Maria Akopyan of Dignified Divorce Coaching: 5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change
Allow Yourself to Grieve. Anytime there is a major loss, grief sets in. Grief is the normal and natural way our minds and bodies react. Everyone grieves differently, it’s a very personal and non-linear process. When something bad happens, it’s okay to cry, to play the victim and to be overcome with emotions.
The world seems to be reeling from one crisis to another. We’ve experienced a global pandemic, economic uncertainty, political and social turmoil. Then there are personal traumas that people are dealing with, such as the loss of a loved one, health issues, unemployment, divorce or the loss of a job.
Coping with change can be traumatic as it often affects every part of our lives.
How do you deal with loss or change in your life? What coping strategies can you use? Do you ignore them and just push through, or do you use specific techniques?
In this series called “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change” we are interviewing successful people who were able to heal after a difficult life change such as the loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or other personal hardships. We are also talking to Wellness experts, Therapists, and Mental Health Professionals who can share lessons from their experience and research.
As a part of this interview series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Maria Akopyan.
Maria Akopyan is a California based family law attorney, divorce coach and founder of Dignified Divorce Coaching. She helps newly separating women navigate the divorce process with clarity, confidence and control. With her background in marriage and family therapy and as a certified life coach, Maria provides a unique and holistic approach to the divorce process and resolving family disputes which combines law, psychology, mindfulness and spiritual principles to empower women to take control of their lives and the dissolution of their marriage while also staying connected to their integrity.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
Of course. My family and I emigrated from Armenia to Los Angeles when I was 10 months old. Growing up, I witnessed my parents work tirelessly to provide for our family. They started from zero and managed to create an overall comfortable lifestyle. Having seen their struggles in this new country, I was determined to take the foundation that my parents provided and create a life that I could be proud of. Part of my journey involved learning to heal some mental health issues and develop into a more confident and self-assured individual.
I went on to graduate from UCLA in 2010 as an undergraduate, finish law school and became a licenced attorney in the State of California. As I continued to work on myself and became more self-aware, I knew I had to honor my calling and passions in helping others heal in their personal lives as well. That’s why I also became a certified life coach and went back to school at Alliant International University to pursue Marriage and Family Therapy. What seemed to be unrelated interests and experiences have now come together in a very synchronsitic unfolding that underpins the work I do today through my Dignified Divorce Coaching practice.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Rock bottom will teach you lessons that mountain tops never will.” This quote is very powerful because it shifts the way we look at the hardships in life. It’s through pain and adversity that we see how resilient we are.
You have been blessed with much success. In your opinion, what are the top three qualities that you possess that have helped you accomplish so much? If you can, please share a story or example for each.
I believe the top three qualities that helped me get to where I am are: tenacity, self-awareness, and open-mindedness. Since I was young, I’ve dreamed of being someone who uplifted others and helped them transform their lives. For a long time, I’ve known that my purpose and passion is to aid in the emotional and psychological healing of others. Regardless of the obstacles, roadblocks and setbacks that I experienced in my personal and professional journey, I’ve firmly held on to my vision of the future I want to create for myself and my family. Through perseverance and unwavering commitment towards actualizing my goals and manifesting a miraculous life, I have taken many steps each day that move the needle even just one small movement forward. Unlike many others, I’m willing to take risks, get outside of my comfort zone, put myself out there without fear of being judged and trust my intuitive guidance along the way because I truly believe in the work I do, who I am and the impact I want to leave on society.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion about ‘Healing after Loss’. Based on your experiences and knowledge, what advice would you give others to help them get through a difficult life challenge? What are your “5 Things You Need To Heal After a Dramatic Loss Or Life Change? Please share a story or example for each.
- Allow Yourself to Grieve. Anytime there is a major loss, grief sets in. Grief is the normal and natural way our minds and bodies react. Everyone grieves differently, it’s a very personal and non-linear process. When something bad happens, it’s okay to cry, to play the victim and to be overcome with emotions. These emotions rise up so they can be released. I’ve found that it’s when we identify with the loss and ruminate over it, we get stuck in the pain — unwilling and unable to move on from it. That’s why I suggest that you allow yourself to experience the grief and feel however you feel at the moment without judgment. Some days will be easier than others but the only way to get to the other side of pain, is through it.
- Practice Self-Compassion. Similar to the previous point, when you’re dealing with a loss, it’s important to give yourself grace as you’re dealing with the intense emotions and difficult times. Many people find it easier to be compassionate towards others — quick to lend support and offer kindness when a family member, friend or co-worker are hurting. It can be more of a challenge to offer compassion towards themselves. However, cultivating self-compassion is essential for healing from loss and change. It is the act of extending kindness towards yourself when you’re dealing with difficult times and honoring your needs in the process. This simple act can soothe and nurture you while keeping you connected with yourself during your healing journey.
- Look for Support. Other people help us regulate our nervous systems. We get our sense of well being from others since we crave feeling connected, valued, and that we belong — that we’re not alone. It’s important to connect with friends and family that you know will not only understand what you are going through but will also elevate you. Good relationships have been shown to increase resiliency during times of change. Growth happens when we feel safe and understood.
