overwhelm. This is expected after a family breakup and is completely normal. In fact, it is the perfect opportunity to let some of those pent-up emotions out.
Whether it is a damn good vent to a good friend, a cry on the bed or finding a deserted place to smash plates (yes, this works!) … let yourself do it. An adult tantrum might not be the most sophisticated look, but it will be a wonderful release of emotions.
EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED
Until you have actually gone through a family breakup you can’t imagine the emotional impact it will have. And this will be different for everyone.
If your relationship has been difficult for a long time you might be preparing to whoop for joy when you finally separate, but instead feelings of sadness and regret hit you like a speeding train. Alternatively, you might be expecting devastation to hit, but instead you feel relief, which can then lead to feelings of guilt and confusion.
Be open-minded and leave the emotional expectations of your breakup at the door. Deal with the reality of your emotions as they come. And remember, there is no right or wrong way to feel.
Telling people to ‘think positive’ whilst going through a breakup is like telling someone stranded in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean to start swimming. Yet, there is some substance to this. WebMD says:
“Positive thinking, or an optimistic attitude, is the practice of focusing on the good in any given situation. That doesn’t mean you ignore reality or make light of problems. It simply means you approach the good and the bad in life with the expectation that things will go well.”
Simple ways to stay positive include surrounding yourself with positive people, focusing on the parts of your life that make you feel good and practicing gratitude.
GIVE IT TIME
The concept of ‘allowing time to heal all wounds’ is more controversial than you may think. Many experts believe it is a change of behaviour that heals, not just waiting and hoping that time will do the work for you. However, for those going through a family breakup, it really can help to have faith and give it time.
The initial stages of a separation with kids is usually chaotic. During this time your emotions will be spiking and falling like a life support machine. This phase is not permanent. As everyone settles into their new normal, your emotions will level out and become more manageable. If you are struggling right now, know that time will bring calmer days for you.
DON’T ISOLATE YOURSELF
Isolate yourself? An almost laughable concept if you are a working single parent longing for some peace and quiet! Yet, single parents can become extremely lonely, even amidst the crazy work/life/family balance.
Life is never too busy to make time to spend with good friends, family or anyone who you enjoy quality time with. If you are time-poor stay connected with a phone call when the kids are in bed. If your friendship groups have changed, dig-out local groups to join. Or even hop online and connect with like-minded people through Facebook groups.
Keeping loneliness at bay is one of the best things you can do to help your mental health as a single parent.
GET HIGH QUALITY SLEEP
There is a lot be said for getting a good night’s sleep while you are dealing with the fallout of your separation. Tired means cranky. And if you already struggling with challenging emotions, you seriously don’t want to feel any worse. The Mental Health Foundation says:
“Sleep is as important to our health as eating, drinking and breathing. It allows our bodies to repair themselves and our brains to consolidate our memories and process information. Poor sleep is linked to physical problems such as a weakened immune system and mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.”
If you are having trouble sleeping long-term, go and see your GP for support because life is a million times better after a good night’s sleep.
PRACTICE SELF CARE
Alongside sleep, a level of self-care is very important to good mental health. It also promotes relaxation and has a positive effect on overall mindset.
Self-care is about what YOU personally enjoy doing. It certainly doesn’t need to take large chunks of time out of your day or cost you anything. Here are some simple self-care suggestions:
- Have a cuppa and read your favourite book
- Stick in your head phones and take walk
- Grab a mindfulness app and do guided meditation
- Go for a run or join a gym or fitness class
- Catch up with a friend for coffee
Whatever you choose as your self-care time, make sure you build it into your weekly routine. This way you won’t miss out and will keep your mental health in tip-top condition.
LOOK FORWARD, NOT BACK
When you first separate you can be forgiven for looking back at your relationship and wondering where it all went wrong.
Our past is there to learn from, not to live in. Take the lessons that you need to move-on and then change direction. Start to look forward and put your energy into your new life awaiting you as a single parent.
You may feel overwhelmed, but keep looking forward. Break down your goals into doable chunks and work towards them. Gradually you will realise that there are far better things ahead then any we leave behind.
If you are really struggling with negative emotions during or after your separation, you may need to reach out for professional help. Never be afraid to do this. Asking for support is a sign of great strength.
There are lots of people qualified to help specifically with the journey of family separation. To find the right one for you get a referral from your GP and start your guided healing.