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Overcoming Shame and Guilt During Divorce

Shame and guilt not only make us feel terrible, but also make us feel responsible, even if we’re not.

If you’re like me, you tend to more easily take the blame rather than take the credit. But when it comes to divorce, we shouldn’t own either. A marriage involves two responsible adults who make choices, and we’re all responsible for our own choices. So if this is true, why is there so much shame and guilt during divorce? Why is it so difficult to shake that toxic burden many of us so often carry? How can we stop and rid ourselves of the guilt and shame that often accompanies the stigma of divorce, and not allow those damaging feelings to take up more space than they deserve? In order to change anything, it’s important to recognize, talk about, and explore why it’s there in the first place. Talking about shame and guilt during divorce is the first step in ridding ourselves of the dark cloak that covers it up and makes it unbearable.

How to Overcome Shame and Guilt During Divorce

The Whys

  1. One of the breeding grounds for judgment is within society itself. Society is “pro-relationship” and certainly not “pro-divorce.” When you’re single, married friends want to “couple you up,” and when you’re married, your vows reinforce the belief that that union is until death do you part. Society doesn’t like divorce because it represents being broken. It’s hard not to take that personally.
  2. Divorce is perceived as a failed marriage, when in truth, at least according to comedian Lewis Black, “No good marriage ends in divorce.” And who says every relationship is meant to last forever? Well, apparently those vows do. And when they’re broken, we can feel like we failed, didn’t try enough, and weren’t good enough. Those feelings, thoughts, beliefs, can be devastating.
  3. We’re just not good enough, we should have recognized the problems sooner, we stayed too long, we married the wrong person. All of those messages, each one contradicting the other, add fuel to the fire of shame and guilt during divorce. Whether someone points a finger at you, or whether it’s the voice of your own inner critic, the judgment can be thick, and the guilt can be relentless.
  4. If you have children, that shame and guilt can become magnified. Not only do we tend to feel like a failure in our marriage, but we feel the same about our role as parent. We can feel like we failed as parents by not making our marriage work for our kids’ sake. We reinforce this belief further when we overcompensate after divorce and try to “make up” for all of our “wrongs.”

So how do we start letting go of the burden of shame that is either self-imposed or encouraged by society?

The How’s

  1. Start forgiving yourself for everything. We tend to focus on the forgiveness of others more easily than the forgiveness of ourselves. We tend to take ourselves for granted while staying angry with ourselves unknowingly.
  2. Take care of yourself and treat yourself like you have value, because you do. Treat yourself as well as you treat others: with kindness, patience, and understanding. When you fall or make mistakes, pick yourself up, dust yourself off, give yourself a hug, and love yourself unconditionally. Remind yourself that mistakes are a necessary part of growth, and the love you have for yourself is not conditional based on being perfect. In fact, we don’t really like those “perfect” people anyway, do we?
  3. Talk to someone. It can be a friend, a family member, or a professional. Talk about your feelings with someone safe who won’t judge you and who will listen.
  4. Most importantly, give yourself time to heal. Healing takes time and patience. Just because you “feel” something doesn’t mean it’s reality, and it also means that it will pass. Even the good feelings go away eventually.

Remember: the choices you made are neither bad nor good. They’re just choices, and we all make them. The outcome may not be something we like, but that doesn’t mean we made the wrong choice. Our decisions don’t define who we are. Try to be your best ally, because in this tough world, you need you on your side.