Navigating Healing: Empowering Through Stages of Divorce Grief for a Resilient Tomorrow

Many of us have heard the stages of divorce grief: Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and then acceptance, which is finding peace with the grief process. These are the stages of grief that have been mapped out for us by some of our foremothers, primarily Elizabeth Kubler Ross.

When it comes to grieving, there are different flavors and nuances of those stages of grief based on your own experience.

How we women grieve when someone passes away is different than how we grieve when we’ve lost something.

Embracing Life’s Evolving Stages

There are so many things that we have to let go of and grieve in life, from stages of development, jobs, and youth to seasons of womanhood and divorce. Whatever the situation, the essence of grief is sorrow.

What is Grief?

Grief is a roller coaster of feelings when you lose someone or something important.

It’s not just being sad; you might feel all kinds of emotions and even physical changes, like not wanting to eat. Everyone goes through grief in their own way and at their own pace.

It’s a natural process, and it can affect people differently.

Fundamentally, it’s a sadness about what is no longer.

When we think about that in the context of divorce, it can take a whole different form because our sorrow is often about the man we knew he could be, what we saw in him that never came to pass or a family life that we envisioned that was just so epic.

You had a vision for a life with this man that was so beautiful, and in your experience, from your perception, he couldn’t come to the table to meet you in that dream.

I find with my clients that so often, the marriage and the partner that they had was not the same as their vision, but there were glimpses of that partner in the marriage that it was worth holding on…until it wasn’t.

woman with long dark hair, white t-shirt, cardigan and jeans, leaning against a door while sitting on the floor, Navigating Healing: Empowering Through Stages of Divorce Grief for a Resilient Tomorrow

Stages of Grief in Divorce

Let’s dive into some of the different stages of grief in divorce.

Grief Stage: Panic   

When you didn’t see the divorce coming, there is a pre-stage to grief where you’re in shock. Then, the panic sets in.

You want to believe that you can do this without a partner, but you get a little panicky and afraid that you can’t fully trust your capacity and that the universe has your back.

Grief Stage: Anger

Resentment and anger are a massive part of divorce grief, and many women in a grieving divorce process spend way too much time in the anger stage and get stuck there.

You’ve cried a lot of tears, and you’ve panicked, and now you’re angry.

Grief Stage: Numbness

In divorce grief, there may be pockets of time where it all feels overwhelming, but then, there’s just numbness. I want to speak these words to you to normalize what you’re experiencing.

Very often when we women walk through an unfamiliar experience, there’s a need to ask: “What I’m feeling? What am I thinking?” or “Is what I’m experiencing normal?” or “Is it okay? Or am I off the rails?”

You’re not crazy and you’re not lost and all is well, you’re just in a process.

Moving Through the Divorce Stages of Grief

When you want something better than what you had, you have to be willing to do something different than you’ve ever done.

When you’re trying to get a feel for the stages of divorce grief, we women need to be proactive and ask, “How can I make sure that I am moving through the stages of divorce grief productively and I’m not getting stuck or hanging out too long in any particular phase?”

I want to focus on the productive versus nonproductive approaches.

woman shaping a heart by holding her fingers again a mirror, walls are painted in pink and green

Rescue Me Mindset

The framework for this “productive” versus “nonproductive” stage of divorce grief is:

“Am I of the mindset that I am actively rescuing myself right now, or am I currently of the mindset that I still want to be rescued?”

That is the question I want you to ask yourself.

When we’re starting, we say, “I will rescue myself. I will take this bull by the horns because I’m tired of what I have. I’m tired of being in this marriage in this way. I’m tired of living my life in this way. And so I will make a conscious choice to create and carve out and build a better life for myself.”

We start guns blazing, but then somewhere that fumbles. We get wobbly and that little panicky stage filters in, or we get burnt out because of all of the responsibilities and all the decision fatigue that happens with building a better life. Let’s be honest, building a better life means doing a lot of new shit, which is exhausting.

As we women build new habits and learn new skills, eventually, it becomes familiar and we get stronger.

But in that newness, everything feels vulnerable. And so somewhere in there, we get scared and we get tired and we say, “Oh, crap, I can’t do this anymore.”

And then we start to want to be rescued. We start whining, we start complaining. You start spiraling in your therapist’s office about all the crap your ex has been saying and doing. All of a sudden, you’re more focused on all the people who are triggering you. You’re scrolling more, you’re swiping the dating apps more, you’re drinking more and you’re shopping a little more.

And these are all things you’re doing in an attempt to get rescued rather than intentionally rescuing yourself.

When this happens, you’ve stalled in your process of divorce grief. You’ve slipped into wanting to be rescued more than you are actively rescuing yourself.  

Waiting for Getting Rescued vs. Rescuing Yourself

You’ve stalled, and you’re more in the denial, depressed version of the grief process. This is when you have to make a choice:

“Am I agreeing to have more of what I’ve had, or am I recommitting to building a better post-divorce life for myself?”

woman with red fingernails holding piece of paper with her fingers that says 'self love club' on pink background with dark pink stars sticked on it

Rescue Yourself

It’s hard. It’s a journey, but you can get there. After divorce, you can have whatever you want. And sometimes, you’ve just lost track of believing in yourself, and you’re tired.

But sometimes, we women just have to recommit to and reprioritize finding this commitment to building something beautiful.

And when you get a little stuck in the grief process, when you’re in those moments of feeling deep sorrow, I want to invite you to look at ways that you can get unleashed in your process.

When we’re building something better, we take a cerebral approach. We’re thinking, strategizing, and processing; it’s writing lists and all very structural and strategic. But in this process of building a better life after divorce, sometimes you’re missing a visceral element, something primal. It’s women who run with wolves.

When you’re building a better life, creating something magical, in a growth phase, there’s something very courageous and very embodied that must happen.

Get Out of the Box

It takes courage to get out of the box. Sometimes, it needs to be physical and to feel insane. It’s stomping your feet. It’s banging your chest or screaming out loud. It’s unleashed. It’s being truly yourself.

I have observed, both in myself and with my clients over time, that we are not good at relating to ourselves when we’re not in a couple.

We don’t know ourselves as well. We are not as comfortable with ourselves in singleness.

woman with long brown hair, top and jeans, on the ocean, holding her scarf flying in the wind

Recognize Your Attachment Style

Your perception of your singleness can vary depending on your attachment style.

It most often occurs if you’re anxious or you’re a mixed attachment type. If you’re an anxious attacher, you feel more comfortable relating to yourself in a relationship than you do singularly.

You need to set an intention to practice getting unleashed. At first, it will feel uncomfortable, but it will help shift you very quickly into a different state and a different way of experiencing yourself.

Welcome Change

When we send these big, unleashed signals to our nervous system, it sends a message of strength to the mind, body, and spirit.

All of a sudden, in the process of sorrow during the divorce grief stages, there’s a strength to it that you couldn’t feel before.

You can do something to get unleashed today that will help you feel courageous and clearer in your processing of the sorrow.

Get refocused on the woman you can be and choose her.

You’ve got this.

Divorce recovery coach Dawn Wiggins

...helps people crack open. Challenging the status quo, she integrates multiple modalities from EMDR to EFT tapping, journaling, homeopathy, and movement, embracing remedies that heal both the mind and body. Divorce recovery coach Dawn Wiggins is on a mission to deliver life-changing therapy in an accessible, scalable, affordable way and make waves in the world of mental health with the same enlightenment that happens in her office. Part science, part essential oils, pure magic.

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