You need to figure out who you are as a “whole” before you can find a matching “part”

Rachel Tomlinson

As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Survive And Thrive After A Divorce” I had the pleasure of interviewing

Rachel Tomlinson a Registered Psychologist who has worked with adults and children in general counselling, education settings, play therapy, drug and alcohol counselling, trauma counselling and parenting support programs amongst others. She has also provided leadership, clinical supervision and training for other mental health professionals. She has written and delivered talks at national conferences on mental health topics as well as delivered guest lectures at a University. She is a wife, mother to a toddler and is writing a book which is due for publication in November 2019.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I have always wanted to work with people and I have always been that person others confided in. So, after graduating high school I felt like a Bachelors degree in Psychology would give me a lot of employment options when I finished studying. But when I started the course I found that things just clicked…the theories made sense, it felt like I was remembering, not learning. So, I started working towards becoming a Registered Psychologist. I spent a lot of time after graduating working in different industries to figure out exactly which sector I wanted to work in. I have never waivered in my passion for my job and I don’t actually feel like it is work at all…which I suppose is the best kind of work.

Can you explain to our readers why you are an authority about “divorce”?

Throughout my varied work experience, there was always one constant. We humans are social creatures, our brains and bodies are hard wired to communicate and make social connections. The relationships we have are so important for our mental well being and in this work, I have seen the impact of what happens when relationships are toxic, need work or are entirely absent. Through the various jobs I have held I realized that I am particularly passionate about helping people develop healthy relationships, whether it be with their children, spouse, friends or even themselves. So, for me, the focus of much of my work has revolved around how to help people develop safe, mutually beneficial and fulfilling relationships with themselves and others. Without sounding like I am skirting the question, I probably wouldn’t say I am an authority on divorce, rather I am an authority on relationships (and the creation of respectful and satisfying relationship). I am skilled at mediation, negotiation and working on creating a sense of unity with my clients and their significant others, friends and family.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started this career?

This is such a tricky question for me…when I work with a client I really listen to their stories and so it’s hard for me to judge which one might be the “most interesting”, and there are certainly some colorful stories that just wouldn’t get printed! But I suppose one that particularly stands out was an older gentleman I was working with who had been arguing a lot with his wife. He spoke about their relationship “failing” and being a source of distress, rather than comfort. As we worked together over a period of time we explored what he wanted from his relationship and why these things were important. It was such a fascinating story for me because he and his wife had never had this conversation before in their 30+ years of marriage. It was astounding to me that he had never even considered these questions for himself, what he needed, what he wanted and as a couple what were their shared goals. It really humbled me and taught me a lot about my expectations for my clients. We had to really go back to basics as this client didn’t know that it was ok to talk about his feelings and breaking down his walls to be vulnerable with his wife and tell her what he needed was a huge step for him. What was really interesting for me was the catharsis my client experienced and just how powerful it was for him to reconnect with his wife and his own emotions/needs in this way.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I have made lots of un-funny mistakes! But not a lot of funny ones. I however do have a funny story about a colleague’s little boy (age six at the time). He came to our office briefly as he was sick from school. I was chatting to him to keep him busy while his mum was finishing up some work and we were getting on like a house on fire. When I had a client arrive I had to let him know I needed to get to work. The session was disrupted the whole time because he was running through the office shouting “Rachel, Rachel!!!!” trying to get me to come out of my session. Luckily the client saw the amusing side. But the best part was when the session finished. I came out to see my co-workers laughing and asked them why? Apparently when they had tried to explain to the little boy that I was working, he asked what kind of work? They tried to describe counselling (to a six-year-old) and said my job was to talk to people and help them feel better. Apparently, he then rolled around laughing hysterically that, that isn’t a real job. You know what? His words have stuck with me for the longest time. And not because I’m offended in the slightest. To me this doesn’t feel like work either which is why I love my job so much! I learned that’s what work should feel like, and it helps me carve out a good work life balance.