If you have a tendency to isolate yourself when you experience a painful situation, know that just being in the presence of other caring and compassionate people will soothe and nurture you. Know that it’s okay to ask for help. If you are uncomfortable with going to family and friends, perhaps consider joining a community event or a group of like-minded people who can support you.
4. Surrender to the Process. Change is scary and uncomfortable. It can trigger sadness for what was lost as well as fear and anxiety about the unknown. Sometimes dramatic losses and life changes happen that are beyond your control. However, burning energy on the things you cannot control is what causes suffering. Any frustrations or resentments you feel is resistance to reality, to what already happened. The better approach is to allow the process to unfold and let go of your attachments to the outcome. Accept that change as part of the bigger trajectory of your life, even if you don’t know what will happen next or understand why it’s happening. Everything that happens in life is temporary and will inevitably change again. The more flexible and open you can be to change, the more resilient you’ll become.
5. Develop a Daily Practice of Mindfulness. Practicing mindfulness helps to bring your attention to the present moment. Many would argue that there is only peace in the present moment. Most of our problems come from either ruminating about the problems of the past or worrying about a future experience that hasn’t happened yet thereby triggering fear and anxiety. But when you are fully focused and centered in the present moment, you experience inner stillness and calm. Mindfulness brings awareness of your thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations in the moment. The key is to witness them without interpretation or judgment. This is a wonderful practice for relaxing your body and mind while also fostering inner peace.
Let’s discuss this in more specific terms. After the dust settles, what coping mechanisms would you suggest to deal with the pain of the loss or change?
I don’t necessarily believe that time heals all wounds. Rather, committing to your personal evolution and healing is what leads to eventually moving past the pain of loss or change. I’ve found that even simply becoming aware of our triggers and why we feel painful emotions helps to transmute them. I often suggest to catch yourself when you feel triggered and engage with the emotion consciously and objectively. Ask yourself what the emotion is all about. What is the emotion trying to communicate to you? What are the thoughts that trigger that emotion? Where do they come from? You’ll find that often times, these triggers originated from childhood wounds as an adapation or coping mechanism for some trauma that you experienced. Shedding light on the core wounding is powerful in disarming the triggers and lessening their effect.
How can one learn to heal and “let go” of the negative aspects of that event?
I believe the negative aspects are still very useful. That contrast provides insights and wisdom that you wouldn’t have gained had you not experienced the loss or dramatic change. What helps to let go and move on is to stop staring at the “closed door” of what no longer exists. It is in the acceptance that the past is over, the loss or change occurred already and there is no going back. You can continue to focus on what isn’t there anymore or you can choose to see the potential of the future — the new doors that are opening for you.
Aside from letting go, what can one do to create an internal, emotional shift to feel better?
Acknowledge that you are not your circumstances and that whatever happened is not personal. When trauma happens, we tend to internalize it and have it mean something about us. However, by accepting that difficult experiences happen without catastrophizing it or identifying so personally with it helps to move through the pain more smoothly. You can view the painful experience more objectively and from a detached point of view. This allows for emotional freedom.
How can one eventually reframe the consequences and turn it into a positive situation?
It’s important to first acknowledge the pain from the trauma or loss without minimizing it. We need to be okay with validating our experiences and accepting the pain we felt without judgment or avoidance. All too often we either dismiss our experiences, avoid dealing with them or get lost in suffering. Being too quick to shift to a positive perspective without first embracing exactly how we felt can be a form of toxic positivity, an avoidance or refusal to acknowledge the uncomfortable emotions.
The way I see it, reframing the consequences into a positive situation means looking for purpose through the pain. Perhaps the story of your heartbreak could offer healing and comfort for someone else who needs to hear it. Maybe that pain is prompting you to make changes to the way you live or even to create something that will provide hope for others who are struggling as well. Maybe the change or loss was simply life’s way of clearing what was no longer working so that you could show up for life more authentically and powerfully. It is through pain that our hearts are broken wide open to feel more deeply and compassionately.
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?
Specifically for the work I do through my divorce coaching practice, my mission to is shift the paradigm of viewing marriages that end in divorce as having failed. The perspective of divorce equating to failure takes away the beauty that the spouses once shared for however long their marriage lasted. Even though losses occur during the divorcing process, there are many important gains that happen as well, the most crucial being finding your strength and rediscovering yourself.
Beyond divorce, I wish to inspire others to use their painful experiences, whatever they may be, as a catalyst for their greatest personal growth. There are many valuable lessons in our hardships, lessons that urge us to level up, let go of what holds us back and connect with the essence of who we are. It takes courage to turn towards the pain and allow it to transform you into a more authentic and vibrant version of yourself. I truly believe raising human consciousness is an essential step towards ending suffering.
We are very blessed that some very prominent 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. :-)
I would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with researcher, best-selling author, and Ted Talk speaker, Brene Brown. Her work has been an inspiration. She gives us all permission to be vulnerable and to show up in life with courage. I admire her work and aspire to follow in her footsteps.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Readers can follow my work online through my website at www.dignifieddivorcecoaching.com. There you’ll find free resources that I have available such as my Divorce Checklist, a training on how to divorce smoothly, peacefully and cost-effectively as well as my Marriage Separation Guide for those comtemplating getting a divorce. Readers can also find me on Instagram and Facebook @dignifieddivorcecoaching.com.
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!
Thank you very much for the kind wishes and the opportunity to share with your community!