Divorce is a time when emotions are high, and when people are experiencing so many different — often competing — feelings, which are continually changing. For example, you can go from being very sad one morning to experiencing hopeful thoughts in the afternoon, only to be consumed by fear in the evening. Among the many different emotions someone going through a divorce might feel are anger and rage.
It’s normal to feel a sense of anger and rage at one point or another in your divorce journey. You might feel it every now and then, such as when thinking about specific hurtful things that your spouse did or said during the marriage, or when finding out your soon to be ex is in a new relationship. Or it might be simmering all the time, where just the mention of your ex’s name is enough to set you off.
But there is a big difference between anger and rage. Although rage is a common emotion to experience during divorce, it’s not healthy. Rage isn’t simply feeling very angry but is “violent and uncontrolled anger.” When enraged, your anger consumes you to the point where it becomes difficult to reason or to control your actions, which can lead to devastating consequences.
In this emotional state of rage, you’re more likely to engage in reckless or destructive behavior that could negatively affect the outcome of the divorce and derail your entire life.
Some negative behaviors that result from rage are:
1. Being physically and emotionally abusive toward your children and family.
2. Abusing drugs and alcohol.
3. Sending an angry and/or inappropriate text to your ex that could end up being seen by a judge or derailing your negotiation.
4. Calling your ex and saying inappropriate things, making threats, or bullying ex or another person.
5. Getting into an unhealthy relationship.
6. Physically destroying things such as your wedding album (which your kids might want down the road), or breaking expensive things such as crystal or other glass items.
7. Making phone calls to mutual friends that might hurt your reputation or your divorce case.
8. Saying things to your kids that you might regret later on.
Rage is also linked to depression and anxiety and might damage your immune system, leading to problems with your physical health.
Moreover, rage can lead you to make poor choices during the divorce process. For example, if anger is propelling you to drag out the divorce process to hurt your spouse, you might not see how you’re hurting yourself as well. Prolonging the process wastes money, extends your suffering, and eats into time you could use to embark on a new fulfilling path in life. To get the best outcome from divorce, you need to make decisions from a state of rationality, not rage.
If divorce anger and rage is wearing you down and negatively affecting your life, consider these four tips to regain control.
1. Scream it out.
Yes, sometimes you just need to scream–but alone, not at your ex. Primal scream therapy is an actual practice with roots in ancient Chinese medicine. Proponents believe that loud screaming allows you to vent bottled-up anger, tension, and anxiety, which enlivens your central nervous system, and restores balance your body. If you need to let it out with a good shout, choose a place where no one can hear you and become alarmed, such as an empty beach or field. If you’re short on privacy, try screaming into your pillow or in your car with the windows rolled up.
2. Take deep breaths.
When rage builds, our bodies go into “crisis” mode and become flooded with stress chemicals that prepare us to fight or flee. Deep breathing sends a message to our brains to calm down–that fighting isn’t necessary, after all. When you feel the rage boiling up, get into the habit of practicing deep breathing to counterbalance your crisis response. Take a slow deep breath in through your nose, filling your lungs. Hold for a count of four, then release the breath slowly. Repeat until you feel calmer. There are many deep breathing techniques, so try different ones until you find one that best suits you. The more you practice this technique, the more effective it will become.
3. Practice mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the practice of becoming fully present and engaged in the current moment. Often when we become enraged, we’re not focused on the present but are fixated on a past event or something that might happen in the future. John is going to be late picking up the kids again, I just know it! I can’t believe Sarah cheated on me! Mindfulness practice trains our minds to stay focused on the ‘right now’ rather than rage-triggering situations we can’t change or that haven’t yet happened.
When you’re feeling rage, try to stop and take a moment to mindfully acknowledge how you feel. Name the feeling aloud (I’m feeling furious) and note the physical sensations you’re experiencing (“My heart is pounding, I’m breathing heavily, etc.). Also, take note of other sensations and observations in the moment: scents, colors, sounds, textures. Staying in the present can help distance you from triggering thoughts and make you feel calmer–especially if you pair the practice with taking deep breaths.
4. Get Professional Help.
Expressing your anger and frustration to a trusted friend or a support group can be a helpful way of letting off steam. But if your rage is truly beyond control and you cannot stop self-defeating, destructive behavior, you should seek the help of a professional therapist. A professional can help you understand what is at the root of your rage, understand the patterns that trigger it, and help you find long-term solutions to manage your anger.
In closing, it is very normal and understandable to have anger during a divorce. Actually anger is a healthy emotion and should be felt and processed. Anger can provide energy to help you move forward and make some necessary changes. But, it’s important to understand the difference between anger and rage, and to seek help if you feel like your rage is out of control. Remember that what you do now—during your divorce, will affect your life after divorce. What that means is, if you make good choices now, your divorce outcome and your life ahead can be wonderful. I’m here to help if you’d like a consultation.
Katherine E. Miller is a Divorce Attorney, who is also a certified mediator and a trained collaborative divorce professional. In practice for over 30 years and personally divorced, Miller is the founder of the Miller Law Group, all women’s boutique law firm with seven divorce professionals. Miller is also the Director at the Center for Understanding in Conflict, the organization that teaches mediation, collaborative law and other conflict resolution skills, and she hosts the podcast and radio show, “Divorce Dialogues.” Additionally, Miller is the former president of the New York Association of Collaborative Professionals. She is a graduate of Vassar College and Fordham University school of Law. Learn more: Miller-law.com.