August 10

Post Traumatic Growth: The Ultimate Way to Recover From Divorce

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divorce advice, divorce and emotional health, divorce blog, life after divorce


We all know that divorce, especially high conflict divorce, can be devastating. Plenty of people are so traumatized that it takes them years to recover from divorce. Really high conflict divorces have even been known to cause post traumatic stress disorder. Yet, while some divorcees struggle to survive, others thrive. Instead of experiencing post traumatic stress, these people actually seem to experience post traumatic growth!

What allows some people to find a bright side in their suffering, while others become angry and bitter?

Albert Camus quote over ice on winter branches.

What Trauma Does to Us

In order to understand why similar traumatic experiences can cause some people to suffer a lifetime of anxiety, while other change and grow, you need to start by understanding how trauma affects human beings.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly everyone will feel fear during and after a traumatic or life-threatening event. For most people, that fear subsides over time. But those who develop post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), continue to have intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings about their experience long after the danger has passed.

They continue to feel anxiety and re-live the traumatic event for months or years after the event is over.

 

Post traumatic growth, on the other hand, is the flip-side of post traumatic stress. Post traumatic growth is the positive psychological change that allows people to grow and to have more meaningful lives after trauma than what they had before tragedy struck.

Instead of being crushed by tragedy, people who experience post traumatic growth transcend tragedy.

A green sapling tree with leaves and roots bursting out and breaking through from a garbage bag as a metaphor for resilience and determination.

The Five Areas of Post Traumatic Growth

Researchers have studied post traumatic growth in combat veterans, people with life-threatening illnesses, accident survivors and victims of violence and natural disasters. They have identified five areas of post traumatic growth.

  1. A greater appreciation of life – After tragedy, even the most mundane details of life can seem extraordinary.
  2. Increased personal strength – Once you’ve been to hell and back, you’re not nearly as afraid of facing whatever life throws at you next.
  3. Increased intimacy and better relationships – Living through trauma can make you more compassionate and empathetic to others;
  4. Recognition of new possibilities or paths in life – Suffering changes your priorities. It can also teach you to see opportunities you may have ignored before.
  5. Greater spiritual development – Trauma rocks your world view on such a fundamental level that it often causes you to re-think life’s biggest questions.

Post Traumatic Stress, Post Traumatic Growth and Divorce

While most people think that PTSD can only be caused by war, disaster, or extreme violence, it can also be caused whenever there is an acute or prolonged trauma. PTSD can happen anytime when your mind can not process the trauma you’ve experienced.

Abusive relationships, especially those that end in a highly contested, ugly divorce, can cause PTSD.

Divorce can also cause post-traumatic growth as well. Some people who have gone through horrific divorces have come out stronger. They have survived their divorce and created new lives with more meaning and new opportunities.

What determines who will thrive after a traumatic divorce, and who will barely survive?

Hand holding a flower with half the petals gone, concept of trying to recover from divorce.

Why Some People Recover From Divorce While Others Stay Stuck

Like all human behavior, people’s reactions to trauma are complex. While some research suggested that optimists might react more positively to trauma than pessimists, not all optimists grow from their experiences and not all pessimists develop PTSD.

One of the factors that seems to affect your ability to deal with trauma the most is mindset. Dr. David Feldman, PhD, coauthor of Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success,  describes a growth mindset as one of grounded hope.

Trauma survivors who experience post traumatic growth acknowledge their pain. They are willing to face their own sadness, suffering, anger and grief. They are realistic about what happened to them. But in the midst of their pain, they’re able to ask: “Given where I am in my life, how can I build the best future possible?”

People who are willing to face their trauma and can grieve and gradually accept trauma are more likely to experience post traumatic growth than those who try to deny their feelings or try to just push the experience away. Researchers have also found that the ability to accept situations that cannot be changed is crucial for adapting to traumatic events.

Another key predictor of your reaction to trauma is social support. Being able to talk with others who are supportive can help you process your trauma. It can help you make sense of even the most senseless divorce.

Woman on a dock at sunrise with Viktor Frankl quote about choiceThe Hope of Post Traumatic Growth

For centuries, psychologists and researchers have focused on what’s wrong with the human psyche. But post traumatic growth showcases what’s right with it.

The idea that you can use the pain of an ugly divorce to build a better life afterwards is tremendously encouraging. Knowing that the latest scientific research supports your ability to do that is even better.

