Reviewed by Heather Cashell, LCSW
Divorce can be hard on everyone. Even if the divorce is a “friendly” one, the whole matter of splitting everything up, changing how you do things, and learning how to be single again can be extremely stressful. And it does not just affect those who are getting divorced. If you have children, you can be sure that they are being affected more than they admit. It is most certainly possible to get post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from divorce. The whole family is referred to as counseling in most divorce situations.
How Does Divorce Cause PTSD?
Although it is not common, an amicable divorce can be just as stressful on families as a hostile one. Even if you were not married but were with someone for a long time, splitting up is not fun for anyone. According to the social readjustment rating scale (SSRH), which identifies and rates major stressful life events, divorce is number two on the list of 100 top stressors. There are many ways that divorce changes our lives, which may all be stressors as well, such as:
- Moving into a different home or your spouse moving out
- Splitting up your possessions
- Dealing with new monetary issues like splitting the bills or having to pay the bills on your own
- Possibly having to get a new job
- Learning how to deal with the day-to-day activities alone
- Being a single parent
- Sleeping alone after spending years sleeping with someone else
- You may lose some friendships such as those who are friends with your spouse
- Dating again can be scary
How Does PTSD Affect My Children?
The kids are always in the middle. They often do not understand why you are separating. Many parents do not even try to explain it because they do not feel they are old enough to understand. However, not knowing is worse than the truth in most cases.If you look at it from your children’s perspective, you will see even more changes that can cause anguish, causing you more stress. This may include:
- Having your parents live apart
- Possibly moving to a new home
- Changing schools
- Dealing with a single parent
- Monetary issues
- May blame themselves for the divorce
- They may blame one of their parents
- Anger and hostility at both parents is common
- They may be afraid you will stop loving them like you stopped loving each other
What Are The Signs Of PTSD?
You can take a PTSD test online to assess whether you may need to talk to a professional. The signs of PTSD are different for everyone. What one person experiences in their post-divorce PTSD is almost always different than anyone else. The most common issues are anxiety and stress. Other signs of PTSD include:
- Having a hard time falling asleep or staying asleep
- Vivid memories or flashbacks can happen at any time
- Nightmares or night terrors may be common
- You may have triggers like certain movies you used to love to watch together or a certain song that was “your song.”
- Blaming yourself for the divorce is common
- You may be on edge all the time
- Depression and sadness for no obvious reason is normal
- It may be hard for you to make decisions or focus
- Avoiding people and isolating yourself is typical
- You might avoid places or people who remind you of your ex-spouse
Signs Of PTSD In Children
The signs of PTSD in children may be completely different than those of an adult. Some of them may be the same, but if your child is having trouble processing the divorce or has unanswered questions about why it happened, you will notice more anger than anything else. Other signs of PTSD in kids include:
- Nightmares or not wanting to go to sleep
- They may want to sleep in your bed
- You may notice a lack of happy emotions
- They may seem afraid of everything all the time
- Acting out at home is common
- Getting in trouble in school is also typical
- They may not want to go with their friends or enjoy anything they used to like
- Some kids just pretend like it is not even happening
How To Help Your Kids
If you are going through a high-conflict divorce, there are some things that you can do to help your child deal with things easier. When there are children involved, the judge will order a parenting class or mediation to teach the parents how to make things easier for their kids.
One of the main things you can do to help is avoid putting your child in the middle. Even though we do it inadvertently, our children sometimes get stuck in between feuding parents. Arguing about custody, visitation, and parenting in front of your children is detrimental to their well-being in every way. You never want to argue or even discuss your problems in front of the kids.
Keep The Kids Out Of It
If you seem to be giving your kids the message that you are the good parent and your spouse is the bad one, you could be hurting your child in ways you cannot see. When parents try to pit one against the other, it is the child that gets hurt. You should never talk badly about your spouse in front of your children.
If your child feels like they have to worry about their home, safety, family, and future, it will affect them in many ways, especially when they have trouble talking about it. The best thing to do for your children is to talk to them and listen to them when they talk. And you may want to let them talk to someone else as well. They may feel that they cannot talk to you or your ex-spouse about some of their feelings. In this case, a professional can help.
Therapy For PTSD For All Of You
Even as you are going through your own PTSD, your child is likely trying to deal with the same things. And it can be difficult, if not impossible, to help your child when you are suffering. While you are struggling with your issues, it can be extremely hard to help your children. That is where professional therapy comes into play.
Also known as talk therapy, psychotherapy includes many different types of therapy. Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) is the most common one that is used for PTSD. However, psychodynamic therapy, dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and humanistic therapy are also used to treat PTSD.
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
CBT is a form of therapy used successfully for many mental health conditions, from anxiety to depression. The core beliefs are that your thoughts and feelings affect your behaviors and emotions. The therapist will help you learn how to change your thought patterns to help change your behaviors.
You may be asked to write down your thoughts and feelings in a journal to help figure out the associated patterns with your PTSD. Your therapy may also include learning about your cognitive distortions that can make you see things in a warped or incorrect way. The therapist will also likely prescribe homework and follow up with them during your visits.
- Psychodynamic Therapy
Psychodynamic therapy is a good way to learn how to deal with life events and find new ways to cope with problems. It may include life and relationship skills that can help you learn what went wrong in your past relationships to not have the same problems again.
You will learn how to recognize your negative feelings and find ways to cope with them. The therapist may prescribe journaling or other homework to help you learn how to build better relationships with people and determine why your previous relationships may have failed.
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy
This type of therapy uses a form of talk therapy that concentrates on psychosocial aspects. You will focus on building better relationships with friends and family. The main focus is to become more self-aware and learn what your strengths are to build on them. Role-playing, group therapy, and skill-building are all important in DBT.
You will learn how to identify the thoughts and behaviors that may be making your life more difficult such as cognitive distortions like black and white thinking, catastrophizing, personalizing, and blaming. The therapy is typically done every week so the therapist can have you keep a journal about how your life is progressing. This helps you learn what patterns may be causing you to struggle.
- Humanistic Therapy
Rather than focusing on your behaviors, humanistic therapy concentrates on your nature. The holistic approach is important to healing the whole body, teaching you to grow and heal with positivity rather than concentrating on past mistakes or behaviors.
There are two humanistic techniques. Gestalt therapy is focused on the here and now experiences and feelings. You will learn through exaggerated movements, role-playing, and re-enactments. This lets you become aware of your emotions in various situations and helps you learn how to cope.
Person-centered humanistic therapy is a way of learning how people can decide the problems you want to explore. It is more of a self-driven therapy in which you direct your therapist on what you think should be done. The therapist will listen to your ideas and try to work with you to help.
Online PTSD Treatment
Regardless of whether your divorce is friendly or troubled and whether you have kids or not, it is helpful to have someone to talk to who can help. There are therapists online who are trained and experienced in dealing with PTSD from divorce and other causes of PTSD. You do not need an appointment and can do it all from home with your phone or other electronic device.
You can take this to assess your symptoms and make a plan to best cope with the effects of your divorce.