Hey healthy mamas!
I want start by saying that I do not take lightly the time that you choose to listen to this podcast or read this blog. Time is such a precious commodity so I want to express my sincerest gratitude for the time you have taken out of your day to support my business and the show.
This episode is part 1 of a 3-part series I am doing on high-conflict divorce hard truths.
In this part 1 of the series, I will be sharing 3 things that many victims will have to radically accept when it comes to post-separation abuse.
But before I dive into them, let’s talk about radical acceptance. Perhaps you’ve heard this term before.
Radical acceptance is essentially a conscious and ongoing effort to accept things as they are, particularly difficult situations and emotions, instead of doing what many of us do like ignoring them, avoiding them or wishing the situation was different.
Radically accepting a situation or emotion is acknowledging it and honouring it.
Now, this is not the same as agreeing with the situation nor is it giving up on trying to change it. Radical acceptance is not complacency, but rather declaring an internal cease-fire against reality and accepting it as it is.
If you can learn how to do this, it will help decrease feelings of stress, frustration, sadness, grief, hopelessness. And it will help increase feelings of patience, hope and contentment which leads to an overall improved quality of life.
It also sets you up to be able to see more clearly the next steps ahead of you in your divorce and co-parenting journey.
To recap: this is not agreeing with the abuse or parenting time split or support numbers or communication issues. It is accepting them as they are right now, welcoming the peace that comes with that acceptance, then being able to use the resulting calm, logical and strategic energy to work towards improving the parts that you can.
When the post-separation abuse is ongoing, there are many emotions and thoughts that come up for victims. Fear, desperation, sadness. I also see shock and surprise. A lot of “I can’t believe he did that!” or “I never thought he’d ever go that far!”
When something traumatic happens to someone, even on a small scale like a text from their co-parent calling them a name, for instance, there is often that initial sting isn’t there. That injury that often comes from something hurtful. And I’m not sure that ever fully goes away but perhaps for some it might.
To me, radical acceptance is not trying to abolish those initial responses, those stings when we first read that text, but rather learning how to move through the emotions that follow quickly rather than letting them fester and stay with us way to long.
So, to help with this goal of radical acceptance, I want to share a tool I like to use. I find it helps a lot with moving from that initial shock and sting of a cruel text, for instance, towards a place of calm, objective observation and then, a rational response.
It’s two words: makes sense.
I’m not sure if that sounds crazy to you but bear with me on this.
I’m guessing that in your mind, that abusive text message doesn’t make sense. To you (who is not a high-conflict person) calling people names doesn’t make any sense.
You goal is to form amicable relationships with others, treat them with respect and have a peaceful existence. So calling someone a name would be pretty counter-productive for those ends.
But to a high-conflict, abusive person, these are not their goals. What they want is power and control, especially over you who, remember, is someone who got away from them and out from under their thumb.
So to this abuser who ultimately wants power and control over you, using cruel manipulation tactics (in this case, name calling) makes a ton of sense, doesn’t it. They can’t actually control you, but they’ve learned over many years how to get you to concede to their demands.
They’ve learned that your desire to reduce conflict often supersedes your desire to demand respect when it’s not being given. So all the same stuff they were doing when they did have more control (as in, during your relationship), they will continue to do after when they have less control.
Therefore, calling you a terrible mother with a heavy dose of colourful expletives makes total sense. I mean, how often did that work in the past to get you to back down and do as they wanted?
Now, let me be very clear: this is not an indictment of you as a person. The very fact that you are someone who naturally gives others the benefit of the doubt borne out of empathy and compassion is what makes you an incredible human. And what abusers want by their side are incredible humans because they know they‘re not.
They need amazing partners and people in their lives because they don’t have the qualities we do. And they know it.
They don’t feel emotions, like love and empathy, the same way we do. Their insecurities run very, very deep to the point that even considering the existence of those insecurities causes such an injury to their self-esteem and self-worth, they avoid it at all costs.
It’s much safer and easier for them to hitch themselves to you with all of your amazing qualities and feed off of those, like a leech.
So as I go through these 3 hard truths about post-separation abuse, I want you to keep in the back of your mind those two words: makes sense.
Hard-truth #1: The abuse may never stop.
I’m starting with a doozy.
Every situation is different but for many people, especially if they share children and there is ongoing co-parenting, the post-separation abuse may never stop.
