Who Are You After Divorce?
“Who am I when I’m not with you?” It’s a self-reflective question dramatic enough to be a line on Dawson’s Creek. But, this question isn’t solely reserved for fictional selfware teens. Wondering who you are after a breakup is very much a grown-up inquiry, especially for those of us coming out of a long-term relationship. Separating from your partner isn’t only physical, it’s psychological. It can prompt even the most self-assured person into identity crisis mode.
It’s ok to feel lost.
So, what do you do when you’re feeling lost with your newfound single self? First, recognize that this feeling is completely normal. When you’re in a relationship for a long period of time, you’re not just a couple, you become coupled. You become identified with your partner. Your identity coexists within the same personal bubble. There is no such thing anymore as personal space. The biggest challenge after separating is transitioning away from this coupled frame of identity. The reason why it’s such a disruptive experience for many people, is that they lose who they are within the relationship. The “I” becomes “we.” And it’s important to not let your sense of self dissolve within the loss of the relationship. For many people going through divorce, it’s like being lost at sea without any sense of anchoring to control where they are. But, the lack of control is an illusion. You can reclaim command of your ship by reclaiming control of your relationship with yourself.
Healing begins with yourself. How you treat yourself affects your relationship with yourself. The actions and words you use towards yourself affect the way you perceive yourself. The list goes on and on. It’s easy to lose sight of yourself when we’re trained to be distracted by who we’re trying to be. We get swayed by this idealized version of ourselves to the point that we forget who we are. So taking care of yourself is a top priority when going through a separation.
How can you find yourself again?
Returning to yourself is all about nurturing. And nurture begins with forgiveness. It’s important to take responsibility for your actions, but being hard on yourself and ruminating on the past is futile. It only leads to unresolved distress. You have to allow yourself to forgive your past self and move forward. Be kind and gentle with yourself, by reducing your blame, shame, guilt, and resentment. These are the Four Horsemen of the divorce apocalypse. Being able to reduce these feelings, and ideally remove them from your life is a key part of the journey back to who you are.
Navigating this inward journey means you must be comfortable with shifting your course away from your partner. Meaning that you have to let go of the “burden” that is your ex. If you carry that weight you’ll never be able to make peace with them or yourself. By letting go of their emotional hold on you, you’re taking the weight off your own heart. Again having resentment is unproductive and only delays you from moving on. Resentment is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die. Your anger doesn’t affect them, it doesn’t control them, it doesn’t make you win.
You have to prioritize yourself, as hard as that may be.
We are a finite resource when we don’t take care of ourselves first. And in order to help other people, we must learn how to take care of ourselves. When we relinquish the pressures of the external world and the illusion of having control over things beyond ourselves, we can regain internal equanimity. We return to our sense of self when we prohibit other people from controlling our emotions.
Some pasts are not easily forgivable. But remember it is a personal journey and everyone’s path exists on a unique timeline. And like all good things, healing takes a little time.
The thing is, the most difficult relationship you have in life is the one with yourself. Maybe it’s because we are eternally stuck with ourselves and that’s frustrating. But, it can also be a positive. The beauty of life is that it’s all about self-discovery. You want to grow to love yourself and who you are.
After getting out of a long-term relationship it makes sense to feel some identity trauma. Just look at this uncertain feeling as fuel for your personal growth. It’s a chapter in your life’s story. When getting past the initial traumatic experience, it seems troubling to self-reflect and ask “who am I now?” But what really matters is where the question leads you.