Of course, not everyone will experience post traumatic growth. Luckily, research shows that more people are likely to experience post traumatic growth than post traumatic stress disorder. At the same time, growth comes at a cost.

Just because your divorce may make you stronger, doesn’t mean that going through your divorce will be easy or fun. Divorce is painful no matter how many lessons you may learn from it.

Yet, once you know that the way you deal with your divorce, and the mindset you adopt while you’re going through it, can positively change your life afterwards, you start looking at divorce a little bit differently. You start acting and reacting differently.

Most of all, you realize that, no matter how horrible or life-changing your divorce may be, you can grow and rebuild your life afterwards. You start seeing your divorce, not just as the end of your marriage, but as the beginning of your new life.
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  • Dear Karen,

    Thank you for sharing this article. I had to go to my Lawyer yesterday to sign more papers, My husbands lawyer asked me to pay maintenance because my husband (43 years old) doesn’t work. We said no maintenance and now I just wait some more. If he does not sign the no-fault divorce papers we go to court. I am not sure I can do that and survive.
    I work and still pay for everything, he lives with his parents and they give him spending money but I pay all the bills. After 21 years of marriage, I am so devastated, I feel like I walk around numb, it’s hard to focus on work and just daily chores. His parents have given him a boat so he can go fishing and he is always doing something while I focus on work and surviving.
    We do not have children together, I have three grown children and I am 57 years old. some days I feel like there is no future left to look forward too. I love my husband so very much but I can’t live with infidelity and lies. He tells me I want the divorce but he doesn’t but he has not changed his ways at all. How do I know if I am just giving up to soon?

    • Oh my! Where do I start?

      You asked if you are giving up too soon. The only person who can answer that question is you. But, here are a few questions you might want to ask yourself. The answers can help you see through the fog.

      1. What are YOU getting out of this relationship? It sounds like your husband has been lying to you, cheating on you, and not contributing financially to the marriage. So exactly what are you getting out of this relationship? Love? If that’s what you think, you might want to re-evaluate your definition of love.

      2. You said you’re not sure you can go to court and survive. Hmm. You have 3 grown children (not his). That means you have already either survived a previous divorce or death of your spouse. It also means that you were a single parent for at least some period of time. My guess is that you’ve been through a lot of challenges in your life already. My guess is that you are probably much stronger than you think. (I know. You also probably hate when people tell you that. Sorry.) The point is you are resilient and resourceful. You wouldn’t be where you are today if that statement wasn’t true. So, ask yourself: Is it really true that I won’t survive this divorce? Or, ultimately, will I be okay? (I’m betting on the latter!)

      3. You said you feel numb and that it’s hard to focus. Of course it is! You’re going through a really hard time right now! Of course you’re having trouble focusing! The question is, what can you do RIGHT NOW that will help move you forward? Do you have a therapist? Do you do some small thing every day for yourself, to make YOU happy? Are you talking to your friends or seeking out a support group? All of those things will help get you bank to feeling like a human being again.

      What you are going through is rough. I know that. But, you can do this.

      Are you giving up too soon? Or, have you allowed your husband to take advantage of you for too long? I can’t answer those questions for you. But I suspect you already know the answer yourself.

