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Coping with Divorce & the Psyche

People often consult with the psychiatrists while dealing with their divorces. Although divorce lawyer helps in documentation, psychiatrist also plays an important part. That’s why we spoke to Lara Fernandez, the head of creative therapies. In an interview she explained how coping with separation and the psyche are related.

Ms. Fernandez, what happens to a person when a divorce takes place?

A breakup is about the loss of someone who was important to a person’s wellbeing. Often, there are grief reactions, such as crying, social withdrawal, and self-doubt. The people who have been abandoned often react with feelings of guilt and questions of purpose. How people react to a breakup is often related to their personality structure.

If a couple separates, uncertainty arises first of all, as the connection between the two people, which provides security and love, falls away. The often most important point of reference is no longer there and that can often pose an existential threat to the person who has been abandoned. If a relationship breaks up, it is fraught with disappointment. Heartbreak such as lovesickness, fears, and the question of meaning preoccupy a person during a breakup. There are many reasons and times for a couple to break up.

A turning point in a relationship is e.g. the phase in which being in love turns into love. The period of being in love usually does not last longer than 1 ½ years. After this time, many couples notice that being in love is ephemeral. You now see your partner more realistically than in the time you were in love when most people wear “rose-colored glasses” and accept the dark side of their partner. When you come to this crossroads, you have to weigh up whether you can live with the “quirks” of the other or not.

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Psychology deals with four phases that take place during the breakup of a relationship. The first phase of separation begins right after the relationship ends. It is the so-called “don’t want to believe phase”. In this phase, the abandoned partner assumes that the (ex) partner will come back and a solution can still be found.

In most cases, the first phase of separation only lasts a few weeks. However, it often only takes a few days before the abandoned person admits that the separation is final and the relationship is over.

The second phase follows immediately after admitting the end of the relationship. It is the phase of grief. The grief extends beyond the longest period of the four phases of separation. The reason for this can in particular be the suppression of feelings that are necessary to process the separation. It is not uncommon for grief to prevail and then lead to depression.

After the grief comes the phase of anger. It is important to let in anger, but also to find a healthy level of anger in order not to let it get out of hand into hatred. The anger phase does not usually last long, but it can be difficult. In order to contain the anger and be able to process it more quickly, physical activity can be helpful in relieving anger. The last phase is that of acceptance. Until this phase is reached, it is quite possible that the other three phases of separation will be lived through twice and in different order until there is a reorientation. But it is also not uncommon that all four psychological phases have to be processed on the same day.

What should you watch out for when you’ve split up or been abandoned?

If one is abandoned, one can easily get into a victim position. There is a great risk of falling into depression here. Thoughts of suicide, questions of meaning, the tendency towards social isolation and resignation preoccupy the abandoned person. Grief in itself is a healthy response to loss and is used to process the breakup. Too much grief and self-doubt, on the other hand, are destructive and worsen the situation. Instead of feeling guilty, it is helpful to go into self-reflection to find clarity about what led to the breakup. Blame often occurs during this phase. The person who has actively separated must expect that the abandoned person will want to delegate the blame or responsibility to them. The self-reflection about what are one’s own parts and what are those of the other that lead to the separation or that led to the failure of the relationship are to be analyzed. It is usually an emotionally challenging time for both sides.

Can I get a mental illness? If so, which one?

Yes, it can lead to mental illnesses such as B. reactive depression, anxiety disorders and in extreme cases to suicides. However, the most common occurrence of reactive depression, which can be triggered by a breakup. A healthy person copes well with difficult situations and does not immediately fall into depression. With reactive depression, however, the burden is so great that the person concerned can no longer cope with it.

It is important to understand that mental illness is related to the personality structure of the abandoned person. Everyone reacts differently to such a situation.

How does this disease show or what symptoms do you see?

The symptoms of depression can be manifold, for example a person suffers from severe decreased drive, joylessness, depressed mood, social withdrawal or self-doubt. Another has suicidal thoughts, difficulty concentrating at work, listlessness or a feeling of inner emptiness. Somatic reactions can also occur, such as insomnia, low mornings or decreased appetite. According to ICD 10, adjustment disorders have symptoms similar to depression. But depression does not have a single trigger. If such symptoms appear, you should consult a doctor or psychologist. Depression can be diagnosed after two weeks if the symptoms are consistent and debilitating for the person concerned.

How can the disease be overcome?

In order to overcome depression, one should seek professional help from doctors, therapists, psychologists or from counseling centers. In the case of moderate to severe depression, treatment in a psychosomatic clinic is advisable. Because often the cause of an unresolved psychological conflict lies in the past. Negative learned behavior patterns can also be questioned through inpatient psychotherapy. Those affected should learn to become active themselves and to overcome development crises.

How can you protect yourself from mental illness?

The best prerequisite for not getting mentally ill is, on the one hand, a well-functioning social network. Support from friends, acquaintances and family is very important, especially during the separation period.

You can just as well yourself, by actively shaping your own life, such as through hobbies or friends, prevent mental illnesses. A full professional life also helps stabilize the psychological state. However, in some cases, despite having good resources, it is inevitable that someone will become mentally ill. Then it is important not to judge yourself, but to accept it and get support accordingly.

Can you take “precautions” so that you don’t slip back into mental illness the next time you break up?

In order to reduce the likelihood of not slipping back into a mental illness, you need as much stability as possible in all areas of life. According to Hilarion G. Petzold’s concept from integrative therapy, “The 5 pillars of identity” (1993), stability is shown in the person’s identity. The formation of identity is a process that continues to develop and change over the course of life. According to Petzold’s concept, identity is made up of five pillars that describe the uniqueness of a person’s personality structure. The five pillars are named with the terms corporeality, social network, work and performance, material security and values. Each person can assign keywords to the individual pillars for himself and then make an overall picture of which areas are balanced and in which area there is a risk of the column breaking away and thus also the stability. If the stability in all areas is sufficient, the person can fully identify with himself.

An example of this: If my partner separates from me, I have a stable, satisfied work situation, have a good group of friends and am financially and materially secure, I can hardly deal with such a separation differently than someone who also has conflicts at work Maintains friendships and was financially dependent on the partner. So a “burden” can be compensated for by a person quite well. If, however, various pillars of identity are shaken, the likelihood of psychological decompensation increases.

Which therapy is most suitable for this disease?

In the case of depression or anxiety disorders, e.g., Conversational or behavioral therapy as well as therapy based on depth psychology. The therapy can be supported by the administration of medication from homeopathy or conventional medicine. Depending on the severity of the depression, also with antidepressants. The therapy can be carried out on an outpatient or inpatient basis, depending on the severity of the depression.

How can the environment (family, friends) contribute to recovery?

The environment contributes greatly to recovery. So it can have a motivating, encouraging and comforting effect on the abandoned person. If the abandoned person exceeds the healthy level of coping with the separation, friends or family will notice the signs, e.g. social isolation, first. The environment should react to this and give advice on therapy.