Mural on wall of little girl letting go of a heart shaped balloon

Why is leaving hard?

When I left my career as a Consultant Anaesthetist, I struggled with some unexpected emotions. They made decision making more complicated. 

The lead in time to my “leave” decision was long and considered. I gave myself time to process everything (about 3 years). I ensured that my decision aligned with my values. Then, one weekend, I summoned up my courage and “took the plunge.”  

By “took the plunge,” I mean that I spent that weekend wavering over sending the resignation letter. I felt absolutely terrified of making what I considered to be the terminal move. In the end, I found the courage to do it. I put down a very heavy bag of emotional bricks and my life felt so much lighter.  

The language of emotion is complex for many of us. We find it difficult to label exactly what we are feeling in the moment. We may know that the feeling is unpleasant, but not know exactly what the emotion is. If our emotional language is limited, then we may leap to the wrong conclusion and behave in ways we do not like.  

Divorce has many acts of “leaving,” which may be either physical or emotional.

Here are some of the emotions, which arise from leaving:  



  •  Leaving something behind can instil a feeling of guilt.  
  • When you have been loyal to something or someone, for a lengthy period, leaving can make you feel guilty.  

Guilt happens when we think we have done 
a bad thing. If we feel and recognise guilt, we can do something about it. We can learn from it, put plans into action and move forwards.  

Making the decision to leave a relationship is hard. You can still feel guilty about leaving, even when you know that moving on is the right thing to do.  

The emotional response to your Ex leaving can also make you feel guilty. Your brain will have many thoughts, that fuel your guilt.  

  • What did I do wrong?
  • It must be because I did …
  • If I had done (this) then, it would not have happened…  



  • This is one of the most toxic emotions we can feel. Left unchecked, it can do a lot of damage.  
  • We often confuse guilt and shame, but they are not the same thing.  


Shame is when we think we are a bad person. When we think we are bad, it is extremely hard to see a way forward. We can think that we are not worthy and do not deserve the opportunity to learn, grow and move forwards.  

Shame also occurs when we worry about what other people think about us.  
If you hold the belief that failure is a sign of weakness. Any type of failure can make you think that you are weak, and you will worry about what others think of you.  

You may hold the belief that a long happy marriage as a marker of success. If so, then you may see your divorce as a personal failure. It does not matter what circumstances led to the divorce; your brain may tell you a story like this:   

“My relationship is over, and I have failed to have a long, happy marriage. What will my family, friends and colleagues think about me? They will know I am a failure. They will know that I might fail at everything else. I am a failure; I am not worthy, and I am thus a bad person. I do not deserve to be happy.”  


Shame can send us to dark and unpleasant places.  




  •  Change can be scary, and it is very common to be fearful of the unknown.  


Divorce changes many things. Some of the changes will be out of your control, and this can heighten your sense of fear. If you have children, you will be fearful for them as well as yourself.  

Sometimes it feels overwhelming, and fear makes us want to run away, hide or fight. Any other emotions will have an additive effect and escalate your feelings of fear.  




  • You may feel angry with your Ex 
  • You may also feel angry with yourself  
  • You may feel angry with situations arising because of the divorce process


Our brains process things quickly and can jump straight to concluding we are angry. Before we know it our behavioural response for anger storms out and takes over.

Divorce can bring up many issues, which can make you feel angry. Situations old and new can stir up many emotions, which you may perceive as anger. As I have already stated, emotional language is complex for many of us.

The actual feeling you experienced may have been something entirely different. It could be: humiliation, anxiety, regret, sadness, contempt, heartbreak or any number of other emotions. 

The next time that you feel angry, try to work out what you are thinking. The thought might not be making you angry; it might be a different emotion. If you can label it, you will have a chance to put angry away and find the space for a better response. 




  •  Leaving is often associated with a feeling of loss.  
  • Loss the state of no longer having something or as much of something.   


Everyone has experienced leaving and loss. Loss relates to the value we place on the “thing or person” that has gone. We frame our experience of loss in a very individual way which is particular to us. There is no right or wrong way to experience loss.  

Some losses are obvious, and the world can see what we have lost. We choose to hide other losses and keep them private. They belong to us and no one else can see or experience them.  

Divorce has many layers of loss; some are obvious and others less so. Some of the following may resonate with you:   

Partner, house, money, friends, extended family, time with children, status, confidence, self-worth, self-compassion, sense of place, belonging and purpose.  




  •  This is a feeling of deep sorrow.  


When we go through any form of loss, it is common to grieve for what has been lost. No one can tell you if your loss is worthy of grief. You do not need to compare your loss with that of anyone else. know that your loss is valid, yours to feel and yours alone. 

I have focussed on only a few of the emotions you may be feeling right now. The important take aways from this post are:  


1. Leaving and divorce, will make you feel a wide range of emotions at various times  

2. It is hard to label emotions and work out where they come from. It is a skill and with practice, it gets easier to do.  

3. Try to allow yourself the space:  

  • to recognise the uncomfortable feeling,  
  • try to work out what the emotion is,  
  • what thought generated it,  
  • how would you like to respond.


This is key to taking back your power, setting your own boundaries, and finding your way through complex decisions. 

Leaving is the first step on your journey to the amazing possibilities which lie ahead. You will be pleased to read that it is not all bad. There are many positive emotions associated with leaving too.