When Divorce or Separation Turns Ugly

When Divorce or Separation Gets Ugly

Ending a long term relationship is always hard but sometimes it gets ugly – really ugly – despite the most courageous efforts for it to be otherwise.

It doesn’t always take two to tango – unless you count one to set the pace and one to get dragged along in a savage tailwind. Of course, when there are two people acting to maim, the ugliness will be all the uglier, but it only takes one person being nasty, unreasonable and manipulative to turn a relationship malignant.

Ending a bad relationship doesn’t make the toxicity immediately wash away. Sometimes it will get worse before it gets better but always, if the relationship was a bad one, it will be worth it. Walking away takes self-respect, self-love and courage and is the only way to position yourself (and your kids if you have them) for the life you deserve.

You can’t change other people, but you would know that by now – it’s probably this wisdom that walked you out the door. If your divorce has turned into a slugfight, there are ways to look after yourself (and your kids) until you reach solid ground – which you will. 

  1. Be honest. And don’t let them change you.

    This is important. It’s also really hard. Ask yourself, with an open heart, if you’re doing everything you can to be reasonable. None of us are perfect and a divorce can make the best of us act … how to put it without losing you … in ways that we might not be proud of.

    If I’m being honest (and this is the time for it) I’m not divorced but I can tell you that I’ve had fights with my husband where I’ve been a bit of an arse for a day or so following – not because he’s deserved it, but because I’ve felt so jaded. It may have happened more than once. But definitely probably less than 10 50. I’m sure it will happen again. High emotion, shame and heartache can steal you – I know – but don’t hand over your dignity by acting in ways that are beneath you. Sometimes it’s the only thing they can’t touch. Be honest, brave and always self-respectful. If you’re acting like someone you wouldn’t want to go camping with, stop.

  2. A divorce is many things. Failure is not one of them. 

    The end of a relationship doesn’t mean your decision to be with your ex-partner in the first place was flawed. The success of a relationship isn’t determined by how long it lasts. The investment of love and energy in a relationship will always be worth it, but it won’t necessarily guarantee forever. The past is the past and sometimes love, time, commitment and desire don’t stretch as far ahead in years as we’d like them to – and that’s okay. 

    People change. Circumstances change. Relationships change. In a Harvard study, psychology researcher Daniel Gilbert and colleagues found that people underestimate how much they will change in the future. We change a lot. Sometimes it’s in the same direction as the person we love and sometimes we veer sharply in a different one. Sometimes we wake up next to each other and realise we couldn’t be further apart. It happens. It’s part of being human.  

  3. You don’t have to do it all. You just have to do enough.

    Life changes sharply when a relationship breaks down. You don’t have to do everything the way you used to. You don’t have to do everything, fullstop. You just have to do enough. Figure out what that looks like and go with it. You deserve the freedom that comes from that.

  4. See the response of your ex-partner for what it is.

    When a marriage or relationship breaks down it will likely bring shame, and breathe life into every fear of not being good enough, normal enough, successful enough and perhaps most heartbreakingly, loveable enough. People have all sorts of responses to shame, some of which are completely unfathomable to those of us looking in from the outside. When shame is involved, people will do anything to protect themselves. Here are a few. You might also recognise some in yourself from time to time.The more awareness you have around what you’re doing, the more capacity you’ll have to stop it:

    ♦    They might be cruel. 

    If you were the one to leave, there’s probably been a shift in power from your ex-partner to you. It’s likely he or she will be feeling disempowered, ineffective and small. Cruelty is an attempt to reverse this by shrinking you. You can’t stop them trying. But you can stop it working.

    ♦    They might criticise your choices and accuse you of being out of control.

    You’re not out of control – just out of their control. Any choice you make in independence will send a message like a slap that yor’re no longer under their influence. As with anything, when what people have always done (control, disrespect, manipulate) stops working, they will do it even more before they stop. It’s human nature. Hold tight and keep going.

    ♦    They might manipulate.