    • Karen Covy I wish I would have found your web page in 2007 when I file for my divorce at age 37 I was with the same man living with him since we were teens both of us we were only age 14 when we moved in together with a few other friends that they were older than us. My ex husband and I we meet at my fathers house when I had gone to visit my father on my summer vacation and my ex husband had just been at my fathers house for a few weeks he had arrived from Mexico City with his friends my step mothers nephews, they were at adult age 18 years old they were 4 years older than him they came to the United states to work for my fathers in his construction company. He was staying at my fathers house any ways we ended up dating with out my fathers or my family consent we when behind my family back. When my father and family found out. Hell brock loose so we move to live with his friends in there rental. He ex husband keep working for my fathers company because my father tough I had gone back home and he was also hire by some other company that move people things they they are moving. my grandmother that had been raising me did not know anything about me other than I left my fathers house and moved with friends. So my ex husband and I lived together for 23 years by a couple of months but was married to him out of the 23 years only 7 years, we did start a family but 6 years after, he keep telling me he wanted kids since we were 15 but I said NO I was not ready plus I wanted to finish school and get a hire education he refuse he was to jealous even of his own family members talking to me. 6 years later I was expecting my first child at age 19 had my first child at age 20 only because the birth control pills were change and they fail. He wanted me to have a abortion I found out it was because he was living a double life here were times he did not go to work he was with some older lady in her late 30s . I said no so I left him but my older brother took him to the place I was staying my ex sister in law open her home to me when I was in need. But when my brother took him to show him were I was staying he would go everyday and cost a seen for a total of 2 months I left with him again because I did not want to give my ex sister in law problems with him. Any ways my first child was a premature child I did not even get to 7 months I need it 7 days to be 7 months pregnant he was a miracle baby that survived, I forgave my ex husband but he keep cheatting on me. I did not find out till a few years later. I was stuped and ignorant I stayed because I was to scared to have to raise my son on my own paying rent and Bill’s and ect. So I still look around to move out with my son when my son was age 6 then be convince me he would change I forgave him and try to put things behind. but it took a long time to trust him again then 4 years later I’m expecting my second child I’m about 5 month pragnate when I come from work to find some woman looking for my ex husband his cheatting on me again. We had so many problems after that. I wanted to live him but my oldest son cried and ect he did not want us to seporate. I was raised with out my parents because my parents parted and they both just left me with my fathers mother she raise me till I was 14 and my parents had seporated life they both had started a new life long story I was not in my mothers life at all. I was in my fathers life but not that much because he never had time he was a work colic. And never did much to be part of his kids lifes. after I meet my ex husband I never when back home to live with my grandmother. So I gave my ex husband one more chance but there was a few woman looking for him and texting him on his phone even as I gave birth to my second child. He told me he was not responding to them other than I’m with my wife and I’m not living her. I say him text that a few times. But we were struggling to maintain our marriage and our family together. We had 2 boys he ask me if we could try to have a little girl. I did not want to because things were not good with us. But I tough about it because my oldest son keep complaing he wanted a sister too.i get pragnate I have a miscage 2 in total. I told him I’m not trying any more it’s to painful to dill with . I dont want to have any more kids. I’m getting monthly birth control shots. Then I get the news I’m pregnant when I go for a physical test. I was planing on my divorce because I suspected he was cheatting again. I had to sucked in and wait. I keep everything from my family I did not want them to hate my ex because it only would hurt my kids. So I was scared I could get sexual transmitted diseases well being pragnate so I refuse to let him touch me. I had my 3 child he then I find out his family members new of him having someone also he take the woman over to there house. I pull out money from are bank account and realize he had been spending so much money on restaurants and night clubs and hotals in Mexico. I live 25 mints from the Mexico border we had propertys in Mexico Rosarito so then I find out he had one of the woman and her 2 childrean living in one of are property rental in Mexico Rosarito. I finally got the guts to think of me before my childrean I also ask my self what I’m I teaching my 3 boys not to have respect for a female starting with me there mother then the grandmothers the aunts and ect. Because they were going up watching I allow him to keep cheating on me. Well I lost my ex husband to this one woman he had in are propertys in Rosarito Mexico and I also lost my oldest Son to they woman sister, My oldest son and his father both end up with 2 sister. Its been so hard I was able to raise my two other sons but I lost my self I no longer could finger out my dreams and or what I want out of my life. I only dedicated to raising my 2 younger son. I have struggle with my life feeling pain and suffering angry with my self for staying with my ex for so because I also lost my oldest son ending up with the father lover sister. Two sisters with father and son. It’s been 12 years and Im just getting over the pain, even do it felt like my biggest blessing to divorce my ex husband my kids father. But before that my middle child with ADD move in with his father at age 15 1/2 because his father keep telling him he would give him so many expensive things if he move in with him so he could put him in his yearly taxes to get creadite for him. Because the Jug did not allow my ex to put him in his yearly taxes he told him that was creadite money I would get to help buy things for are kids. He had taken me to court a few times to try to get the judge to let him have report them in his yearly taxes. But since I had 85% custudy the judge say I was not making that much money and he had a few buisness plus he keep every property we had in Mexico plus 5 taxis cars . So he said no I need it that extra yearly money for are kids. So he made sure he was able to put at list one of them in his yearly taxes by convicting my second child he buy him expensive things if he move to live with him. I could not afford to give them a cell phone or playstation or games for it and ect. So my son told me he wanted to move because I can not afford what they want. I had no choice I did not want to fight anymore. My youngest is still living with me. My middle child is 18 years old and complains his father treads him bad he did not even do good in school he did not even get a diploma or completion certificates. during my divorce I had 4 deaths in my family and my best friend also die so a total of 5 death One of my Auntys die from cirrhosis and she wasn’t even a drinker did not even drink alcohol but she was on medication for schizophrenia it destroyed her liver. My two other Aunty pass away from Canser. All four die in 2008 them my best friend pass away from lung canser in 2011. That was the only friend I truly had because no one could stand my ex husband his dirty looks and ect. After my divorce I made other friends but I stop talking to every one because my friends only wanted to go clubbing all the time and drink alcoholic beverages and create a lot of drama. I could not handle going out with them even do I loved to dance. I just felt I would put my self in a bigger whole. I need it every cent to keep up with my mortgage and Bill’s and food and ect. And also because most of my money was going to attorney feed everytime my ex husband to me to court with lies to try to take are kids away from me. So I had to give my kids a choice ether they want to live with me or there father I’m not going to keep fighing any more they were old enough to have a voice in court. My middle one wanted to move in with his father now he wants to come back after 3 1/3 years. But I said No because I have strick rules that’s why he also wanted to move out. His a adult with ADD he refuse to get the help that was being given to him in the school h ou s father allowed him to do what ever he wanted but now his 18 years old he took him out of school and told him he need to study for the GED Test his told me my oldest son and there father tell him he needs to study all the answers to the test to pass it so he could get into the army. I feel it’s a away of them getting rid of him. I also have ADD but I do many things I’m able to take care of my Bill’s and mortgage and ect. But I was raise to get up at 4:30 a.m to help clean the house and help clean the yard cook and ect then go to church everyday before 7:30 a.m then from there to school every day we also had Jobs at young age we clean neighbors house and yard and sometimes we work for a store or jack in the box because we had a family member that own a jack in the box. I try teaching my kids responsibility. I try teaching my younger kids responsibility but it was hard because there father never did and he have no rules. I was always the bad mother because I was strick with all 3 of them teaching them morals and ect. Any ways I’m interested in your book. I’m also interested in making new friends with woman that have had the expirance of the divorce like Vicki Widrick that wrote a coment on your web page
      If they are interested
      It’s taken me almost about 12 years to get over my divorce even do I wanted the divorce I file for it. It’s been a really super bumpy right not I’m 47 years old with a new beginning but I still feel like I haven’t found myself who I was before my divorce. it’s best if we woman support each other
      Thank you for your time and ect.
      Sincerely Always
      Martha Miranda

