The "Bear Reflex"​ What No One Told You About Divorce! 

By Nabila Fowles-Gutierrez, Divorce Coach & Founder of Divorce Survival 

Published on March 27, 2019

Unless you have actually been through divorce, you will read this with sympathy, but you will never truly comprehend just how traumatic and devastating an event it really is. Many of my clients describe divorce as a "living death", like a never ending cascade of events that crush you from the inside, obliterate everything you knew and leave you picking up the debris of your past-life. Your past, dreams and hopes just died. It physically hurts to even remember how to dream again of your future. And in the midst of all that pain, anger, despair, you will be making some of the most important decisions about yours and your family's future. For those of you who haven't had the misfortune of this event, take it from me, twice divorced (now happily married and coaching on this stuff), the only way I can describe it, is like being dragged out of a near-fatal car crash to suddenly do complex algebra. And no, I'm not just being dramatic. This stuff is just as dangerous as a car skidding out of control on a busy motorway. People do crazy and even unthinkable things under the pressure of this perfect storm. From the outside it may indeed seem irrational or crazy, but when you live, survive and coach on this stuff, you come to realise that there is pretty much no other event that takes people to such a low. Not even bereavement. And yes. I know that sounds overly dramatic. But trust me. I'm not exaggerating!  

Whilst we hear of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin "Consciously Un-Coupling" (how lovely for them) most people I work with are not on this New-Age path to divorce enlightenment. Nothing wrong with pursuing such a noble path. However, for many, if not most, it isn't all "Kumbaya" and skipping holding hands together to enjoy the kids' nativity play. For mere mortals (the ones I know and coach), not so blessed with hippiness and spiritual virtue, it can get mad, bad and even downright ugly. Some even go to what I call "The Bear Pit"... Anyone who's been through an ugly divorce will know exactly what that means! Of course, with love, support, kindness and expert guidance, they can come out of the depths of their own personal hell and rise to heights they had never even considered!  

But let me explain a bit more about the "Bear Pit". This is what I have named the place where rules and philosophies don't count for much and things simply get down and dirty. It's the place unsupported people can end up particularly when it comes to two particular issues: children and finances. Let's face it, most people going through divorce have to work out at least one if not both of those issues, that this is where things can unravel and end up in the "Bear Pit". But so you can understand how we got here, let me first explain what I call the "Bear Reflex".  

The "Bear Reflect" is my term for a primal reaction that is normally triggered when one or both parties feel threatened by an event in divorce normally relating to children, particularly custody issues. These events provoke deep primal instincts rendering those involved virtually incapable of rational thought or behaviour. And no, I'm not talking about the kinds of people you might be tempted to jeer on daytime television. This behaviour can happen to anyone, irrespective of educational or professional status. Even those at the very top of the social tree, (lest we forget the Charles and Diana saga). My clients come from the full socio-economic range. From individuals struggling on benefits (many due to circumstances surrounding the divorce), to students and high earning professionals - doctors through to executives. Regardless of the status, when the "Bear Reflex" kicks in, behaviour can become erratic and even lead to sabotaging of viable solutions. Creating tangible goals beyond the immediate crisis and working to high standards of behaviour is one of the most important roles I have as a Divorce Coach. We make a joint pact to only accept the highest standards of behaviour for ourselves in the process. In so doing, when a client falls into the "Bear Pit", a firm yet loving reminder of their own standards. So my role, in addition to the practical & emotional support, is to ensure my clients avoid falling into the "Bear Pit" and reduce the "Bear Reflex", creating real-life coping strategies that bring them back to a sense of balance, where they can ensure their behaviour meets their own ethical and moral values.  

What I learn every day in my work, is that divorce is a perfect storm - and it's no wonder people can behave in unimaginable ways through the process. No one is ever prepared have to make life-changing decisions whilst in the middle of the most traumatic event in life. It makes perfect sense that so many people end up in crisis. So, in addition to my job, supporting clients to find their inner strength and succeed, I feel it is also my duty to highlight just how difficult it can be for all involved.  

If you see a friend struggling through divorce - and they are behaving like a mad, bad, angry bear, then you'll know it's their "Bear Reflex" kicking in. Cut them some slack. Avoid lecturing them or even offering (un)helpful advice - lend them an ear, a shoulder to cry on and remind them of who they really are. Failing that, now you know that there is someone out there able to calm screeching bears! Send them my way: or let them watch this masterclass.  

Off to help some lovely bears now!

©Divorce Survival 2019 no part of this article may be used without the Author's permission  

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