    Manipulation is a way for people to get what they want without being rejected, by taking away the option to say, ‘no’. For people who manipulate, ‘no’ doesn’t feel like a rejection of a request, it feels like a rejection of them. As a result, they’ll do whatever is necessary to get their needs met without putting themselves in the position of being rejected. You might not be together any more, but you’ll still have things that they want – the kids, attention, co-operation, your happiness, your power. Sadly for some people your disrespect will be easier to handle than your ‘no’.

    ♦    They might get angry.

    Anger always exists to protect more vulnerable feelings such grief, fear or inadequacy from pushing to the surface. When a relationship ends, there will be feelings of deep loss, sadness and disconnection that can feel frighteningly bottomless. It’s much easier to attach these intense feelings to a target (you) than to acknowledge them..

    ♦    They might try to control you.

    All control is an attempt to relieve anxiety – around uncertainty, around not getting what they want, about things not going to (their) plan, about losing you. It’s not the best way to go about it and there are plenty of people who deal with their anxiety without needing to control people, but some people don’t know how to do it any other way.

  5. Just because it feels bad to stay, doesn’t mean it will feel good to leave.

    Even if it’s a change that’s going to be good for you, there will still be huge life adjustments that need to be made. Don’t take bad feelings as a stop sign. You’re acting with courage and positioning yourself for what you deserve – a life filled with love, happiness and security. Keep going. Take the discomfort as evidence of the gap between the life you’ve been living and the life you’re about to. That’s a good thing. You deserve more than you’ve had.

  6. Kids: The opportunity to teach them.

    If you have kids, know that you’re teaching important lessons, no matter what. Even if your ex partner is being a toxic, nasty, manipulative [insert your own word here], the way you deal with that will model important life lessons for your kids. If everything is always honey and roses, kids won’t have as many opportunities to learn about the challenges that come with living life. Here are some of the lessons you’ll be teaching:

    They’ll see: A relationship gone bad.
    Teach them: ‘The good ones are worth the greatest risk. The bad ones always have something to teach. It’s always okay to walk away.’

    They’ll see: Their other parent is good to them and awful to you. 
    Teach them: ‘You won’t get on with everyone – and that’s okay. You don’t have. It doesn’t mean the other person is bad, sometimes they can be wonderful. It just means the combination of the two of you doesn’t work.’

    They’ll see:  The people they love and depend on get sad. 
    Teach them: ‘Even grown-ups get sad sometimes but that doesn’t stop them from being happy most of the time. I’ll be okay and so will you. People feel better after crying because it’s the body’s way of feeling better.’ (According to biochemist William Frey, sad tears contain stress hormones and toxins that accumulate in the body during stress. Crying is the body’s way of cleansing itself.)

    They’ll see: People aren’t always nice to each other and sometimes, they’ll try to turn you against people you care about.

    Teach them: ‘When people say mean things it’s always because they’re trying to make someone feel as bad as they do. Just because someone says things, doesn’t mean those things true. People have all sorts of reasons for saying mean things and sometimes the truth isn’t one of them.

    They’ll see: Sometimes life gets hard.
    Teach them: ‘The greatest lessons come from the hardest things. Whenever you go through anything difficult you’ll always – always – come through wiser, stronger and braver than you were before. Wherever there’s a dip a rise will always follow.’

  7.  Have self compassion.

    It doesn’t work when other people are cruel to you (because you have too much self-respect for that, right) and it doesn’t work when you’re mean to yourself. Self-critism, self-blame and your inner self critic will fall you if you let it. There is a part in all of us that’s vulnerable, receptive and open to love, approval and being noticed. Speak to yourself as though that part is always listening, because it is. Make sure the things you say to yourself are kind, loving and compassionate. If it’s not your way to be kind to yourself, try it – and watch things change for you. 

  8. Accept that it’s going to get unacceptable.

    Unhappiness comes from the divide between what we expect and what we have. Let go of thinking that this whole situation might feel okay soon. You’ll find a freedom in that. If the situation is bad enough, it might not feel okay until the kids are grown and left home and there’s no need for you to talk to each other any more.

