Whether you’ve been disappointed, betrayed or shamed, feeling rage —or even hatred —towards your ex is a normal response. It may serve as a catharsis for pent up emotions. Or, in some cases, it may even prompt action or serve as a much-needed catalyst for change. But sometimes, getting past the anger stage of divorce becomes a hurdle. When that occurs, holding onto that aggression can become detrimental to your emotional and physical health.
According to the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, anger releases stress hormones that elevate heart rate, blood pressure and glucose levels, while decreasing function of the thyroid, the immune system and blood flow. For these reasons, anger can lead to a number of chronic conditions, such as migraines, stroke or heart attack, and even loss of bone density.
What can you do if you can’t seem to get past your anger? Experts advise taking a hard look at the nature of these feelings. That loathing may be masking or replacing other emotions.
“Although we sometimes use anger to push others away, in another sense we stay intensely connected to whomever we are furious with,” says Susan Pease Gadoua, L.C.S.W. and author of Contemplating Divorce on PsychologyToday.com. “They live rent-free in our minds, where we imagine what we’d like to say or do to them. Or we use up a lot of our energy just thinking about them.”
Sometimes it’s easier to cast blame on your ex than it is to examine your part in the divorce. You may direct your anger at him or her in order to deflect feelings of shame and guilt. Regardless of its cause, anger can keep you stuck in an unhealthy cycle long after your marriage is over. To move beyond these feelings, takes work.
Gadauo suggests writing down all the reasons why you feel or have felt hatred toward your spouse. Remain factual. Don’t assume you know the reasons behind your ex-spouse’s actions. Then examine your list objectively. “If you have any insights as to how you can work to heal from this intense emotion, then write about that,” Gadauo says in her book Stronger Day by Day, Reflections for Healing and Rebuilding After Divorce. “Keep this list and check it each month or so to see how connected you still are to that emotion.”
No need to go it alone. A skilled therapist or spiritual director can provide professional guidance as you process your grief and rage. It may take time, but by defusing anger, you can move towards a place of detachment or indifference. Then, you can use that extra energy to focus on your goals for a brighter future.