Why does my divorce make me feel like my life is over?

Published on January 8, 2021

Sherrie had just settled into her new flat without her husband.  The divorce was a civil one, and the financial settlement left both parties secure.  Despite having what she needed financially, she couldn’t shake the feeling of abandonment.  It left her with an emptiness that she hadn’t experienced before.  She couldn’t shake the physical desire to be near him.  Sherrie’s biological and attachment system had grown accustomed to him.  Her nervous system was still looking for him.  Sometimes she would think she saw him in the street, or she would smell him even though he wasn’t there.  When he would call her to ask for something, she would instantly say yes.

Ryan had been married for seven years when his wife asked him for a divorce.  He had always been loyal and committed, and he felt resentment that she wanted to leave.  Ryan didn’t want to be single again, and he didn’t want to split the assets.  He felt it was unfair to have to give her some of the properties and assets that he had worked so hard for.  He began to plot his revenge on her.  Ryan started to believe that all resources were scarce, which sent him into survival mode.

Carrie had decided that when her children were born, she would stop working to take care of them.  Twelve years later, when her husband left her for someone else, she felt lost.  Her children were older, and her husband no longer needed her.  She began to struggle with her identity.  The future seemed very insecure and scary.  What would she do for work?  Would she ever re-marry again?  Instead of focusing her energy and time into self-development, she worked on turning the children against their father.

Divorce can be a confusing and painful time

When people think that resources are scarce, they might go into survival mode; leading to fight, flight, freeze or fawn, also known as people-pleasing.  Some of these adaptive coping mechanisms might not be so adaptive in a divorce or mediation.  As people divorce and separate, they may seek to put in place arrangements through mediation (i.e. facilitated negotiation). Just as our emotional/psychological state impacts our behaviour, it also affects our negotiation behaviour.


“Fight” as a response is easy for us to understand.  We have all done it.  In family mediation, this may manifest as a party lashes out in the session, unleashing an aggressive legal strategy, or bombarding the other party with legal applications.  It may lead to the other party being triggered into a defensive reaction as they feel under attack.  Thereby, the situation spirals into a combative reality that neither party desired.


“Flight” is another response that a party may use to avoid family mediation. These parties may not engage at all with the process.  This can lead to exasperation from the other party who may then pursue the legal process as it seems there is no option for a mediated settlement. Paradoxically, the flight response which is triggered by fears over what will happen can lead to a more intimidating and impersonal process.


“Freeze” is often misunderstood in family mediation as a response to the divorce. This looks like, not committing to scheduling sessions; not providing information when required; agreeing then backing away from arrangements, or in the final stages backing away from the entire agreement. It can be challenging to understand as the party in ‘freeze’ may continue to state that they want to resolve matters and move on; however, their actions make this improbable. It can be frustrating for the other party and make them more assertive, which can trigger an even stronger freeze response.


Lastly, “fawn” is a less common response in family mediation. It may occur if one party feels that they can find a way to convince the other party to stay.  It can manifest as making excessive compromises, agreeing to arrangements which are not realistic or refusing to seek/follow legal advice.  In response, the other party may take advantage of these concessions. This may seem beneficial; however, if these arrangements are unrealistic, then they may not be stable long-term.

Working with a mental health professional

Working with a mental health professional, a psychologist or counsellor can help parties to understand the processes and pressures to which they are subject.  Family and friends can provide emotional support; however, a mental health professional can give context and tools. Understanding the context of what is happening and learning tools to manage emotional regulation put parties in the best position to manage their transition through divorce and separation.

Co-authored with Sala Sihombing


If you feel like you need to talk to someone then please do contact me to set up an appointment via email: info@doctormonicaborschel.com.  I can offer both an online session via Skype or a face to face session.

Category(s):Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions, Divorce / Divorce Adjustment, Grief, Loss, Bereavement, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) / Trauma / Complex PTSD

Written by:

Dr Monica Borschel

Registered Clinical Psychologist (HK)

Dr. Borschel specializes in Attachment, trauma and Loss. She is experienced in helping adults, teens, children, and families adjust to anxiety, trauma, abuse, divorce, separation, loss of a loved one, and loss of finance. This may include deciding what is in the best interest of the children during custody disputes, strengthening the relationship and communication between the parents and the children.

From Nov 2020 Dr. Borschel is only available for online consultations.

Dr. Borschel’s attachment-based therapy along with EMDR and Brainspotting enables her clients to find healing within themselves. In so doing, she can help her clients to overcome anxiety, trauma, neglect, emotional, verbal, physical abuse, and child abuse.

Furthermore, as an attachment specialist, she also helps individuals understand relationship patterns which prevent them from developing or maintaining healthy relationships. She is able to help reduce anxiety, insomnia, depression and promote confidence and self-esteem.

Dr. Borschel is originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S.A. She graduated with her Masters in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University in New York City. She later moved to Hong Kong to pursue her doctorate at the University of Hong Kong in Social Work and Social Administration.

Registered Clinical Psychologist with The Hong Kong Society of Counseling and Psychology (HKSCP). Member of the American Psychological Association (APA), The British Psychological Society (BPS), and the Hong Kong Family Law Association (HKFLA).

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