Overcoming Divorce Trauma with “Radical Acceptance”

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My spirit always takes a nosedive when I think about engaging with the woman sitting alone during coffee time at church. 

​Chances are you know someone like her. I’d chatted with her a couple of times and noticed other people had kindly stopped to talk with her, too. But she doesn’t seem to have any real connection with any of us. I understand, as my spirit always takes a nosedive when I think about engaging with her followed by guilt for wanting to turn away. Oh sure, she’s clean and articulate, and I’ve discovered she’s quite creative and talented. Now here comes the “but”: she’s the perfect poster child for the Debbie Downers of this world. 
     For sake of anonymity, let’s call her “Deb.” Don’t worry about her seeing this post and recognizing herself … she doesn’t have access to the Internet and her computer is in storage. And that’s just the beginning.  Deb has many more reasons to be down on life as I found out that day. The big number one is that she’s currently homeless and couch surfing. She’s struggling with getting unemployment pay. Being homeless, she can’t do her drawing because it takes up too much room and, besides, all her materials are in storage with her computer …. storage she’s struggling to pay. She misses her cat, which is staying with a “friend” who won’t let her see the cat. And on it goes. What tipped the scales for me though, was when she lamented that the treats the church was serving that day … apple crisp, carrot cake, and apple bread … weren’t cookies instead.
     I do feel sorry for her, and I’m frustrated that all I seem to be able to offer her are my sympathies and prayer. I’ve given up trying to make any suggestions. They are always met with “Yes, but …” replies. To be honest, I’m tired of hearing her sad story which never includes a positive note. My question is what am I going to do about my relationship with this woman? I think that very question is an approach that may help me answer the question. Sound convoluted? Be patient. I will eventually explain. First I’m going to go global and examine trauma
and a radical method of overcoming it.     Let’s look at three examples of people who were in unhappy circumstances and what they did about it. 

     In her book, Taming the Dragons: Choices for Women in Conflict and Pain, Brenda Wilbee demonstrates to readers that there is always something we can do to change our circumstances for the better, no matter how small that change may be. One of her examples describes the horrible night her volatile ex-husband arrived and took many household items he declared to be his. That included her children’s only form of entertainment, their record player. Although Brenda was reluctant to stand up for herself, her motherlove propelled her to advocate for her kids. She summoned her courage and called her ex. Think how difficult that must have been, afraid he would be nasty, struggling to keep her body and her voice from shaking, trying to remain rational. As calmly as she could, she explained what the record player meant to their children. His response surprised her. Within the week, he brought a smaller player they could enjoy. Brenda was able to make a positive change by accepting that her ex’s behavior was awful. But, just maybe, if she made a small request without resorting to anger, she could cause the situation to become a little better.
     A man in Oslo, Norway man realized that he very much missed spending time in the forest. He had responsibilities which kept him from spending significant blocks of time camping. Accepting that fact, he came up with a simple plan … something he could do. He would spend one night in the same spot in the forest every month for a year. During that year, he learned “In the woods, there is no one to help you and nothing is going to get better unless you do something about it.” He observed each time he went into the woods, “that something had changed,” and that included himself.

     Maybe we’re caught by surprise, hardly able to believe the kind of situation in which we find ourselves. “Unbelievable!” we mumble under our breath or scream at the universe while shaking our fists. That’s where I found myself after my divorce. To put it simply, my husband had not been kind to me for years. When I finally got up the courage to leave, I discovered he had already found someone else and secretly married her within a month of our divorce. I nearly went out of my mind, not wanting to accept that he had cheated on me. I had nightmares in which I begged him to come back. It took a while to accept the fact that our divorce was as real as was his marriage, and it couldn’t be undone. When I was finally able to acknowledge those facts in my mind and body, I could take small positive steps toward my new life and begin the process of healing.

     All three of these stories illustrate accepting reality and making small changes to create a better future. Recently I was introduced to the psychological theory of Radical Acceptance. It seemed to me the practice formalizes a way to help hurting people, including those going through a divorce, to process their pain and move beyond it to a better future by choosing to view it in a non-judgmental way. Here’s a brief description of my understanding of how it works.

How to Move on Through Radical Acceptance

  • Accept the situation. It is what it is.  It might have been wrong on many levels, but it can’t be undone.
  • Let go of the idea that it shouldn’t have happened.
  • Acknowledge your grief and disappointment.
  • Survey yourself and your life without judgment or condemnation.
  • Imagine the outcome you want from your current situation.
  • Be realistic about what you can and cannot control. Look for small positive steps.
  • Practice mindfulness and live in the present moment.
  • Ask yourself, “Am I learning anything about myself? What lessons can I take away from this?”
  • How can things be different in the future?
  • (My add – Trust God to help you see where you can begin healing by making  small positive changes.)

Let’s get back to Deb.      Although Deb’s problem isn’t about divorce, her outlook on life is an example of how those of us who go through trauma can be our own worst enemy by focusing on the problems we face and not on accepting the reality of our situation. We become stuck and don’t consider what we can do to change things for the better, even if the changes begin very small. I believe Deb might be able benefit from practicing Radical Acceptance, but here’s the thing, it’s not up to me to fix her. If I choose to engage with her again, I can ask her something like, “So, what’s your next step? What can you possibly do?” or I can choose to avoid getting into conversation with her. I’ll see what the Holy Spirit prompts me to do at the next opportunity.
     I’m very grateful for my own recovery, God’s provision, and the help and guidance I received. My heart goes out to those who are currently suffering from the trauma of divorce. If you find this approach as promising as I do, there are several Internet sites where you can further explore this approach. I’d love to hear what you think of this method as applied to divorce healing.  As for me, I think I’ll change my motto from “Trust God and do the next thing,” to “Accept what is, then trust God and do the next thing.”



Republished with permission from Linda M. Kurth from her blog at

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