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Celebrating 30 Years of Service to Families Across Colorado

Healing Divorce Trauma for the Whole Family


Going through a divorce is one of the most challenging processes one can deal with in life. It often taps into old attachment wounds, triggers feelings of anxiety and grief, and is made worse when children are involved. Whether the divorce is something that the individuals wanted or not, there are often strong emotions that result, ranging from anger to deep sadness. These emotions are triggered with the ongoing communication that needs to ensue and can create internal conflict between the need to sever the ties and the need to maintain the communication around the children. This is often the impetus that leads to high conflict divorces, and worse yet, children that suffer the consequences of their parent’s volatile emotions. If you find yourself in this situation, there are strategies that can help to lessen the impact of the change in the family system so that both you and your children can move forward with the new family structure in a healthy manner.

Many individuals going through a divorce will state that “if only my ex would ‘change’, ‘let go’, ‘move on’, ‘chill out’, etc., this would not be so difficult.” Although that may be true, the only locus of control one has is around themselves. So, what can be done within oneself to change the impact of divorce, when the ex is behaving badly? Changing responses to triggers is the key. This impacts not only this individual, but the entire system.

EMDR therapy is an approach to treatment that addresses the root of the problem and ultimately eliminates triggers and reduces anticipatory anxiety about the future. The process of doing EMDR involves the process of bilateral eye movements to link more adaptive information into trauma memories, facilitating a shift in all aspects of the trauma memory creating improvement in behaviors, beliefs, sensations, and emotions related to it. Triggers become less triggering, the wounds of divorce and the problems that led to the divorce become less charged, and the old childhood belief systems that are triggered with the grief of divorce can be healed. The healing resolves the internal conflict that comes with divorce: the struggle between needing to separate the marriage ties and yet needing to maintain communication as co-parents. As responses to triggers change, so does the dynamic of the co-parenting relationship potentially reducing the stress the children feel. Even in cases where the ex-partner continues to interact in a disruptive way, if deep healing has occurred for the partner who has done the EMDR, then that individual is more inclined to respond to the affronts with less emotionally charged reactions, and more rational, productive responses.

While it would be ideal for all individuals in the family to receive EMDR therapy as the family system goes through such a challenging change, it does not always happen. And, while it is natural to want to have some control in a situation that feels so out of control, control is just an illusion. So, making choices for oneself to heal in the best way possible, is a big step toward bringing improved peace and health to the new and revised family system.

Learn more about Tamra Hughes, MA, LPC ​ here.

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