    If your ex is truly awful, their attempt to win at any cost may be relentless. They’ll decide on the issue and the fight will be on – money, custody, how awful you are, whose turn it is to have the kids for Christmas, whether you should be breathing in first or out first.

    More than likely, the topic will be irrelevant. The issue will be one of control, probably born from losing you. Keep your perspective and remember what’s important. Being good for your kids will always be more important than winning the fight. Let them see you modeling resilience, strength, compassion and emotional muscle. You’ve got it in you. It might take all you’ve got, but it‘s in you. There will be things said and things done that you just can’t control. Fight the important ones, let the others go. Be who you are and let the truth fight it out for you.

We all have within us the courage, strength and wisdom to deal with the challenges that life sends our way. Trust this and reach for it. It’s there. Nothing we go through is ever wasted and it’s important to be open to the learnings. Rather than, ‘Why did this happen to me?’ try, ‘What can I learn from this?’ 

You might lay awake at night, cry in the shower, scream in the car and fall apart in front of your closest friends. You might wonder how it got to this and when it will end. Just hold steady and keep moving moving forward. When you put yourself on the right path, good things will always come.


See here to understand why a breakup feels like it does: YOUR BODY DURING A BREAKUP: THE SCIENCE OF A BROKEN HEART


O'Reilly S

I know at first that it’s really hard to accept it, but if it turns out that you’re not happy anymore then what’s the point of staying.


 I had to put up with a cheating partner for almost two years until I decided to get evidence since I had nothing on him/her. It was a tough decision but it was necessary as I contacted spywarelord04 via gmail and got enough evidence on him.

Zoe C

It’s reassuring to hear the words that I don’t have to do my best after the divorce is fully processed and I just need to do.. enough. Enough for me to survive, and probably enough for my kids to survive with me. I finally got the courage to leave my abusive husband after ten years of enduring everything he’s given me and since it is really, really hard, I’m grateful that I came across your article. It might be better if I can talk to a divorce attorney so we can legally divide the assets and claim full custody of the kids.


I was having some misunderstanding with my husband and it was tearing our marriage apart to the extend my husband do not come home anymore and he was seeking for a divorce. I tried to make things work for us again but he has already made up his mind against me because another woman was already involved and he choose to settle with her.

Too toerant

Same thing happened to me. I’m leaving my wife, and yes, there is another woman, but don’t look at the end result. I didn’t leave for another woman. I left because of the years of neglect, no affection, no love…left a void which was filled by someone who does love me. Is it really my fault? My wife was never there for me when I needed her. If she fulfilled me, I never would have left.

Alice Hubbard

It appears you are justifying the reason for “the other woman”/end result.
Mature adults leave a relationship and then enter a new relationship.
Yes, relationships are hard and regardless of the reason, you’re not a victim when you cheat on anyone.

rachel f

My husband and I are planning to get a legal separation. I agree with you that the success of the relationship isn’t determined by how long it’ll last, it’s meant for us to end this now. This has been hard for me, and I never knew that this could cause too much pain. I’m currently looking for a lawyer right now that specializes in legal separation cases.


Thank you – this article is beautifully written, with compassion and kindness at its core . It’s really helped me today.


I am going through an ugly separation. I have not been the nicest person and the major reason for our separation has been my actions. Yesterday, she tried to kill me by running me over. She also tried to half way pull me in the car and drag me down the street. She claims she doesn’t remember because she was drinking. I don’t feel that I should report it or do anything about it as it would hurt our adult children Just wanted to share, I feel like life is crashing around me. I am the main reason for the separation, however do I deserve to die over it?


You don’t know how much this meant to me today. I am going through a divorce. My husband is dragging his heals. It his helping me to refocus my energy where it needs to be.


