Sunday, July 3, 2011

You Can’t Always Judge a Book by its Cover, or, Change Your Thinking Post-Divorce

I recently read about a treatment for anorexia in which the person is taught to be more cognitively flexible, i.e., they’re taught to think about things in less ritualistic and programmed ways and to try new ways of approaching problems and situations.  Can you see where I’m going with this post-divorce?

Isn’t the post-divorce situation a classic case of trying to change rituals and rigid ways of thinking that are no longer helpful?  In anorexia, the idea is to help the person see foods as they are, instead of simply seeing them for their caloric content.  It’s to help them consider that not running 8 miles a day isn’t going to result in a 200 pound weight gain.  Post-divorce, the idea is to learn to see people, families and other triggers for negative thinking, for what they are.   People who look happy are sometimes happy, and sometimes they’re hiding their true feelings.  Families you observe in restaurants are sometimes happy, biological and intact, the story you may tell yourself.  They are also sometimes unhappy, not biologically related and not intact.   In other words, you can’t always judge a book by its cover.

The treatment for anorexia involves literally using drills to change thinking patterns.  I believe that most of us know how to think more rationally and productively, we just get stuck in the post-divorce doldrums.  Here’s what I think we can do to rewrite our stories.

Notice your triggers.  What are the situations or people that start your cycle of negative self-talk?  Is it watching romantic comedies or going to the health club and seeing lots of couples?  Okay, so maybe you need some behavior change.  You may need to hold off on the romantic comedies for a while.  Perhaps you’d rather go to the health club with a friend.  Fixes can also be cognitive, that is, dispute your thoughts and change them.  At first it feels stilted to say, I’ll have that kind of romance in the future, instead of I’m never going to be in love again.  But if you keep doing it, it starts to take hold and you begin to really see the world differently and your story changes.

Consider ways that your thinking or rituals get you into trouble post-divorce.  Then consider how you can make changes that will result in more positive emotional reactions.  You can actually rewrite the book developing a positive story to go along with situations.

Just to get in the mood:  The Story, Brandi Carlile

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