Divorce can be one of the most traumatic experiences of our lives. Once we’ve been through a divorce it can be terrifying to think about starting again. Often, fear of the unknown can hold us back. Perhaps we fear that history will repeat itself – that there’s no point in going through it all over again.
Of course, making the choice to stay single is fine. But only if you truly want that for yourself. If, however, you do want to begin again, but don’t know how, here are some tips to help you understand how to overcome your fears after divorce.
1. Challenge your Negative Thinking
There are certain negative thinking patterns that are too easy to fall into after a stressful divorce:
- Fortune telling: Because we’ve suffered certain things in the past we think our future will contain similar experiences. For example, if your ex-spouse cheated on you, you might find yourself imagining that this will happen to you again, no matter who you’re with.
- Overgeneralization:People have a tendency to overgeneralize once they’ve been hurt. Just because your ex was controlling, however, doesn’t mean all men or women are that way! When we feel emotionally vulnerable we want to protect ourselves. Generalizing is one way to do just that.
- Catastrophizing: This is when we think the worst possible thing will happen. You may be tempted to assume all relationships end in break-ups and heartbreak.
Try to catch yourself when you’re having these kinds of negative thoughts. They’re simply a product of your fear. When you notice one surfacing, try to challenge it.
For example, say you’ve met someone new, and he or she seems to like you, and you likewise, but you can’t help thinking: There’s no point in starting a new relationship. They all end terribly. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Is this actually true? Can I think of relationships that ended amicably?
- Who do I know in a happy relationship? What would they say to me about this?
- Is it worth telling this person about my fears? What might they say?
Giving voice to your fears can often help show them up as improbable. It can also be a great tool for changing negative thoughts into a helpful, positive mindset.
2. Create a “Fear Ladder”
Creating a fear ladder is a technique many psychologists use to help their patients confront a fear or anxiety. It’s a good way to remind yourself you don’t have to jump into a new relationship and that you can take things slow. The idea is to take small steps towards your goal. Here’s an example:
Step 1: Start going to more social events or gatherings where you could meet a new person.
Step 2: Go to a party or social event and briefly smile or nod at someone (or several people)
Step 3: Ask a friend to introduce you to someone (or several people)
Step 4: Strike up a conversation with someone
Keep adding steps to your list and take the next step when you feel that you’re ready. There’s no need to rush into things. Remember that “the ladder” has no deadlines!
3. Adopt A Laid-Back Attitude
Try to go into the world of dating with a relaxed attitude. Think of going on a date as an interesting experience or a fun way to pass the time, not necessarily anything serious or consequential.
Experiment with your options by joining a dating website or app. You can also join events and clubs to get yourself out there. Even if you don’t go on a date with someone you meet, you’ll get practice talking to new people and making new friends.
4. Build Up your Self-Esteem
It’s normal to feel less confident after divorce. After all, that person may have helped you define your sense of self worth. After a divorce you might feel like someone else won’t want to be in a relationship with you. This type of thinking could just be yet another way your fear manifests itself. Don’t hold yourself back from having a wonderful and exciting new experience!
Building up your self esteem won’t just help you “put yourself out there.” It can help you choose someone who treats you with respect.
Here are a few simple ways you can start building your self-esteem:
- Write a list of your talents or positive qualities. Put the list somewhere you’ll see it everyday.
- Do things that you enjoy and that you’re good at.
- Take time to celebrate the small things you did well at the end of the day.
- Focus on the things in your life you can change. Then take a small step every day towards changing them.
It’s OK to allow yourself to go through a period of heartbreak and mourning after your divorce. However, there may one day come a time when you’re ready to start again, and it would be a shame to let your fears get in the way. Starting a new relationship can be intimidating but it can also be a time full of joy and excitement. Remember to take your time and to enjoy the process of dating—or even falling in love—all over again.