My wife was the one having a emotional affair I don’t know if it turnrd physical asked for divorce .I took it hard in the beginning and almost five months later ive though myself to move on and im so over her.It seems now that I that car anymore she wants to stretch the divorce.In our marriage we never resolved any arguments cause she never liked confrontation and always ready to run from it.I’v had enough of living with someone that always wanting and does not bring there part to the marriage.All the unsolved arguments has caused resentment in me and I feel frustrated cause unsolved matters is basically making feel divorcing is the right thing to do.Because you cannot build or base your life on someone never commit ing they wrong and always running from confrontation.This is one of the biggest hurdles that was that we did not jump at all.I feel more at peace now then ever and somehow releaved that its all comming to an end .I don’t care when just that she pushed me so much that I don’t really cares what she does with her body or her life anymore.I’m done feeling any responsibility towards her. I feel I had enough .


He sounds like a narcissist, meaning its all about him and his wants snd needs, he does not care about you or what you want. It was the bit about you showing emotion and him not caring that makes me think this. Narcissistic people are evil they don’t do emotions or feelings they only care about themselves. You are just their supply, once they have got what they want from you, sex, money, or whatever they move to the discard phase. Look up narcissism or borderline personality disorder.

Trust me you need to stay away from him, no matter how hard that is and go “no contact’, completely no contact for you to heal, for your own peace and wellbeing. Take care of yourself and move on with your life, without him.


Yep. My Ex is Depressed and Bi-Polar. She got off her meds and simply Blamed her attitudes on me. I have tons of emails asking, begging her to not destroy the day/weekend, to be Positive, to try to enjoy life and got nothing but Negative Attitude response. I didnt care about the Divorce, but it tears me up a great deal seeing how Bad she has Gotten. Her Brother doesnt want to be around her, her Parents knows she needs help but too afraid to get involved, our Son is disappointed in her. Was talking to her Dad last year and he made a comment that will always stay with Me. He said, “I dont even know my own Daughter anymore”. She went to Different Drs but changed the Moment they said there might be something wrong with you. Shes trying to find one that will feed into her Poor Victim routine. I Still love her Dearly but all she tries to do now is make every ones life Miserable. She thinks I have this Evil Plan to destroy her life though I keep expressing to her How much I love her. I really FEEL For her. It has gotten really bad the last 2 Years out of our 10 Years of Marriage. But I think now its Beyond Help. I BROKE My Promise 🙁 6 Years ago, she asked me “If there was something wrong with me, we you stay with me?” I told her, “I would stay with you until the end of time” Now we are getting ready to sell the House and Move our Own Ways. My son is 9 and she going to try to have him stay with her all the time but my Son doesnt want to be Around her. So now Hes Suffering as well.


So my daughter has to deal with the dad of her boys. She shares time with the boys-pretty much 50/50. It has been a self esteem killer for her in a devastating way along with depression. I help with boys when they are with her to hopefully provide her time and space to heal and recover.Yes there is therapy. Your article is so right on and it is very helpful to see some of this in print. I do not think his barrage of nastiness will ever stop.


We were married 30 years, he had been having an affair for the last 9 years. We tried, no I tried to stay together but it turns out they never really ended. They keep in contact and see each other. This kills me, him choosing her, the rejection is more than I’ve been able to bare. We have 3 grown kids and we all feel a major betrayal from him.
Unfortunately I’m seeing myself in a lot of the negative portion of your article. I fight with him about everything, I want him to hurt like he hurt me. Every time I hear that he has seen his girlfriend or talked with her, I lose it. I do whatever I can to make him miserable. I’m glad I read your article, I don’t want to be that person, I need to get back my self respect and be done with his cheating sorry ass. From this moment on I will be trying my hardest to move on, let go and forget about him!


omg reading lorraine article reminds me of my wife,we are separated since feb2018 ,she has had multiple affairs, yes i did my revengful affairs but told her lets go see a marriage counselor well now that i served her with divorce papers, she has become worst i just want to move on from her!