      • Thanks for sharing your story, Martha. I’m so sorry for your loss of all of those who have died!

        I wrote an article on divorce support groups. I’m not sure if I’ve listed a group in your area, but you might want to check it out. There are some groups that support each other even after divorce.

        Maybe someone on this site might reach out to you too! It sounds like you’re open to finding friends who have been through similar experiences as you.

        I wish you the best.

        Karen

  • I was married to my ex for 23 years and we raised 4 kids.. ( 2 mine from a different relationship).. My ex decided to adopt my younger son at 17 years old.. later on..a few years later.. my ex decided to cheat on me and left me for another woman…right before he left..my younger son died in a car crash at the age of 26 years old.. ..so..I already have some symptoms of PTSD ..along with depression and anxiety..this divorce didn’t help..and he walked out on me when I needed him the most….

    • My heart goes out to you! You have been through a whole lot. I’m not surprised that you have symptoms of PTSD.

      Please, if you haven’t done so already, please get help. Get yourself a good therapist. Find a support group. Surround yourself with good friends and familiy.

      You’re dealing with a lot of trauma, and a lot of loss. Healing will take time. In the meantime, getting the support you need can make a huge difference in your quality of life.

      I wish you the best.

      Karen

  • I’m suffering everyday too the point I can’t function about my seperation I have tried everything my mind just does not thinking about the situation I’m paralysed it been 10 months and can not move forward pl ease help I’m in such a mental mess

    • I’m so sorry to hear your plight!

      From the little you’ve written, I can tell how much you’re hurting. Under the circumstances, the person who could help you the most and really help you move forward is probably a therapist. You can talk in detail to a therapist in a way that you can’t do on a website. Most therapists are covered under health insurance too, so that can make going to one more affordable.

      I wish I could say more to you than just “hang in there, things will get better” (because they will!), but without knowing a whole lot more about you and your situation (stuff you would NOT want to put on a website!) I don’t know what else to say.

      Again, a therapist will be able to help you much more.

      Karen

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