Rebuilding Your Sense of Personal Security after Divorce

By Deirdre Hally Shaffer, MSW, LCSW

In 1943, Abraham Maslow, in A Theory of Human Motivation, defined a five-stage hierarchy of needs necessary for individuals to achieve their full potential. Since the steps are sequential, an interruption can cause an individuals to veer off track. Progress toward realizing a person’s full potential is built like a pyramid on the following steps:

Biological and physiological needs: air, food, water, shelter, warmth, sleep and sex

Safety: protection from the elements, security, stability, law and order, freedom from fear

Love and Belonging: friendship, intimacy, affection, and love through family, friends, romantic partners, work, and community

Esteem and Acceptance: achievement, mastery, self-respect, respect from others, independence and status

Self-actualization: When all these needs have been met, an individual will naturally reach for self-fulfillment, personal growth, realizing personal potential, and helping others to do the same

Very often a marriage fails because the second stage, safety or security, is in some way compromised. Perhaps a spouse was abusive, unfaithful, dishonest, irresponsible or unstable. Perhaps mental illness, addiction or personality issues presented challenges. Or maybe poor communication, contempt, criticism, defensiveness, or stonewalling created mistrust. If marriages lack a foundation of emotional, psychological, and financial security, spouses will feel uncertain and apprehensive. It’s no wonder that love, respect and realizing personal potential cannot be achieved.

In the aftermath of a collapsed marriage, the rebuilding process starts at ground level. Starting with re-establishing the basics food, shelter, sleep, etc. Once these are met, stability and security can be slowly rebuilt. As bills are paid, new friends are made and emotions are dealt with directly, an individual can regain a sense of order and safety. Taking control of their financial stability, health and well-being, and creating a safety net against accidents and illness and establishing a good support system all contribute to a sense of personal safety. Only when security and stability have been rebuilt will a person be ready to embrace love, respect and work toward their personal potential.

Many people recovering from a devastating divorce make finding love again paramount. When safety and security are the cornerstones of a new relationship – mutual trust, care and concern, respect and good communication – the stage is set love and connection to thrive. Focusing on building a life path one stage at a time can lead to a life worth living


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