I’m going through hell with my ex after I decided to call it quits when she physically hit me. Then she and her father stole my furniture and art, and has now been trying to sue me for all the expenses she’s had to pay for in the last 4,5 years. Luckily I have proof that the items belong to me and a prenup. But I realise now that her intention is to destroy me and cripple me financially and personally as she’s tried to turn all our friends against me. She’s also blocking the divorce from going through because she’s on a spousal visa and is now claiming that I’m the one who’s been gas lighting and abusing her. Throughout our marriage, I’ve been manipulated to no end. Bullied into agreeing to amend our prenup, which I luckily didn’t get around to do. And now after almost seven months of separation and fighting to be free of her, I’m realising that things will get worse before they get better. Reading this article, even though you’re not going through a divorce, really helps. And though my legal team is all over this, it’s my heart that needs protection as I feel a deep loss of trust towards people. And a deep loss in confidence in trusting my own judgement of people.


My wife left me after nearly two years of marriage and my daughter has just turned 5 months old. I’m devastated as I’ve been married before, my wife says I’ve been untrustworthy and all agreements are about my ex or I’ve been accused of having affairs which is not true. Anyhow she’s moved out and I’ve given her space only to text or call to see if my daughter is okay, a 5 month can’t call me. I keep the calls brief for a few minutes every 2 days. I love my dearly and my daughter and have put some much effort into this marriage that I feel numb. I’ve beg her not to divorce me me but she wants to move on and brings up every argument we have ever had, I just can’t reason with her. We recently meet up 10 days ago and I thought everything was fine, we even went to the zoo together as I had to stay in a hotel when I visit my daughter, my wife comes along too as she is breastfeeding and we seem to get on fine. When I go back which 6 hours away it seems normal, but now she has cancelled my visit because she wants to visit her friend. This was already agree, during the conversation she again brought up old arguments and still thinks I had an affair. I’ve asked to be reasonable and allow me to keep the date set. She now so horrible and I don’t know if she is have postnatal depression but this is not the woman I feel in love or married. Yes we do have our ups and downs but now she’s completely a different person since our daughter was born. She left me before Christmas and refused to allow me to be with her and my daughter. I feel so low at the moment and I don’t want to lose her. Can I ask for some help please as I’m so alone.


I am ADHD, I suffer from major depression, I’m bipolar and very sensitive to what I perceive to be negative criticism.
I am on anti-depression meds, mood stabilisers (and the whole kitchen sink) which I use very diligently, knowing that I have a problem and that without them I would be even worse off than what I am. For the past 15 years I am and have been seeing a psychiatrist and a psychologist who have helped tremendously, teaching me who I am and how to deal with me but problem is “talk is cheap” and to practice what they preach is just something I battle to do making me hate the me who I am even more after I have had yet another outburst knowing full well that that what I did was wrong and hurtful but revenge is my weapon and unfortunately for me a very evil weapon that I wish I could throw away as far as the east is to the west.
We all know the saying that goes, “it’s never me that is at fault, it’s always the other person” Well I fit the profile of never being wrong to a T and all I do is pick fights, or so I’m told.
My current wife (number three) has not only been my wife and partner for six years but also my best friend, and me hers in spite of all the fighting…………… until now. Finally she has put her foot down and called it a day which has broken me to the bone giving me butterflies in my stomach just thinking of what tomorrow might bring. I also know that what I am doing at the moment is probably the worst thing I can possibly do but I’m spend as much time with her as possible begging for a second chance making all sorts of promises which a few hours later frustrated out of my mind say things which drive the dagger in yet deeper.
I know all the answers to the questions and advice you are going to give me which I welcome but just knowing that you guys have taken the time to read my sob story makes me feel not alone. Thanks for that


My younger brother just went through 2 years of divorce court. The lawyers got $80,000 between them. My brother had to pay for a portion of hers…even though she filed. He got served on Christmas Eve. Never expecting it. It hurt my heart as much as his to see him have to go through it. It was so dirty. It’s over now and he can move on. Sometimes you just have to hit bottom before you can move forward. I tell him that he is so lucky that at 56 yrs. he now has a clean slate to write whatever he wants; U-turns are allowed and he has the power to make choices to be happy/or not. It was a 30 yr. marriage and he will pay alimony for the rest of his life. I’m sure there are many people that wish they could divorce each other but it’s expensive & families get fractured. I divorced at 23 in 1973 after only one year being married. Marriage just wasn’t for me. I felt like a caged rabbit.
We remained friends and stay in touch. I’ve dated through the years but I know marriage isn’t for me. I love being free.
Good luck to those that make the decision to make a change in their life. It takes courage…..and careful budgeting!


