I heard an interesting analogy today, regarding the constant struggle for fathers to keep hold of their sons. It went something along the lines of this:
“Imagine your home has just been bombed and you are lucky enough to have saved your child. After a short mourning period for the life you knew, you have to move on. In a divorce, the child won’t have the life it would have had if it had both mum and a dad, your life will forever be changed but you need to focus on giving them the best possible life you can with what you have.”
I thought this analogy described the trauma of divorce and custody battles flawlessly. You no longer have the right to go into your marital home, whether you’ve had it for 10 minutes or 10 years. You can no longer simply play with your child when you wish. Your lover and best friend has decided you are not a fit father and you now have to play by their rules. It’s no surprise that men who have suffered traumatic, sudden divorces – whether there are children involved or not – can suffer from symptoms similar to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
According to mentalhealthy.co.uk, Divorce Stress Syndrome can give you the same side effects as PTSD . Loose women presenter Andrea McLean has recently suffered a panic attack just minutes before she was due to appear live on TV. This panic attack happened because she was struggling to cope with the emotional aftermath of her marriage breakdown. Although PTSD is usually a term coined for war veterans, it can be applied to any emotional or social event deemed as abusive or emotionally traumatizing. I’ve seen it first-hand and its horrifying.
According to psychologytoday.com, there are two different causes for this stress – known and unknowns. The known are those anxieties that people commonly associate with divorce; how to start over, whether you keep or throw the house, loss of life as you know it and how you are going to afford it all – both the divorce and your life afterwards. Then there are the unknowns, those thoughts that keep you up at night, or as I refer to them ‘the what ifs’. Is the settlement going to be fair? Will I find a job? How will the kids fare? What happens next?
According to nhs.co.uk, there are three common symptoms that are associated with PTSD. These all can be easily associated to going through a divorce or separating from a narcissistic partner – sadly it can last years. The symptoms don’t occur every day, nor will there always be a trigger. Often you can experience long periods between symptoms so they may not even be apparent at first.
Avoidance and Emotional Numbing People going through a particularly horrible divorce, or child custody battle, will isolate themselves further from family and friends. Plenty of people will have experienced isolation throughout their marriage, but then they don’t go out of their way to rebuild relationships, often distracting themselves with work and hobbies. This behaviour is not to be horrible, or even because they want to be alone, but because they don’t want to face the questions that force them to re-enact it or even think about it.
Hyperarousal (feeling on edge) Imagine if you were approached by a scary looking figure on the way home from work. For the rest of that journey, your adrenaline is pumping and you are on edge. Coming out of a divorce is very much the same way and you’ll often find yourself on guard at all times. This can lead to irritability, angry outbursts, insomnia and difficulty concentrating – even more so if your life is being absorbed fighting off all the lies and rumours being fed to the courts about you.
Re-Experiencing Unfortunately it’s hard to avoid a partner during divorce and custody proceedings, even more so if you have children together. It is expected that you will have negative thoughts about the whole relationship, but you have to be careful to not drive yourself mad as you may start driving yourself crazy asking ‘what if’ questions, moving on from the flashbacks or even physical symptoms (nausea, pain, sweating).
The most important thing to remember during this difficult time is that you’re not alone. There are millions of dads across the world going through the same situation where they are fighting for their children. Don’t bottle it up, talk to someone or join our Suffragents Clubs. Open to Men, Fathers, Grandparents, Friends and Supporters. For more information, visit our website www.suffragents.org.