THE BLOG
10/31/2016 04:33 pm ET Updated Oct 28, 2017

HALLOWEEN UNMASKED: Divorce IS scary!

Numerous aspects of Halloween ring true for the process of separating/ divorcing. In fact, Halloween can be a useful analogy to highlight 4 difficult aspects of the separation/ divorce process. Once we unmask these 4 aspects, label them for what they are, we can control and manage them better. Issues similar to both Halloween and to Divorce are: boundary and uncertainty, identity and sacrifice.

HALLOWEEN*. The origins of Halloween date to the Celts, who lived over 2,000 years ago in what we know now as Ireland, the UK, and northern France. Their festival of "Samhain" [pronounced "sow-in"] celebrated the eve of their New Year on November 1st. This was an important boundary because it announced the end of summer and the harvest, and the beginning of winter. This was a scary time marked by great uncertainty and thoughts of mortality since many feared how they would survive the cold and darkness during the unpredictable and volatile winter season.

The Celts celebrated "Samhain" on Oct 31, the night before their New Year [Nov 1]. They believed the worlds of the living and the dead collided then when the ghosts of the departed returned to earth. So they lit sacred bonfires to sacrifice crops and animals to the Celtic deities, and they wore costumes and masks to scare off roaming ghosts. Wearing a costume or mask of an angel, saint, or devil, would confuse your identity and make the roaming dead spirits think you were not alive.

DIVORCE.
In order to separate or divorce, you need to move first in your mind across a boundary where you once thought of yourself as a dyadic unit, a team, and now to a single unit, uncoupled. Acknowledging that shift is similar to the end of summer, usually a harvest of plenty. Good feelings and thoughts about one's partner can turn colors like leaves on the trees and fall withered to the ground as the "temperature" cools. Like crossing into "fall", there are more subtle boundaries around feeling "dead" inside, and longings to feel "alive again" that I hear often when clients tell me about their reasons for wishing to separate.

Divorce is a scary transition time, one of great uncertainty as you begin to separate every aspect of your life from your partner's life -- your home, finances, family, friends: all The Stuff of your lives together. If you have children, separating your time vs. partner's time with kids can be the most painful. If you decide to share time pretty equally with kids, then the sacrifice of "losing" half that time with your children is often the most painful.

You can think of those bonfires lit by the ancient Celts as the emotions that burn inside each person who separates from a partner. Managing, and hopefully subduing, those internal fires can be a major challenge. There's another boundary here that is important to delineate: the past and the present. In order to move into the future, giving up grudges [eventual forgiveness is an ideal goal] helps lighten your burden. In order to trust yourself and your decisions moving forward, it helps to give up past mistakes and its grudges.

As for the issue of identity, this may be the most difficult during divorce. The first unmasking occurs when you tell yourself the truth that your marriage no longer works for you, your partner, or your whole family. Then you need to decide which roles are masks, and which are real enough to keep. No longer a lover, but still a friend? No longer a son or daughter-in-law, but still a parent? There are so many important identity shifts when you cross that boundary of being in a pair, to uncoupled. Whether your masks are internal or external, you will become more acutely aware of what's genuine and what's false as you cross that crucial boundary to uncoupleness.

Until now, you may have thought of Halloween as only one night of the year. But view it more as the ancients did, as a boundary to a New Year, as the portal to a new "season." Then you can allow a deeper acknowledgement of the complexities, if you are divorcing, of this unique transition in your life. With this acknowledgement can come more creative means of dealing with the inevitable uncertainties, sacrifices, and identity shifts. You can unmask the identities that no longer work well for you. And cross that boundary into a New Year where you can "treat" yourself to a good Life.
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*Halloween evolved from the at least 2,ooo year old Celtic tradition of Samhain, celebrating the Eve of New Year of November 1s. By 43 AD, the Romans had captured most of the Celtic territory. Christian rituals and festivals were incorporated into the Samhain tradition: Feralia, a late October day commemorating the passing of the dead; a day to honoring Pomona, the Roman goddess of fruit and trees [NB: apple-bobbing]; Pope Boniface IV dedicated [May 609] the Catholic feast of All Martyrs Day; Pope Gegory added [9th c} all saints to those martyrs honored on November 1st , called All Saints' Day, All-hallows Day, in middle English is "Alholowmesse". The evening before was known as "All-hallow's Eve", and eventually Halloween. European immigrants brought their Halloween traditions to North America, where it evolved into a secular, community-based event characterized by child-friendly activities.
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JOY A. DRYER, Ph.D. is a Psychologist/ Psychoanalyst, and for over 10 years a Divorce Consultant/ Mediator currently in private practice in NYC and Poughkeepsie N.Y., She is an author, speaker, divorce trainer, and former Adjunct Associate Professor [Brooklyn College, New York University ]. Follow her on Twitter @JoyDryerPhD. Comments welcome via jdryerphd@gmail.com or her website www.joydryerphd.com.