There will be continued communication and access to you due to the presence of the children so your high-conflict co-parent will always have a way to get to you. Their access will diminish as the children get older and can make their own decisions but it will always be there, even if at a dull roar.
Sometimes we latch on to the hope that once the divorce is final or once they’re remarried or once all the money is dealt with that things will settle. And to a certain extent, some things do.
But that’s not because they’ve changed or decided they don’t want to abuse you anymore. It’s because once the money is settled or the divorce is final, those are not levers they can pull anymore. They won’t have any effect on you.
But they haven’t actually changed. The energy they put into controlling the people around them, including you, never goes away. They will choose these patterns for the rest of their lives because it’s who they are.
But like any human, they only have so much energy. So as they move on with other partners, new jobs, more kids, they’ll be going through the same patterns with those people so the amount of energy they have left for you may diminish.
However, try not to fall into the trap that they’ve changed. It is highly unlikely and if that new relationship fails (as it often does) or they get fired or the suffer the loss of a loved one, like a parent, anything that presses their stress button, you can pretty well bet every dollar you have that you’ll be the focus once again. Sharing kids with them makes you ever-present, at least to a certain extent.
I’m not sure what this is bringing up for you but I know this is not an easy reality to accept. But whether or not you do radically accept it, the post-separation abuse is going to continue anyway.
Hoping for something different is fool’s gold.
Every time your high-conflict co-parent does something else, you will likely go through the same types of emotions (sadness, fear, hopelessness, desperation) but without radical acceptance, those may not pass easily and you may also have additional feelings of shock and surprise, “I can’t believe they did that!”
Thinking it’s all over now may also lead you to let your guard down in some ways which can make you more vulnerable when it does happen again.
Accepting that the post-separation abuse may never end is not about living in fear.
It’s about helping you be realistic and keeping the right systems in place that protect you and your kids as best you can.
Radically accepting that it never goes away just sets you up differently. You’re not condoning it or agreeing with it, but you are accepting on a fundamental level who this person is and how they operate.
Most of us will still have that initial feeling of sadness or fear when something new happens but if we come from a place of radical acceptance, we can quickly move to, “yeah, makes sense” then take the steps we know we need to in order to protect ourselves and our kids.
Hard truth #2: The post-separation abuse will likely also come from other people.
As if dealing with your high-conflict co-parent wasn’t enough, there is a good possibility you will have to take some abuse from their enablers as well. I’m sure you’ve heard the term ‘flying monkeys’ – that’s who I’m talking about.
Could be their friends, their family, their partner. And what can make this especially hard is that these are often people you cared about. There is a good chance that you’ve known their parents or siblings or your group of friends for many years. You thought your relationship with them was good.
But now that you’re divorced, you may see a side to them you never expected.
Frankly, I’m not sure why it seems to come as a shock to a lot of us when some members of your high-conflict co-parent’s family also dish out some post-separation abuse. These are the people that are closest to them so the fact that the abusive behaviour runs in their blood shouldn’t come as a huge surprise.
But, often, it still does. These are people who you may have loved and spent lots of time with. These are people who you thought cared about you.
I want to you remember this: there’s a good chance that they’ve all been told quite a story about you by your high-conflict co-parent.
A story so egregious to their ears that it warrants abusive behaviour towards you. Don’t forget you are public enemy #1 and, if you remember from my last episode on the smear campaign, they’re all justifying their treatment of you.
It’s even possible that some of them are high-conflict people themselves. We know that high-conflict people are raised to be this way so close family members exhibiting similar patterns and traits is not much of a stretch.
The key to remember is that it won’t just be your high-conflict co-parent that engages in the post-separation abuse. And if you think about it, it makes sense, doesn’t it. We’ve all felt angry towards someone (whether we know them or not) simply based on information we heard from someone we trust more.
And regardless of whether their partner or friends or family are high-conflict people themselves, they’re all falling for the lies your ex is telling, just like you did all those years ago.
And let me be clear: I’m not suggesting you be friends with them. I’m not suggesting you trust them. I’m not suggesting you forgive them.
I’m simply suggesting accepting the reality of it, not being shocked when that email from ex-mother-in-law or new-wife comes in and instead of internalizing it as an indictment of you as a mother, just saying to yourself, “yeah, makes sense.”
