Handling the Stress of Family Transitions

Kate Reese recently had the opportunity to discuss transitions with a special guest, David Tyson, during Episode 5 of our podcast. During their conversation, they touched on many aspects of the issue in an informative, and engaging way. Here is some of what we learned. The full episode can be found on our podcast, Family Matters with ReeseLaw.                                                           

When it comes to life’s biggest stressors, the majority involve transitions within the family. Change within this unit creates uncertainty that is both a challenge and an opportunity. In Family Law, change comes in the form of happy times like marriage and adoption or difficult times like separation and divorce. Adapting to these events brings a necessary stress; and working with professionals can help identify the right tools to make it through.

What Part of the Brain Are You Using?

In times of transition, many aspects of our brain can be activated. Our mid-brain, which generates the fight, flight or freeze impulses, often leads the way. Our left brain manages our logical linear selves, while the right brain is the seat of emotion. In a battle between these two sides, the right side wins. People need to learn to have a negotiation between the sides of the brain to come to the best outcome. Learning how to balance logic and emotion takes practice and coaching.

We All Can Adapt to a Transition

The accepted wisdom was that the brain develops up to a certain point in a person’s life and then stabilizes. Hence the old saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” In fact, the brain continues to develop throughout our lives, but the change happens differently as we age, requiring more practice than it does in our youth. In other words, everyone can handle a difficult transition, but it takes more effort and repetition as we age.

Learn to Recognize Triggers and Their Consequences

A trauma can come roaring back when something happens that causes us to leave the present day and enter a past feeling state. This is a mid-brain fight, flight or freeze situation that holds people captive to their past. Working with a clinician can help through the process of recognizing the trauma and working through the healing process, ultimately becoming empowered to move forward.

In a family transition, the trigger can be our own past trauma, or it can be the trigger of the other family member that leads them to act out irrationally. Often, this behavior is learned at a very young age, it is fear based, and it is a self-orientation. For example, a person can act contrary to their own interests out of a sense of “justice” or “retribution,” punishing themselves and the rest of the family in the process. As an early learning reaction, it takes a real commitment to identify it, and work to learn that there are other options. When they do it “on principle” this can be explored and revealed as not a principle but a feeling. A person can learn the benefits of kindness even in conflict. This helps them get out of a fearful place and into a helpful place.

Do Some Preparation or Just Breathe

Court dates, depositions, and other aspects of a family law case can be highly stressful. A major reason is that most of us never see the inside of a courtroom until this event, and novelty, especially when it is potentially threatening, will cue the fight, flight or freeze instinct. Taking steps to remove the novelty by attending court to observe another matter can help remove some of the fear on the day of your own event. On the day of, there are a number of coping skills that can help center you and move your reactions to your neo-cortex. Deep breathing, a tactile object, lavender scent, or a mantra are some of the possible tools. All of these exercises are more effective with practice, so working on identifying and using your own calming mechanisms can be even more effective.

We rarely do well in a moment of extreme emotional distress without preparing for it. During a family transition, carving out the time to work with a therapist to develop coping skills makes the process less difficult. If your family is going through a transition such as a divorce, working with experienced counsel who can offer suggestions and referrals is invaluable. Contact us today for a consultation to discuss your options.


12150 Monument Dr, Suite 225 | Fairfax VA 22033 | Directions
☎ 703.279.5140 | 703.279.5141 (fax)

Evening and weekend appointments are available under certain circumstances.


Privacy Policy | Terms & Conditions
Site design and development by Cat's Eye Design