expert online series

Clinical Psychologist Ellen Littman, Ph.D.,
on Getting Out From Under Your Anger
and First Steps to a New Identity



MsgId: jcafe(14)
Date: Tue Nov 25 11:12:41 EST 1997
From:
At: 168.100.204.58

Please join us at noon to discuss Getting Out From Under Your Anger and First Steps to a New Identity with clinical psychologist Ellen Littman.

Dr. Ellen Littman is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in
Mount Kisco, NY. Trained at Brown and Yale Universities, she focuses on
family processes and role conflicts. In addition to working with
individuals, couples and families, she leads coed and single sex groups for
adults in transition, as well as groups for parents of children with
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and adults with ADD.

As a member of the graduate faculty at Pace University, Dr. Littman teaches
teachers, principals and administrators how to be better understand children
with special needs, which includes children of divorce. She also chairs the
Gender Equity Awareness Committee in the town of New Castle, NY, and focuses
on improving communication patterns betweeen males and females. Dr. Littman
is a frequent lecturer on issues of intimacy, communication, and the impact
of adult ADD on relationships.

MsgId: jcafe(15)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:01:06 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Hi, I'm here and ready to start.
MsgId: jcafe(16)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:02:09 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.205.178

Welcome, everyone to Divorce Central's Expert Online Series. Today's guest is Ellen Littman, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and specialist in families going through divorce. Today's topic is one that many of us must face when we have been in a relationship where we have allowed our spouse to define who we are. Now that we are divorcing or divorced, it is time to redefine ourselves. But this can be difficult, especially if we are hanging on to tremendous anger against our spouse. Ellen, what do you mean by a new identity?
MsgId: jcafe(17)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:05:09 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

After years of living with a spouse, you tend to internalize the labels and messages that you've heard repeated over time. Messages like "your're no good," "you're incompetent," "this is all your fault."
MsgId: jcafe(18)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:06:49 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Those become part of your married identity. After divorce, you need to shed those old labels and create new ones that fit the person you have become./ga
MsgId: jcafe(19)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:07:02 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Staff
At: 168.100.205.178

What about your identity before marriage? Can't we somehow return to that image of ourselves?
MsgId: jcafe(20)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:09:04 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Very often, people choose spouses who have qualities in common with people in the family of origin. Therefore, a way that a parent may have treated you, and your role in that family, may get repeated in the way a spouse treats you. In some ways this label feels safe, comfortable, and familiar, even if not pleasing./ga
MsgId: jcafe(21)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:09:06 EST 1997
From:
At: 192.94.123.20


MsgId: jcafe(22)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:10:29 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Is that why it is so hard to let go of your married identity?
MsgId: jcafe(23)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:14:35 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

For years that identity has been a central part of your sense of self. Letting go of the marriage, your connection with the spouse, is a process. The hardest thing to let go of is your concept of who you have been. Positive and negative attributes --the way you have been labeled by your spouse-- become internalized. Out on your own, you do not yet have another vision of yourself to replace that identity. It is that period of time during which people are most vulnerable to other people. They tend to want to slip back into old patterns./ga
MsgId: jcafe(24)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:15:20 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

By the way, for those out there who would like to ask Dr. Littman questions, please do so after 12:30 eastern time.
MsgId: jcafe(25)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:17:03 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

It sounds like you could look at divorce as a kind of jolt that could signal a new, positive beginning.
MsgId: jcafe(26)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:18:51 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Absolutely. Finally getting out of the environment where negative images of yourself have been constantly reinforced, you can begin to view yourself in a new light, and begin to consider what your strengths and weaknesses really are, free of other's expectations./ga
MsgId: jcafe(27)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:19:45 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

What does anger, mentioned in the topic title, have to do with self-image?
MsgId: jcafe(28)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:22:28 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

A tremendous amount of anger builds as a marriage dissolves. However, it is usually not safe to express the anger in front of the children or to your spouse. In fact it is often dangerous to be in touch with ALL that anger yourself. Nonetheless, this high level of anger is inside you, and often gets turned inward in the form of self-blame./ga
MsgId: jcafe(29)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:23:46 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Can you elaborate a little more?
MsgId: jcafe(30)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:25:37 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Many of these negative messages merge with the anger, and get directed toward yourself. And many spouses buy into the label that have been placed on them --and since these messages often reinforce the self views developed in childhood, it is easy to fall into a pattern of accepting and believing them./ga
MsgId: jcafe(31)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:27:19 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Can you give an example where anger at a spouse can turn into self-blame. Let's take the scenario of a spouse being unfaithful.
MsgId: jcafe(32)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:29:44 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Although it may start out that the overt problem is that the spouse has been unfaithful, anger directed at the spouse may not function successfully. The spouse may deny the situation, may direct anger back at you, or may not respond. This anger without outlet may begin to turn into self-doubt about what you have done to create a situation that would result in your spouse being unfaithful. In this way, anger initially intended for another person ends up undermining your own sense of self-esteem. If the spouse begins to blame you, that further reinforces your own self-doubt./ga
MsgId: jcafe(33)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:32:23 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