Hard truth #3: The post-separation abuse won’t just be directed towards you.
This one may be the hardest of the three, mostly because we are by nature empathetic people and the idea that others are suffering at the hands of the person we chose to marry can be the heaviest burden of all to bear.
Time and time again we see high-conflict people using their own children as pawns (making them child victims) to hurt their adult victim, in this case their kids’ other parent.
It is heartbreaking to witness and there are few things that will make us as sad and angry as our own kids suffering.
But it’s not just them. Other members of your family may become targets or maybe even your new partner.
High-conflict people don’t really have any limits on what they might be willing to do in order to regain the power and control over you they lost when the relationship ended.
But again, this is simply a reality that exists in many high-conflict divorces. And frankly, using harm directed towards the children in order to get compliance from their adult victim makes a ton of sense.
Can you think of anything else that would be a more effective tool for forcing compliance from you than hurting your kids?
It’s so hard, but it happens all the time.
It’s so important to get to the point of radical acceptance on this so that you can move towards putting systems in place to protect them and you. If you stay in the space of shock and refusing to accept what’s happening, the people around you may end up at greater risk.
Accepting it isn’t saying it’s ok. Accepting it means saying, “Yep, I see it. What’s my next step? What can I do?”
Next steps can be really tricky to figure out, but they are there. You just need a clear mind to see them. And that doesn’t mean that you’ll get exactly what you want when you want it, but coming from a logical, grounded place will give you the best chance of getting the results that are safest for you and your kids.
And the professionals you have around you are the ones who can help with that.
As a coach, my job is first to validate what is happening in your high-conflict divorce and what happened during your relationship.
In some cases, as your coach, I may be the first person to say to you, “I get it.” That alone can be one of the most grounding experiences someone has in this process.
Then, we get to work. We focus on radical acceptance about what’s happening to you and your kids. From there, we can talk about your specific challenges, your priorities and figure out the best strategies for your situation.
As your coach, my job is to help you separate the emotional side of your high-conflict divorce from the strategic side.
And in my practice, my approach has your health at the centre because the best thing you can do for your kids is look after your own health.
Then, armed with radical acceptance, a clear head, a focus on your health and a list of priorities, you’re positioned to meet with the professionals who can best help you and you’re able to structure your life with your health at the top of the priority list.
Imagine how much easier it will be to meet with your lawyer to discuss the legalities of your divorce and come up with a strategy rather than spending that time using them as a therapist.
Imagine being so clear on what happened to you that you’re able to find a counselor or therapist who’s knowledgeable in these types of abuse and can validate everything you’ve experienced and give you tools to heal.
Imagine attending a court hearing fully understanding, and almost being able to predict, what your high-conflict co-parent is capable of and the feeling of stability that comes with this insight. You are prepared.
Imagine learning how to reframe that guilt so many of us have when it comes to what to focus on and, armed with that reframe, how you can make your health the most important piece of this puzzle.
Understanding who can help you and with what is an integral part of moving through your high-conflict divorce.
Your coach is not your lawyer.
Your lawyer is not your therapist.
Your therapist is not your accountant.
You get the picture.
Each professional in your life and the space they work in will offer something very important and very specific.
The first step is quieting the noise, getting clear on what you’re dealing with and deciding what you need to keep you healthy.
From there, you can figure out which professionals you need in your situation and then learn how to show up for each of them prepared and with realistic expectations.
That first step can be very hard to take because the confusion and the noise is so loud. The fear, the post-separation abuse, the pain your kids are going through, the financial burden, the grief… I get it. And I can also help.
I can help you quiet that noise, manage your expectations and help you make decisions on your next steps with your mental and physical health at the centre of it all.
As the safe parent for your kids, your health is the cornerstone of all the steps you take in your high-conflict divorce.
And whether you’re ready to accept it or not, you’ll have to move through this divorce, one of the most difficult things a person can go through, while your high-conflict co-parent continues to abuse you.
But you can do it. I promise.
If you’d like to find out more about working with me and how I can help, click here or send me an email at email@example.com.
Next week I’ll be releasing part 2 of this series where I talk about the hard truths around co-parenting and the things we need to radically accept when it comes to our kids.
Thank you again for taking the time today. And until next time, remember, healthy moms raise healthy kids.