The number one reason people struggle to move on after divorce is not anger, but shame. Shame is different from guilt. Guilt means that you feel bad for something you did, but shame means that you believe you are bad because of something you did or something that happened. Divorce tends to puts people at high risk for feeling shame largely due to lingering stigmas that still surround divorce.
Guilt is a useful emotion; it motivates you to take accountability for your part in the demise of your marriage. Shame, however, is corrosive. If you believe that there’s something inherently wrong with you, then there’s no way to get better, nor is there any point in trying. That’s why high-conflict divorces tend to involve individuals who deal with their shame either by projecting it onto their exes, or letting it consume them so that they retreat from life.
Because high-conflict personalities never work through their shame, they continue to blame and feel victimized by their former spouses. Externalizing their problems enables them to avoid the work that every divorced individual needs to do: grieve the loss of a dream, take accountability, change behaviors that need to be changed, and move on.
Instead of seeing divorce as an opportunity for personal growth, many shame-based individuals invest energy in chronic litigation, custody battles, hostile co-parenting, and various other methods of creating divorce drama. Some unwittingly fuel chaos by reacting emotionally to their exes. Waging war against your former spouse will not make you happy, or lead to true fulfillment. It only serves to keep you bitter, divert attention from your career and a new relationship, and – most important – can hurt your children.
Is this really how you want to spend your time? When you get to the end of your life, do you want to look back and see decades of wreckage and lost opportunities? Or do you want to be at peace, knowing you lived with integrity and did the very best you could for your children?
To start ridding yourself of shame, here are five steps you can start taking today:
Practice compassion for yourself and others. You cannot be happy without inner peace, and you won’t have inner peace if you continually beat up yourself and/or other people. Although it may be difficult, acknowledge that your ex is doing the best he or she can do – and so are you. Hating that person won’t change them. In almost every situation, softening your feelings towards your ex, and yourself, will improve your state of mind, and what you manifest in your life.
Know your triggers. Do you find yourself descending into shame after phone calls with critical relatives, or other toxic people? Does gazing at curated social media images of your friends’ “perfect lives” make you miserable? Do you feel bitter because your ex lives in a better house or with a new, younger partner? Other people’s thoughts and lives – really, your perception of their thoughts and lives – have nothing to do with you. Once you identify the things that set you off, take steps to avoid your triggers. And practice coping skills so you don’t act from a place of shame.
Challenge shame-based thoughts. Thoughts and feelings are just thoughts and feelings – they’re not true. So the next time negative thoughts run through your mind, notice them without judging. Ask yourself: is this true? What is the evidence for and against this belief? Does this way of thinking hurt or help? What would change in my life if I didn’t have this thought?
Surround yourself with positive people. Shame-based people often grew up with hypercritical parents. As they develop, they internalize their caregivers’ negative messages (which are usually an externalization of their parents’ own shame) and believe that they are defective. When you believe there’s something wrong with you, you will tend to attract people who confirm your misguided notion. When possible, end relationships with individuals who make you feel bad about yourself – or who bring out the worst in you. If you can’t get rid of the relationship (for example, the one you have with your ex), limit your contact. Spend time with those who treat you well and make you feel good about yourself.
Commit to personal growth. Most shame-based people suffered some form of childhood trauma: abuse, neglect, a life-altering crisis. You must work through your wounds and discard of your toxic narratives. Pick a trusted friend or relative with whom you can share your feelings. Go to therapy or a 12-step group. Develop your coping skills, practice compassion, and change your perspective: you are more than the bad things that happened to you, and you get to choose how to act.
Overcoming shame won’t happen overnight. Nor will it change your ex. But if you commit to the process, you’ll learn to think differently about yourself and your divorce – and you’ll move towards a better future.
Have questions about your divorce? Want to get through the process with the least pain and stress possible so you can move on with your life? Divorce with dignity is possible, and we can help. Please contact us today to schedule your INITIAL attorney consultation. Speak to one of our qualified family law attorneys and learn all your options for positively resolving your divorce.