The Hidden Cost of Hatred: Finding Peace in the Wake of Divorce

divorce Mar 29, 2024

In the depths of human emotions, there exists a paradoxical pleasure in the pain of others, especially when clothed in the garb of justice or revenge. This visceral desire, deeply rooted in our biological and societal frameworks, often masquerades as a quest for fairness. Yet, it hinders the very essence of personal growth and healing by driving us deep below the line into victim consciousness, the opposite of living a SELF-led life. 

I want to change this dynamic, but it won’t be easy because parts of your personality find safety in hatred and will do everything possible to hold on to that hate.

But hey, you can’t blame a man for trying 🙂

I Was That Guy

The unravelling of my first marriage tested my emotional resilience like nothing before or since. I was wholly unprepared and ill-equipped. Watching Turning Point: 9/11 and the War on Terror on Netflix and how the US sent their troops into Afghanistan to root out the terrorists and then found themselves still there two decades later - that’s how I felt about divorce. 

I have a friend who went through a divorce without children, and he told me that it was a cakewalk. He has never seen her in the 20+ years that they’ve separated. It’s as if she never existed. A ghost. An apparition. 

Throw some kids in the mix, and BOOM!

Do you remember the days of Blockbuster Video, when you reserved the newest titles because there weren’t enough to go around the town? That’s how I felt when trying to spend time with my son after the divorce, and I found myself harbouring a deep-seated desire for my ex to suffer as I was suffering. It seemed a just compensation for the heartache and turmoil I endured. Unfortunately for me, I had also created an echo chamber of people who still lived in the Matrix, and so when I told them the tale of this witch that prevented me from seeing my son, they grabbed their pitchforks, cementing my belief that she was the villain and I the victim in this sorry saga that was ripping my son’s heart to shreds. 

What I didn’t realise, because I was still living in the Matrix, was this longing for justice became a prison within a prison, barricading me from the inner work that would ultimately be the key that would lead to my escape. 

My insidious and natural desire for retribution sabotaged my initial untrained attempts at healing. Each mention of my ex-partner, every unavoidable interaction, triggered a cascade of stress responses, igniting my Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and plunging me into a state of fight or flight. It was a cycle of distress, veiled as a quest for justice, yet serving only to tether me to the past. Each time I became triggered, I would run to my friends for solace and support, but because of the echo chamber, without knowing, they intensified the pain. 

Biology and Emotion: The Dance of the Nervous System

The Autonomic Nervous System (ANS), governing our involuntary physiological responses, became an unexpected guide through my turmoil. The sight, the mere mention of my ex, activated my SNS, a testament to our body's primal response to perceived threats. Yet, it was in understanding this biological response that I found my first steps towards healing.

Neuroception, our brain's subconscious scanning of the environment for threats, had falsely identified my ex as a danger. This realisation was pivotal. My ex was not the threat my body perceived; the true adversary was my reaction to the concept of her. My brain doesn’t know my ex-wife from my wife. In the case of my neuroception, my brain picks up facial movements and tone and then categorises these in priority order of danger. 

This was huge for me because I realised that even if Morrisey’s proverbial bus had smashed into my ex-wife, my nervous system would still be fighting her until the day that I died in much the same way that Neo had to keep fighting through the never-ending versions of Agent Smith. 

Here’s what changed in that moment:

  1. I knew that my desire for her to change was causing more pain and suffering. I had a cut, the plasters were in the kitchen, and I was looking in the bathroom cabinet.
  2. I had more control than I believed, and I was bequeathing what control I had because taking control was terrifying because I couldn’t blame her anymore.
  3. I accepted that she couldn’t hurt me. I was safe. 
  4. If my Parts wanted to do her harm to keep me safe, her parts were doing the same. I stopped hating and started leading with empathy and compassion.
  5. I began taking 100% responsibility for my responses to her, leading to a long and fruitful inner work and healing journey.
  6. I forgave myself for my part in the mess.
  7. I forgave her. 

These seven acts retrained my brain's response, and I began dismantling the physiological chains that bound me to my pain. In turn, the physiological changes created biological changes. Where once the sight of my ex would have produced red flashing dots on my neuroception radar, now there was none.

The Societal Script: A Culture of Revenge

Our societal narrative often glorifies vengeance, a theme explored in depth by Sam Harris and Robert Sapolsky in their discussion on free will on the Making Sense podcast. They argue that, if possible, we might imprison natural disasters and wild beasts to keep us safe in the same way that we imprison people who may also do us harm. However, there is a cultural desire to hate another human that’s not there with earthquakes, hurricanes and bears who wander into your tent looking for honey. There is fear but not hate. With our fellow humans, we believe there is a moral and ethical line that, when crossed, turns into a deep-seated need to assign blame and seek retribution. This culture of revenge, vividly celebrated in the aftermath of tragedies and personal grievances, underscores a troubling externalisation of control and responsibility.

My journey mirrored this societal longing for an external entity to suffer for personal losses. Yet, this externalisation only served to perpetuate my suffering, anchoring me to a narrative of victimhood and powerlessness.

In the STRIVE Method, we call this way of living an outside-in existence, and I believe that this level of being means we become perennial victims, leaves at the mercy of the wind of the willows. We live unconsciously below the line, with the conductor's baton firmly in the hands of Parts of our personality that are still 5, 6 or 7 years old. 

Rising Above: The Path to Empathy and Healing

The pivotal moment came when I embraced the philosophy of living from the inside out. The STRIVE Method, a methodology centred on SELF-led life, taught me to shift my perspective from parts-led reactivity to a holistic, self-driven response. In taking responsibility for my healing, I found the strength to release my desire for vengeance, and in turn, the gap between stimulus and response related to the activation of my SNS widened. This is crucial because as the gap widens, you have more time to breathe, take stock, and communicate with your parts from SELF to say, “Hey, I know you’re scared right now, but we’ve got this. I am right here in your corner.”

This internal transformation fostered a newfound empathy and compassion, not just for my ex-wife but for myself. Recognising the unconscious nature of our desires to inflict pain, I began to see the potential for personal and collective change. 

A Call to Reflection

My journey from the shackles of revenge to the freedom of forgiveness is a testament to the power of inner work. It is a call to all who find themselves tethered to the pain of the past to consider a path of empathy, understanding, and, ultimately, healing.

But this isn’t easy.

I know that this viewpoint has triggered some of you as you read. You’re the victim of some heinous crimes and violations. I am not asking you to forgive anyone, speak to anyone, or be involved in anyone’s life - you are a sovereign being. What I do ask is that you reflect on my experience because one thing that I know in my life is whenever I feel triggered, it’s a sign that I have some work to do. At some point, when I feel safe enough to deal with it, I have to because I’ve signed up to live a SELF-led life, and part of this is showing up from the context of love, compassion and empathy at all times. 

The way we do one thing is the way we do all things.

Much love and STRIVE on!


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