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Linda Lipshutz, MS, ACSW Headshot

Are Your Friends Avoiding Your Phone Calls?

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If you are going through the pains of divorce, your friends and loved ones will hopefully rally with sympathy and support. The most patient and loyal will lovingly give you ample opportunity to cry and vent, offering tissues and hugs.

In fact, it's my guess that most of the people around you genuinely would like to be there for you as best they can, offering as much emotional support as is humanly possible.

Having said that, it's critically important to pay attention to the effect you are having on those around you. Sometimes, when people are hurting, they become so consumed by their pain they don't realize that their obsessive, repetitive calls can become overbearing and offensive. At this difficult time, the last thing you want to do is try the patience of the very people who so much want to be there for you.

There are times when emotions take over, that people become so overwhelmed they believe they don't have the ability to stop themselves. They may call anyone who will listen as a means of calming themselves but, as often happens, this provides little relief. In fact, when they are met with irritation or avoided, it only increases their anxiety.

Family history, genetic make-up and life experiences contribute to a person's emotional stability and ability to face life's downturns. Most people have learned some valuable skills throughout their lives that may help them settle upset emotions on their own. However, in times of stress, such as divorce, many have difficulty identifying and accessing these inner strengths. They may lose the confidence that they have the capacity to handle tough situations on their own. Feeling vulnerable and alone, they may alienate those around them as they desperately reach out for emotional support.

Humans have a built in alarm center in the brain called the amygdala that triggers an automatic response of heightened alert when a real (or imagined) danger is perceived. At these times, the fight or flight mechanism is triggered and some of us may act in desperation, spilling our emotions, even though we may be in a situation that is actually in our control. Not having an internal "compass" that helps us keep inappropriate, off-putting behaviors at bay, compromises our ability to think rationally, and to come up with reasonable solutions.

For many people, learning how to calmly settle their emotions will require professional assistance, but for others, there are steps that can be taken to learn practical strategies on their own. Experts have developed a system of breathing, meditation and exercise regimens that have proven successful in physically helping to release pent-up tension.

Physically dissipating the anxiety may open our capacity to more logically address frustrations and hurts. Instead of trying to ignore, or minimize the upset situation, it can be enormously helpful at these times to show ourselves empathy and compassion, in the same way we would supportively reach out to our friends going through a similar situation.

It is important to remember that personal failure and suffering is part of the universal human experience, so we shouldn't take our own limitations so personally. And, in fact, reminding ourselves that we may have gone through a different hardship previously and survived is key. It is sometimes easier when we try to put ourselves in someone else's shoes and consider what we would do to be supportive to them. If we could even role-play what we would say to this person, we might gain insight into steps we can take to soothe ourselves.

The goal here is to take a pause between the stimulus (perceived threat) and our actions, so we gain the ability to problem solve before acting out or blurting something inappropriately. In other words, we can learn to acknowledge our feelings, recognize that we are indeed entitled to be upset, but that we must take measured steps to be self-protective, before acting in ways that undermine our integrity and personal relationships.