There are millions of adults who experienced the trauma of their parents' divorce 20, 30 or 40 plus years ago. Some have found closure, but many more have not. Regrettably, it is a time in a child's life that is never forgotten; it sticks with them. For anyone who's experienced it, you know it isn't only about divorce. It's about the years of tension in the home leading up to the divorce and those commonly miserable years after the divorce.
Fifteen years ago, Miami-Dade became the first county in the United States that would not grant a divorce in a family until the children completed the Sandcastles Program for children of divorce. Since then, more than 300,000 children of divorce have completed the Sandcastles Program internationally and it continues to help children of divorce share their deepest emotions and gain a feeling of normalcy.
We'd like to think it all stops there -- in the past. Sadly, our childhoods remain a part of our adult fabric for better or for worse, and with divorce in the past, there is a load of negativity that never goes away. It seems that because divorce has become ubiquitous, people feel that it shouldn't be discussed -- as if they're whining. After all, lots of people went through what you did as a kid. Who wants to hear about it? Move on, get over it. How long can you keep rehashing the same old stuff? Give it up!
Yet the idea of swallowing and pretending it all away is what gives significant power to the problems in the past. Consider that in my recent study of 379 children of divorce, (the subject of my new book, The Long Way Home):
- 89 percent believe their parents' divorce clearly had a negative impact on their life, while 45 percent label the impact as severe.
- 80 percent have experienced severe sadness or depression.
- 72 percent feel their parents' divorce impacted their ability to sustain close relationships.
- The majority feel their parents' divorce has undermined their self-confidence and ability to trust.
It is divorce's nasty little secret. It's why you are afraid of sounding weak when you talk about it -- to others as well as to yourself. It's understandable. After all, you don't want to feel that life is holding you back just because of what happened to you as a child, especially because it wasn't your fault. Unfortunately, pretending the feelings away won't get you to where you want to be.
If you are an adult who was a child of divorce, give yourself permission to look back and be honest with yourself. Even as an adult, you can heal from your past and create a new future that is less reactive to it. Like so many others in my study who have been affected by divorce, it is possible to heal. The first step in helping yourself is to open up and allow yourself to recognize how your parents' divorce has affected you. Opening up is the beginning to finding a path of change.
Next, identify how you feel today and notice that those feelings are reminiscent of your childhood. This process takes time and focused energy, and is the subject of my new book. In the book, I outline how research participants followed a detailed program to help them learn about themselves and make significant changes. Perhaps for the first time, adult children of divorce can face their issues, grow from them and rid themselves from the ill effects of divorce.
To learn more about Gary's just released book, The Long Way Home: The Powerful 4-Step Plan for Adult Children of Divorce, visit wiley.com/buy/0470409223
M Gary Neuman is a New York Times best-selling author, rabbi, and creator of Neuman Method Programs. He was on the Oprah show 11 times as well as having made multiple appearances on Today, Dateline, the View, NPR and others. Oprah referred to Gary as "One of the best psychotherapists in the world." To receive discounts on Gary's Creating Your Best Marriage 11 DVD set program, go to NeumanMethod.com and use coupon code huffington.