Are Negative Thoughts Common After Divorce?

Woman sitting on a chair, holding her chin and struggling with negative thoughts.

The help you need for understanding your post-divorce negative thoughts and how to stop them.

Getting through all the drama, trauma and legalities of divorce is positively exhausting. It makes sense that you would wrestle with negative thoughts while you’re going through divorce.

After all, before your divorce was final it was perfectly normal to struggle with coming to terms with the end of your marriage, your (and your kids’) tumultuous emotions, all the legal stuff, your drastically altered financial situation, and figuring out how to live your life now that you’re single.

You’d think that after the ink dried on your decree that you’d feel better. But you don’t – at least not completely. Sure, some things are easier. Yet you’re still plagued by horribly negative thoughts.

Thoughts like:

  • I’m going to be alone for the rest of my life.
  • I’m a failure.
  • How could s/he give up on us so easily?
  • Why has s/he moved on already?
  • It’s so unfair that my life has to change like this.
  • I know this divorce has destroyed my kids’ chances of ever being happy.

And these critical, fearful, worrisome, angry and despairing thoughts worry you. You believe that you should be over it all by now. And with that belief, your fears and worries intensify because you’re clearly not over it.

What you need to know is that negative thoughts are common – especially after divorce.

That’s right. Negative thoughts are common – period. They’re common not just after divorce, but in general.

Why are negative thoughts common? Because we evolved from people who needed to constantly scan their environments looking for problems to fix so they (and their families) could stay safe. And that’s why we do the same today. In fact, it’s estimated that 80% of everyone’s thoughts contain at least some negative content.

What makes negative thoughts more prevalent after divorce? Since divorce is so stressful, it’s natural to feel more anxiety while you’re dealing with divorce than at other times. And simply because the decree is a done deal doesn’t mean that your stress will disappear. What’s problematic about continuing to feel anxious and stressed out is that stress and anxiety intensify negative views.

What can you do about your pessimistic perceptions? The best way to stop your negative notions is a two-step process.

First, accept that it’s natural to have them. As you become more accepting of them, you’ll begin to feel less anxious about having negative thoughts. And as you feel less anxious, you’ll stop having as many of the unwanted thoughts.

Second, identify and change the harmful beliefs that are underlying the pessimistic thoughts. (Like that belief that you should be over it all by now when obviously, you’re not.) The longer you hold on to beliefs that perpetuate the possible validity of your negative thoughts, the longer they will plague you.

However, if you do the work necessary to change your beliefs, you’ll find that your negative thoughts are no longer as compelling as they once were. And you’ll be able to let them go as easily as they show up.

Completely getting through divorce is tough. You’ve struggled with and made it through all the obvious changes to your life, but getting through the mental changes that need to occur can be frightening and hard.

But, hopefully, by knowing that negative thoughts are completely normal – especially after divorce – and that you can take some specific steps to start calming your persistent pessimistic views you’ll soon discover that you’re able to put those negative thoughts (along with your marriage) behind you.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce coach and personal life coach helping people just like you who are looking for support advice healing after divorce. You can join my newsletter list for free weekly adviceAnd, if you’re ready, you can take the first step toward working with me as your personal coach by scheduling a private consultation.

Looking for more tips on getting over your divorce? You’ll find what you’re looking for in Healing After Divorce.

How To Stop Negative Thoughts

Last week, I had a song stuck in my head for the whole week! Just about every time I tuned into my background thoughts, there it was taunting me.

After a couple days, I’d finally had enough and I got serious about changing the radio station my subconscious was listening to. I decided to start using some of the same techniques I teach my divorcing clients when their mind gets stuck on a race track of negative thoughts.

Here are the steps for how to stop negative thoughts:

First I tried asking myself why this song was playing virtually non-stop in my head. My answers were that it is a bizarrely catchy tune and that it is pretty popular right now. So I’m hearing this song a lot right now in the real world in addition to hearing it in my head.

Being repeatedly exposed to the song isn’t the best for kicking it out of my head, so my next question was how can I limit my exposure to the song? I thought about avoiding the TV, radio, internet and my family and friends, but that didn’t turn out to be too practical. So, what I did instead was tell my family and friends that I was having a hard time turning the song off in my head. I asked that they refrain from talking about or singing it around me. After teasing me for a little bit, they realized I was serious and stopped talking about the song around me. (They sang snippets of it for a while longer, but they eventually stopped that too.)

Unfortunately, the song was still playing in my head, so I needed to employ some more techniques for stopping negative thoughts. My next step was to change my focus each and every time I caught myself hearing the song in my head. To change my focus, I chose to laugh at myself and then think about my to-do list and what I was going to do next. Now I’ll admit that most people don’t look at a to-do list and think happy thoughts, but I do. I like being active and getting things I enjoy doing done. Since my to-do list has fun things on it too, it was an easy thing to happily change my focus to.

Luckily, this helped a lot! During my waking hours, I was able to gain more control over both the volume and frequency the song was playing in my head.

But the real trouble was at night. I was waking up in the middle of the night hearing the song in my head! That’s when I knew I had to do something more and I resorted to a negative thought calming technique I’ve used for years when I’m having negative thoughts and can’t sleep. I turned on a movie that I find extremely relaxing, comforting and positive and watched it until I fell asleep. For the next two nights I went to bed with the movie playing and FINALLY I was able to break free of the song – well, mostly. I have to admit that in writing this article, the song has been taunting me, but now it’s more of a funny passing thought instead of being on constant repeat like it was last week.

So how does my story tie in with how to stop negative thoughts when you’re going through divorce? It actually outlines the first steps I’ll take my clients through to help them manage their negative thoughts. I’ll take you through it step-by-step in Your Functional Divorce Assignment.

Your Assignment To Stop Negative Thoughts:

What’s behind your negative thought? More times than not, when I ask my clients this question I hear one of two answers: anger or fear.

Deal with the underlying anger or fear. Dealing with divorce anger usually requires expressing the anger in a constructive way. Some ideas are to exercise, hit a pillow or even scream into a pillow. Often the way to deal with fear is to get more information so you can take appropriate action.

Change your focus. When negative thoughts seem to be omnipresent during your waking hours, I find that you can start to loosen their hold by acknowledging the thought and then changing your focus. You can change your focus to something positive like I did with focusing on my to-do list or you can put a rubber band around your wrist and snap it each time you catch yourself thinking the thought that you’d rather not be thinking. There are lots of different ways to change your focus and it may take some experimenting before you find what works best for you.

Prepare for a good night’s sleep. If you find that you’re waking up in the middle of the night with the thoughts or even having a hard time going to sleep because of your negative thoughts, change your bedtime routine to be especially comforting, calming, positive and relaxing. What works for me is to watch my go-to movie or else recite a prayer or mantra.

I’m Dr. Karen Finn, a divorce and personal life coach. I help people just like you who are dealing with not only the negative thoughts of divorce, but all the other stress and pain too. You can join my anonymous newsletter list for free weekly advice.

If you’re looking for more ways to speed your divorce recovery, you’ll want to visit Healing After Divorce.