Feeling shame after divorce means you need to change the way you think about divorce.
For nearly a year after my ex left and filed for a divorce no one knew but close friends and family. Very few of my neighbors were aware of the fact that we were divorcing. No one from my church found out until I broke down and started crying one Sunday. The shame I felt over my divorce kept me from being honest and open about the adversity I was experiencing. Which, in turn, kept me from seeking the support I needed.
I don’t think mine is an uncommon story. Whether you are the one who wanted the divorce or, you were the one left behind there is a lot of shame associated with a marriage not working out.
Shame is the painful feeling arising from the consciousness of something dishonorable or improper, done by oneself or another. When we think we’ve done something to harm someone else, the natural response is to feel shame.
In my case, there was a massive amount of shame because he had left. I must have done something horrible to him to cause him to walk away from our family. I took on the burden of the problems in the marriage and loaded my psyche with the toxicity of carrying a responsibility that was not mine.
If you are the leaver you may feel shame over hurting your spouse and all the emotional chaos your desire for a divorce caused. You may feel shame and guilt, if you have children, over putting your children through the divorce of their parents.
Temporary feelings of shame are healthy, they keep us in check and from trouncing all over the feelings of other people. Long-lasting shame is toxic because it can rob us of our ability to view ourselves as good and loving individuals. If your self-esteem and value as a human being tanks you will have a hard time moving on after divorce and finding happiness.
4 Strategies for Fighting Divorce Fueled Shame
1. Give yourself credit for what you did right.
As the old saying goes, “It takes two to make a marriage and two to break a marriage.” There may have been problems in the marriage to cause the irrevocable breakdown but you don’t own all those problems. Make a list and when you begin to doubt yourself refer to it and all the things you did right and give yourself a break for all the things you did right during your marriage.
I was faithful,
I was honest,
I never struck him,
I tried with all my power to make it work.
2. Replace negative thoughts about yourself with positive thoughts.
Constantly fixating on the negative feelings you have about yourself only keeps painful memories alive and dictating how you live your life. Just like your marriage, the negative thoughts belong in the past. You can’t move on to a better future if you don’t leave them where they belong…in the past.
3. Use empowering language when you talk about your situation.
Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP) is a therapy built on the belief that using positive and self-loving language can influence your subconscious mind which then leads you to a more self-loving attitude.
One helpful NLP technique, dilute strongly negative words will prime your subconscious mind to think more positively about who you are as a person. For example:
Instead of saying, “He is devastated because I divorced him” say to yourself, “He is disappointed that the marriage had to end. The word “disappointed” is far less negative than the word, “devastated.”
If you were left and feeling shame, don’t say, “I’m crushed because he left me, say to yourself, “I’m surprised he left.” Saying to yourself and others that you are “surprised” will have a far less negative effect than using the word “crushed.”
Dr. Al Siebert, director of Portland, Oregon’s Resiliency Center and author of The Resiliency Advantage suggests, “If you’re bouncing back from a challenging time, it’s essential to become aware to not dwell on the pain of what you are going through. Instead, consciously pepper your conversations with strong, uplifting, optimistic words that will keep you aimed in a strong, positive, healing direction.”
So, not only do you want to change the way you think about your divorce, you want to change the way you talk about your divorce.
4. Make apologies to those you’ve hurt.
For most of us, it is never our intent to hurt or cause emotional harm to others. There are times in life when, for us to get what we need, others suffer negative consequences. If you are feeling shame because you know you caused hurt and harm, reach out to that person with an apology. Say you are, “sorry” and mean it.
Like I said earlier, it takes two to break a marriage. Apologizing for your role in the problems in the marriage and any hurt feelings due to your need for a divorce will not only help your ex begin to heal, it will heal your pain also.