Neuroscience: How dignity improves divorce outcomes
Neuroscience: How dignity improves your divorce outcome.
An international conference in USA last year marked the 25th anniversary of couples taking charge of their divorce process and each building firm foundations towards their individual futures. One colleague spoke about the neuroscience of dignity and how dignity affects a divorcing couple’s outcome during their divorce.
While the Oxford Dictionary describes dignity as: ‘the state or quality of being worthy of honour or respect’, I wonder – what does the word dignity mean to you?
For me, dignity is wrapped up in who I think I am. It’s part of a belief I hold about me. I have dignity and, I attempt to act with dignity towards others in my life. So looking at the dictionary definition, I’m wondering what is meant by the words, ‘we need to be worthy of honour or respect’? Yes, we do earn each other’s respect through our behaviour, but maybe dignity starts as a private inner process: a sort of sureness about who we are. If so, this sureness can feel under threat when we experience life changing events… and divorce is definitely one of those!
When things are really difficult, our dignity, or inner sense that we are worthy of respect, comes under fire, particularly when we start blaming ourselves, or or others, or when we accept blame that could be directed towards us. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t reflect on what has led us to where we are now… but that’s qualitatively different from feeling under attack or trying to undermine another person. Blame and feeling less worthy of respect, is a poisonous combination, one that can lend us to respond in disrespectful ways. It’s so easy to end up feeling like we’ve reacted like a bull to a red rag. It’s easy, almost instinctive, to charge into battle because we feel our dignity has been damaged. Indeed, it may have been, but science tells us we need to heal! It also shows how continuing along the red rag road, leads to more damage to everyone as disrespect swirls round!
Neuroscientists have found, that when our dignity is attacked, the same part of our brain is activated, as if we’d been physically injured. That is an amazing piece of information, it means we can no longer believe in the phrase… “sticks and stones can break my bones but names will never hurt me.” Scientists have proven that the way we behave and what we say (or how we say something), can damage someone’s brain, in the same way as physical abuse and pain does. If we needed scientific proof of the harm we do to ourselves and others by disrespecting ourselves and others, then this is it!
Research now shows that mental wellbeing is clinically impacted by any behaviour which reinforces a lack of dignity. Divorce brings up many raw feelings. How these are managed and dealt with, affects our own sense of self-worth and self-respect. This in turn shows up in the way we communicate and make our ending with our ex-partner as well as how satisfied we feel about the divorce outcome reached. It will also impact how emotionally available we can be to children, who are having to make emotional and physical adjustments themselves, as they deal with the divorce from their perspectives.