This is a great article. Particularly the bit about kids. I have two, and have just separated from my wife (my choice – it had just gone bad). and I have not acted in a way I’m proud of but things are getting better because I realised that I love my wife, even if I know 100% I can’t be in a relationship with her. Since then I’ve started to feel empathy for her and try my best to act in a way I’m happy for my kids to see.


I am going through a divorce with an incredibly unreasonable ex. He has held up the divorce at every opportunity, denied receiving divorce papers, will not fully disclose, I dont know where he lives now, refused mediation. Continually sends me demeaning texts when I try to negotiate reasonably. It is totally soul destroying. It was a very controlling, emotionally abusive marriage & I left when it got physical after 30 years together, 21 married. It is so true that the attempt to control/abuse does not stop after you leave. So hard to watch your children (14 & 17) spend time with a man who continues to treat you so badly and is incapable of being reasonable. We are going to Court now. I have no doubt he will try to drag this process also, costing us thousands in the process. But I will get my divorce & hopefully the monies Im entitled to eventually. Like the article said I dont think things will evet get truly better for me until the kids have grown as I cannot cut the ties completely and all I really want is never to hear from the man again so I can live in peace.


Thank you for publishing this article. It has given me a lot to think about. My soon to be ex-husband has been very difficult to deal with! I read # 4 and saw parts of him (cruel, criticizing, and anger) and perhaps even a some things about myself (manipulation and control)?

I don’t know if I really am being manipulative or controlling or not…I do acknowledge that I don’t handle situations well where I have no control over my own life…and divorce and the legal system give a person a REAL dose of those things. When I try to talk to him about coming up with reasonable solutions…he is stone cold heartless. We originally promised that we’d walk away from it as friends…I still want that…but maybe now that he has a new girlfriend he doesn’t??? He won’t even talk to me. He won’t give me the documents that I am requesting and is making this so much harder than it has to be. Then I wondered if that is HIS WAY of controlling? Of manipulating? If he has all the ‘carrots’ (paperwork, house, assets, money) and I have to keep coming around groveling…and he gets to just go “NO”…then maybe that’s his way of exerting control? I never thought of him as a controlling person…although most everything in our life revolved around him, his family, etc. He’s just become so detached and unavailable in every way. That is what makes me wonder if I am somehow being manipulative by proposing solutions and controlling by being upset all the time that things aren’t going according to plan, etc.

So, generally speaking…I feel like I’m getting “mind f*ck*d” or “gaslighted.” I don’t want to be a bad person. I want to walk away from all of this with my integrity in tact…having been fair…and that I didn’t let the marriage and divorce break me. But is is SO hard. It’s been going on a year now…with no end in sight.

I do think that your article makes sense though…and I will examine my heart on all points and decide where to go from here. I may just have to completely let go of the hope that we’ll ever be friends. Twelve years was a long time to be with him though…and I did so love him…but ultimately maybe that’s not enough. 🙁


Thank you, I can relate and I appreciate this article so much. Thank you for your expertise in this area as I suffer through my divorce.


I truly appreciate your article. I have been married for 23 years. I’m 57 and learned my husband, 65, has had a now 73 year old lover for years. I left, realizing he’s been gaslighting me for such a long time. He’s putting me through hell with this divorce since I filed. Your words of courage, self-love and self-respect to get to the life I deserve have given me the light I need. Mant thanks!


I almost stopped reading after you stated that you were still married. I am still sceptical about taking advice about divorce from someone whom has not experienced it.

