From Separation To Divorce And Back Again:

The Role of Deep Feeling Therapy in Healing Family Conflict


By Paul J. Hannig, Ph.D., MFT

From breakup to complete divorce is a journey that most people dread. But at the same time we can look at the dissolution of a relationship as a process that has a vague but definable beginning and a possible happy ending. That may sound ridiculous and even condescending to anyone who has ever gone through the pains of separation/divorce. But a happy ending is precisely what happens to many people who navigate the treacherous waters of relationship breakup and divorce.

If the opportunity is taken divorce/separation, though being a time of great pain can also be a remarkable period of growth and recovery. Even though hope for reconciliation may dwindle, hope for a very positive outcome is a definite possibility for many.

Emotional Pain

At some point in a relationship there comes the realization that something has gone terribly wrong. Signals have been sent and received that someone is not happy and that needs are not being met. Violations of long held family expectations and rules have occurred and what was once a loving close relationship now becomes a relationship of distrust, defensivness, desperation, anger and pain.

It is ironic to state that in the very pain caused by the breakup, comes the seed for recovery and redemption. Why is pain such a two edged sword? Suffering in hurt, disappointment, rage and betrayal is agonizing. But in the pain lies the secret of salvation. Deep feeling therapy is a scientifically and patient tested method for going into, fully feeling and expelling the pain of separation/divorce. Listen carefully to that apparent paradox. How can someone who is already in pain, be asked to go deeper into it in order to expel it? That's the secret to the method of deep feeling. By going deep into it with the help of deep release methods, the person expels the pain, relieves the suffering and unleashes the recovery/healing powers of the subconscious mind.

The Problem

Here is the problem. A person perceives threat to vital emotional centers so s/he defensively goes to the head as a bastion of protection. The ego, trying to protect itself from hurt, goes to the head and stays there mistakenly thinking that being in the head can somehow be of help. Vacating one's emotional centers and retreating to the questionable safety of the cerebral cortex only makes matters wore. Defensively retreating to the head puts a burden on a part of the brain that was not intended to handle overloads of pain from the deeper emotional and survival areas of the mind. Emotional pain resolves itself by being fully and I emphasize fully, felt and resolved in the emotional or limbic mammalian centers of the brain. The cortex aids by processing, organizing, directing, and integrating the feelings of the other brain centers. An overprocessing cortex that is disconnected from the feelings of the lower brain centers only gets exhausted from straining its resources. It overworks by being called to do a job it was not meant to do.

By weeping, crying, and even screaming out the pain, the hind and midbrain pushes up and out blocked feeling and energy through the cortex for processing and integrating. Pain that is exorcised from deep brain centers moves up and then out. It is examined, organized, understood, acknowledge and then it is expelled to no longer plagues those vital emotional survival centers and the overworked cortex. When all of the pain is brought up and out, the person relieves the brain of its excesses of neurotransmitter outputs and restores the equilibrium of a balanced, healed brain system. Instead of investing all of the brain's defensive chemistry to holding in and denying pain, the pleasure and joy centers become activated and ecstasy returns to the person's life. I have seen this phenomena happen time and time again; even with people who were suffering from severe mental disorders.

So What Is The Job Of Deep Feeling Therapy?

By taking the hurt, injured party from their head into their feelings, deep feeling therapy heals a real mental illness. What mental illness? The losing of the self, the repression and blocking off of the feeling/healing brain. By unblocking the neurotransmitters that shut off feeling, we release those overworked chemicals and allow for a new more integrated chemistry to take over. Divorce/separation is traumatic, the meaning message of that feeling is conveyed to a place in the limbic system which includes the amygdala and the thalamus. The hippocampus is an important structure of the limbic system and is considered the gateway to memory and the unconscious. When a person is traumatized by abandonment, abuse, rejection, etc., memory will remain somewhat cortically intact, but the feelings will become disembodied. The amygdala stores pain, aids gating functions, and is also loaded with pain killing endorphins. When painful emotions move from the limbic system to the cortex, morphine type opiates block their route. When these emotions partially infiltrate the cortex, the person becomes aware of pain. These painful emotions move towards consciousness in the cortex for resolution, while the neurotransmission gates simultaneously try to block it, thus causing suffering. By deep feeling methods we change the brain's chemistry, allowing for the release and resolution of pain. Repressed pain can then be felt and the look and feel of pain is relieved.

Life Style Crises

When a person suffering from separation divorce enters deep feeling therapy, they are shaped and molded by the lifestyle in which they have been previously entrenched. They built that lifestyle and they have fitted their whole being into it. Being in the head, rather than deep into their healing emotions has been part of that lifestyle. Their marital or relationship lifestyle has been an extension of the lifestyle that they had before they were coupled. If incest, sexual abuse, smoking, alcohol, drug addiction or one of the mood, anxiety, personality/mental disorders was part of that lifestyle history, then the onset of deep feelings dramatically intervenes and interferes with that lifestyle.

A deep feeling lifestyle is a profound, and real lifestyle change. To trust one's deeper hidden healing self is such a marked difference from the dysfunctional aspects of a past lifestyle. Some people have a hard time breaking with the habits and repressive defenses of the past. Because the past, with all of its feelings, attachments and memories, has such a hold on a person, they may resist feeling the deepest profoundly transformative parts of the self. When a couple collides head on with their conflicted lifestyles, they might find that life together is unbearable. One partner may enter some aspect of the Deep Feeling Therapy and desperately want and even try to get the other partner involved. When both partners enter the deep feeling realms together, their chances of martial reunion is heightened. But reunification of a couple back into an old, held onto lifestyle is not the ideal goal of deep feeling excursions. The full knowledge of the deep feeling realms helps to unify couples. But if a defense against deep feelings enters into the relationship then that relationship will only last until that defense proves to be too obnoxious for the parties to endure.

Presenting a Better Front

The partner who initially resists getting involved in Deep Feeling Therapy is usually afraid that the other partner will present a better front. Evaluation, real or imagined, is a real fear of many separating partners. Being seen as deficient as a spouse or a parent is a frightening prospect for spouses who have been involved in a relationship that may have contained some very questionable behavior. It is common for one of the separating parties to reform their presenting front in order to look better as a spouse, parent and in general, a person. There are also attempts made to make oneself look better and the spouse to look worse in one's own eyes, in the eyes of the therapist, courts, friends, children and other relatives.

Competition over who is going to look better to the world may begin here and even if both parties entered therapy, attempts at creating favorable impressions on the therapist is expected. But impressions are just that; impressions. Taking sides based on impressions and impressiveness should not obscure the real goals of the therapy, which is the digging down into the pain, etching it out carefully, learning from it, and eventually moving onto a richer, more fulfilling life.

The presentation of a better front usually has the less impressing partner worried about being coerced into giving in on some disputable issue. Courts themselves respond to favorable fronts which leaves attorneys counseling their clients "do this and you will make a favorable impression on the judge". I have been in court divorce proceedings where one spouse's lawyer lied extensively in order to present his client in a more favorable light than the opponent. California encourages disputing couples to amicably mediate their differences when there is a conflict concerning child custody. In fact, California law requires mandatory mediation as part of custody and visitation disputes. This helps divorcing parents empower themselves by making their own decisions. A skilled mediator can cut through the "better front" phenomenon and help families reorganize in ways that are more suited to each individual's needs.