And, I suppose, if one has been the underdog all along, this makes self-blame a probable event?
MsgId: jcafe(34)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:33:49 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Exactly. And that becomes a self-destructive pattern that may be repeated even when you're out of the marriage and in another relationship. In fact, you may choose another significant other who will again feel comfortable with you in the role of underdog. That will feel familiar to you, even if it does not support the positive aspects of who you are./ga
MsgId: jcafe(35)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:35:01 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

So, how can this cycle be broken?
MsgId: jcafe(36)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:38:05 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

After the divorce, you can begin to explore the real object of your anger when it is safe to express it, often in the company of a therapist. You'll begin to understand that you have been owning more of the anger and blame than was necessary, and without fear of repercussion, you can express and experience the rage that you have felt toward your spouse that parallels rage you have felt toward a parent, when it was also unsafe to express it. Freed of these negative labels, self-esteem will improve and you'll feel more capable of having positive interactions with others.

/ga
MsgId: jcafe(37)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:41:11 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

It seems that directing your anger at the "perpetrator," rather than oneself, is the first step. What happen after you learn to channel your anger more appropriately?
MsgId: jcafe(38)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:43:24 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Then you are faced with a frightening and exciting mission of understanding, perhaps for the first time, who you are and what your interests are. When you do not sublimate your true self in favor of someones needs, you can begin to discover what truly satisfies your own needs.
MsgId: jcafe(39)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:43:37 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

/ga
MsgId: jcafe(40)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:45:20 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Why would this be frightening?
MsgId: jcafe(41)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:48:48 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Because for better or worse, this is something that you are familiar with. If we use the analogy of an old pair of sweatpants that you have been wearing even though they fit poorly and they are dirty, there is a certain comfort in wearing them. When you are on the brink of shedding the old sweatpants, it is unclear what your next purchase should be. There is a lot of pull toward buying another pair of sweatpants, and in letting go of that old identity, you can begin to look at new clothes. Try them on, and if they don't fit, try on something else. It is a freedom of experimentation that has been unavailable to you for most of your life. And for the first time, you are the only judge of what looks good on you./ga
MsgId: jcafe(42)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:51:49 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

In our last moments, can we go back to the submerging of anger that we might be doing during and after the divorce for the children's sake? How is it possible to really get rid of all that anger after it has been suppressed for so long, especially when the kids are still around?
MsgId: jcafe(43)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:54:35 EST 1997
From:
At: 128.146.142.122

Much of the discussion seems focused on the person who is "left." What if you're doing the leaving? There's a lot of guilt involved, even if you know it's the right thing to do. Is there anything that can be done to help the "left" spouse deal with his/her pain and anger?
MsgId: jcafe(44)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:55:26 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

For many people and especially for parents, anger is experienced as toxic. Airing on the side of not exposing children to angry feelings, we create an unreal expectation that stressful situations like divorce can be experience without anger. Anger is healthy and extremely normal in this situation, and it is best to find an appropriate place to express it, which is not in the company of the ex-spouse or the new romantic interests, or with the children --but rather, working with a qualified therapist or in a support group. Many people are frightened by the intensity of their rage, and feel that it is in some way unacceptable and a bad reflection on them. They need to know that rage is an acceptable response when the very mooring of your life have been shaken, and you have had very little control over the destruction./ga
MsgId: jcafe(45)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:58:00 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Let's address the question from the audience: ...
MsgId: jcafe(46)
Date: Tue Nov 25 12:59:22 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Soit seems that the most important step to take is to see a therapist or get into a support group where anger can be released safely. Then, it is possible to move on to the next step of re-creating your image of yourself.
MsgId: jcafe(47)
Date: Tue Nov 25 13:01:09 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Guilt is a form of anger turned inwards. Through the most honest and open communication possible with your spouse, you should explain why this step is important for the part of you that needs to grow. The other person will see in time that this will also allow the healthy part of them to grow, when they are freed from the overwhelming dependency. As to your own guilt, you must ultimately do what will make you the healthiest person. That will result in the most rewarding life. To sacrifice your needs for someone else is contrary to the concept of personal growth. Ultimately, a successful relationship must be built upon a foundation where both people are coming from the position of positive personal growth./ga
MsgId: jcafe(48)
Date: Tue Nov 25 13:02:51 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

To the moderator: You are not recreating your image of yourself, you are, instead, creating a new identity based on the wisdom gained from the journey. This new identity should embrace your unique set of gifts./ga
MsgId: jcafe(49)
Date: Tue Nov 25 13:04:50 EST 1997
From: Divorce_Central_Moderator
At: 168.100.205.178

Thank you so much, Dr. Ellen Littman, for coming today and providing such important information to us about moving forward with our lives. Next week on Expert Online our guest will be Dr. Lois Nightingale, who will be addressing the topic, "Children and Divorce." We hope you will join us on Tuesday, December 2nd at noon eastern time.
MsgId: jcafe(50)
Date: Tue Nov 25 13:05:36 EST 1997
From: Dr_Ellen_Littman
At: 168.100.204.58

Good-bye, thanks for having me. It's been fun!


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