Karen Young

Bryan of course you are very welcome to stop reading whenever you want to, but just to let you know … I experienced my parents’ divorce, I have counselled children of divorce (as children and adults), couples on the verge of divorce, people who have been through a divorce, and I have walked step by step beside people I love as they move through messy divorces.


I want to thank you for your words of support and strength. I am going through a divorce and reading your article hits every reason why I am divorcing and what I am going through. I have saved this article on my phone so that I can read this for strength and encouragement during my process. Very well written and insightful.


Oh Julie, this article affected me the same way ! It’s just what I needed to read. I am going thru a Divorce also. And I plan to print this out so I can read it over and over again when I need reminding. Thank You Karen Young for writing this !


This article helped me so much. I am going threw a divorce now, and its every bit of what I just read. I was beginning to doubt myself. Wondering if I made the right choice. The truth is I did make the right choice. The way my children and I were living was not a healthy life. This article helped me. My divorce is turning very ugly, and I did not know how to sheild my children from all the negativity coming from the other party. After reading this I am reassured that I am taking the right steps to getting my children and myself threw this hard time. Thank you.


My wife had been diagnosed with PMDD over five years and had been on meds. This past December she became psychotic and violent in front of our kids. This was the third major episode she has had but first since she was diagnosed. Had to call police, possible hospitalization, but I didn’t have heart. Told cops to let her go with some friends, a married couple, friends of hers, not mine. The next day they initiated the silent treatment. I found out she was off her meds and drinking alcohol. The couple have interfered with my attempts to speak with her. Only one opportunity to speak with her in person, the wife called the police to interrupt the conversation.
So I’m in divorce proceedings since a week after her breakdown, and my wife is not on her meds, my children are suffering, and I haven’t spoken to her in six months. It’s ugly. we were very much in love before this happened. I’m still in shock.

Karen Young

Jorge I’m sorry this has happened to you and your family. PMDD can be an awful intrusion, but it can be managed with meds and lifestyle changes. I wish you could love somebody into healing, but none of us can do that. You sound clear about your decision, as heartbreaking as it is for you and your kids. Hold them close – they’re going to need you, and you them.


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All kids need the 'the right things' to thrive. The right people, the right motivation, the right encouragement. Out in the world, at school, or wherever they find themselves, kids and teens with anxiety don't need any extra support - they just need their share, but in a way that works for them. 

In a world that tends to turn towards the noise, it can be easy for the ones that tend to stand back and observe and think and take it all in, to feel as though they need to be different - but they don't. Kids and teens who are vulnerable to anxiety tend to have a different and wonderful way of looking at the world. They're compassionate, empathic, open-hearted, brave and intelligent. They're exactly the people the world needs. The last thing we want is for them to think they need to be anyone different to who they are.

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Sometimes silence means 'I don't have anything to say.' Sometimes it means, 'I have plenty to say but I don't want to share it right here and right now.'

We all need certain things to feel safe enough to put ourselves into the world. Kids with anxiety are thoughtful, observant and insightful, and their wisdom will always have the potential to add something important to the world for all of us. Until they have a felt sense of safety though, we won’t see it.

This safety will only happen through relationship. This isn’t a child thing, or an anxiety thing. It’s a human thing. We’re all wired to feel safest when we’re connected to the people around us. For children it starts with the adult in the room.

We can pour all the resources we want into learning support, or behaviour management, but until children have a felt sense of safety and connection with the adult in the room, the ‘thinking brain’ won’t be available. This is the frontal cortex, and it’s the part of the brain needed for learning, deliberate decisions, thinking through consequences, rational thinking. During anxiety, it’s sent offline.

Anxiety is not about what is actually safe, but about what the brain perceives. A child can have the safest, most loving, brilliant teacher, but until there is a felt sense of connection with that teacher (or another adult in the room), anxiety will interrupt learning, behaviour, and their capacity to show the very best of what they can do. And what they can do will often be surprising - insightful, important, beautiful things.