If you had a close friend come to you for advice after a divorce, what are 5 things you would advise in order to survive and thrive after the divorce? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  1. Be kind to yourself. People often have difficult being kind and compassionate to themselves. There is this pressure to cry for a bit, then pick yourself up, dust yourself off and continue like nothing has happened. But this can actually disrupt the processing of all of the different emotions that come up after divorce. These emotions can be intense and very uncomfortable, but denying them or distracting yourself isn’t actually going to get rid of those feelings. So be kind and gentle to yourself, give yourself time and space, do nice things and generally look after yourself…its ok, you have permission!
  2. It’s important to acknowledge the grief and loss after divorce. A lot of people don’t realize that you can experience grief after a relationship ends…but you can. The grief and loss are not just for the relationship itself or the person you are separating from, but acknowledge the grief and loss for your hopes and dreams too. People don’t get married thinking about divorce, you had a life planned together and dreams for what your life would look like. Just take one day at a time and don’t rush yourself or pressure yourself that you should be feeling “better” by now. If you were in a relationship for a long time it will take some adjusting to! Understanding the impact and your feelings about getting divorced is an important part of the recovery process.
  3. Redefine who you are as an individual. Its easy to become enmeshed with a partner; having joint goals, interests, friends, social events etc. So, when you separate it is important to rediscover who you are as an individual, what do you like? What do you want? What do you need? This rediscovery is integral to healing and moving on.
  4. Don’t be scared! Although it feels scary and you have every right to feel this way just know that it will be ok. The unknown feels so big and overwhelming right now, but it will get better. Speak to friends who have gone through a similar experience, find blogs or websites to help you read about others who have gone through the same thing. Don’t be frightened of the unknown, embrace it, set yourself a challenge or a goal…something you have always wanted to do but couldn’t when you were in your relationship.
  5. Take a bit of time out before taking the plunge back in the dating pool. If you jump back in too soon you risk that you haven’t worked through whatever issues were at play in your last relationship. You can easily commit the same mistake and patterns when looking for a new partner. Really take this time to work on you and figure out who you are, and your needs, so that when you look to get back into a relationship you know exactly who you are looking for.

What are the most common mistakes people make after they go through a divorce? What can be done to avoid that?

We develop “relational templates” which basically are templates that impact on what we expect from ourselves and others that we are in relationships with (and not just romantic ones, any kind of relationship). People are often feeling lonely or don’t know who they are without a partner, so they feel tempted to rush into a new relationship; however, if they rush in too quickly they don’t really get time or space to question what it is they want and expect from a prospective partner and are likely to engage in similar patterns in this new relationship, as they did with their ex-partner. So, figuring out what your relational templates look like is important, what do you expect from your partner and what do you expect from yourself in a relationship? Sometimes people need to adjust or explore negative expectations (usually around trust, respect, equality etc. before they get into a new relationship…and this takes time, so don’t rush into starting a new relationship.

Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources related to this topic that you would recommend to our readers?

Read anything by Dan Siegal about emotions and attachment. Many of his books are about connecting with emotions and using them to heal or process distress and trauma. Getting in touch with feelings is empowering for people, they can own their feelings rather than being scared of them (or in denial about the impact of them) which helps process and work through them. I wouldn’t like to recommend any specific divorce blogs etc as every person will connect with a different style or attitude towards dealing with divorce, so I would recommend that they do a quick internet search and find a writing style that they connect to, and a writer that attracts a positive community of readers or positive way of processing and talking about divorce.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that helped you in this work? Can you share how that was relevant in your real life?

You need to figure out who you are as a “whole” before you can find a matching “part”. This is my own quote…or something that I find myself saying often in this work. People that are looking to fill some kind of emotional need (loneliness, rejection etc.) or are still negatively impacted by previous relationships (trust, infidelity, respect etc.) might be inadvertently looking for someone who can meet these needs or relationship templates I talked about earlier. Although these patterns might feel comfortable (because they are known and understood) they are not necessarily healthy. So, for me, the most important life lesson is about being ok as a single, or independent person before you get into a relationship.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

I am working on a book! Its due out for publication in November 2019…but it’s a bit hush hush for now. The focus is absolutely on relationships, empathy and respect…so stay tuned!

Because of the position that you are in, you are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

As I have already mentioned you cannot find your “matching part” unless you are “whole”. An important part of that is about maintaining who you are in the relationship and being able to take care of your own needs. I don’t mean this to be that you should be entirely independent and not ask your partner for support…what I mean by this is be “able” to look after yourself, so that you don’t entirely rely on your partner to do it for you. This reliance can create a really challenging power dynamic within the relationship and can result in trust issues, feeling overwhelmed or resentful. If I could inspire a movement it would be that all people getting into relationships would first know themselves and be accepting of who they are, what they need and what they stand for. Lofty ambitions I know, but I have seen the damage and impact of people seeking a partner to fulfil a need (like loneliness) or the repetition and seeking of the same harmful and toxic patterns in a relationship. If people continue to carry the same baggage or haven’t worked through what drives them to seek the same “types” of people or relationships they will continue to fall into the same habits.

Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them 🙂

There are so many people I am fascinated by, but I would have to say Oprah and Marian Keyes. For different reasons. Throughout her career Oprah has been entirely vulnerable and human in front of the entire world, it takes courage to do that. I would dearly love to pick her brains to see what allowed her do this to be able to take on, and pass on those pearls of wisdom. I would also pick Marian Keyes for a similar reason, the way that she writes about mental health makes it so accessible and real. She really paints an honest juxtaposition of both the brutality and humor of the lived experience. Her voice as an author is so fascinating that I would love to speak to her in person.