But relationships take time. Safety and trust take time. The teachers who take this time are the ones who will make the world feel safer for these children - all children, and change their world in important, enduring ways. This is when learning will happen. It’s when we’ll stop losing children who fly under the radar, or whose big behaviour takes them out of the classroom, or shifts the focus to the wrong things (behaviour, learning, avoidance, over relationships).

The antidote to anxiety is trust, and the greatest way to support learning and behaviour is with safe, warm, loving relationships. It’s just how it is, and there are no shortcuts.
In uncertain times, one thing that is certain is the profound power of you to help their world feel safe enough. You are everything to them and however scary the world feels, the safety of you will always feel bigger. 

When the world feels fragile, they will look to us for strength. When it feels unpredictable, they will look to us for calm. When they feel small, we can be their big. 

Our children are wired to feel safe when they are connected and close to us. That closeness doesn’t always have to mean physical proximity, but of course that will be their favourite. Our words can build their safe base, “I know this feels scary love, and I know we will be okay.” And our words can become their wings, “I can hear how worried you are, and I know you are brave enough. You were built for this my love. What can you do that would be brave right now?”

We might look for the right things to do or the right things to say to make things better for them, but the truth of it all is the answer has always been you. Your warmth, your validation, your presence, your calm, your courage. You have the greatest power to help them feel big enough. You don’t have to look for it or reach for it - it’s there, in you. Everything you need to help them feel safe enough and brave enough is in you. 

This doesn’t mean never feeling scared ourselves. It’s absolutely okay to feel whatever we feel. What it means is allowing it to be, and adding in what we can. Not getting over it, but adding into it - adding strength, calm, courage. So we feel both - anxious and strong, uncertain and determined, scared and safe ‘enough’. 

When our children see us move through our own anxiety, restlessness, or uncertainty with courage, it opens the way for them to do the same. When our hearts are brave enough and calm enough, our children will catch this, and when they do, their world will feel safe enough and they will feel big enough.
The temptation to lift our kiddos out of the way of anxiety can be spectacular. Here's the rub though - avoidance has a powerful way of teaching them that the only way to feel safe is to avoid. This makes sense, but it can shrink their world. 

We also don't want to go the other way, and meet their anxiety by telling them there's nothing to worry about. They won't believe it anyway. The option is to ride the wave with them. Breathe, be still, and stay in the moment so they can find their way there too. 

This is hard - an anxious brain will haul them into the future and try to buddy them up with plenty of 'what-ifs' - the raging fuel for anxiety. Let them know you get it, that you see them, and that you know they can do this. They won't buy it straight away, and that's okay. The brain learns from experience, so the more they are brave, the more they are brave - and we know they are brave.

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To do this, we will often need to ‘go first’ with calm and courage. This will mean calming our own anxiety enough, so we can lead them towards things that are good for them, rather than supporting their avoidance of things that feel too big, but which are important or meaningful. 

The very thing that makes you a wonderful parent, can also get in the way of moving them through anxiety. As their parent, you were built to feel distress at their distress. This distress works to mobilise you to keep them safe. This is how it’s meant to work. The problem is that sometimes, anxiety can show up in our children when it there is no danger, and no need to protect. 

Of course sometimes there is a very real need to keep our children safe, and to support them in the retreat from danger. Sometimes though, the greatest things we can do for them is support their move towards the things that are important a or meaningful, but which feel too big in the moment. One of the things that makes anxiety so tough to deal with is that it can look the same whether it is in response to a threat, or in response to things that will flourish them. 

When anxiety happens in the absence of threat, it can move us to (over)protect them from the things that will be good for them (but which register as threat). I’ve done it so many times myself. We’re human, and the pull to move our children out of the way of the things that are causing their distress will be seismic. The key is knowing when the anxiety is in response to a real threat (and to hold them back from danger) and when it is in response to something important and meaningful (and to gently support them forward). The good news is that you were built to move towards through both - courage and safety. The key to strengthening them is knowing which one when - and we don’t have to get it right every time.♥️

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