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I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in my car in the parking lot of my job. I had just gotten off work, and the thought was eating me alive.
I had been trying to figure out how to tell my parents I was getting a divorce. I knew I needed to tell them first, as I didn’t want them to find out from my soon-to-be-ex. I felt many emotions, but the most overwhelming emotion I felt was the emotion of shame.
I was ashamed that I had spent almost 10 years of my life allowing my family to fall in love with my then-husband, our perceived life together, and the idea that they may eventually have grandchildren to visit. I was ashamed that I had allowed things to get so bad and never told my family how afraid I was of my spouse. I was ashamed that I was turning into a divorce statistic and not a good statistic.
Even though all those thoughts were running through my mind, I picked up the phone, sat in my car, called my parents, and told them we were getting a divorce.
From a psychological perspective, all humans live in a context of what they consider “social norms”. Social norms are the ideals or the “unwritten rules” that we believe is considered “normal” for ourselves and our society. Individual social norms vary depending on how a person is raised, where they live, their belief systems, religious beliefs, education levels, social-economic levels, and/or community expectations.
Every culture has a social norm that is sometimes easily understood and other times must be experienced. For many groups, the social norm is that you grow up, you meet a mate, and you get married- with the idea that you stay married until death. This is of course relative to various cultures, families, and individuals.
If you grow up in a society where “til death do us part” is the social norm, getting a divorce can feel like you are breaking the “rules” of your given community or culture, religion, or family. This can be especially true for women that grow up in a patriarchal belief system. This system may have social norms where the woman changes her last name, and the father’s bloodline is focused on as far as children passing on his last name and heritage. This ideal may also make women feel like even though they work full-time jobs, they must also be willing to take on extra home duties or childcare duties. This is not true for all women but in some families, and cultures, this is still seen as an unwritten rule.
Shame is an inward feeling that negatively focuses on the internal world. It creates feelings of humiliation, fear, embarrassment, sadness, unworthiness, and emotional pain. Divorce shame is a feeling that you have failed at the standards or rules or social norms that your family or society has set when it comes to marriage. It can bring up feelings that you are no longer lovable or fully accepted by your community. It can make you feel like an outcast or someone who “lost”.
Sometimes, women subconsciously believe that when it comes to marriage, no matter what happens, it is their responsibility to make the marriage work. This may be due to how they were raised, what they saw their parents doing, and what they were directly told.
Divorce shame can lead to isolation, anxiety, depression, and self-destructive behavior. As a woman, if you have children, it can negatively affect how you raise them. Since it is such a maladaptive emotion, children can easily internalize this behavior and think they have done something wrong. They may grow up thinking that they were not good enough, not understanding the deep emotional wounds that you carry because of divorce shame.
The first step to getting over divorce shame is to have self-compassion. Be willing to acknowledge that you are a human being first and that divorce does not make you a bad person. Being a “divorced woman” is a label, not a description of who you are as a person. Understand that getting a divorce allows you to heal, find safety, get clear on what you want, and start understanding the deeper aspects of yourself.
Don’t compare yourself to other women who are happily married, or your grandmother (who stayed married for 70+years), etc. Understand that you are unique and you don’t have to prescribe to other people’s way of life. You have the right to have your own human experience. Although painful, this experience is going to help you learn some lessons and start rebuilding life on your terms.
Be willing to allow yourself to feel your emotions. Write them down in a journal, scream into a pillow, listen to sad music, cry, be angry, be sad, be frustrated, or whatever you feel. Give space for every emotion you have and just breathe. Don’t try to stuff it down or smile it away. Acknowledge that they exist, they are a part of human existence, and be thankful you are not an emotionless robot.
Show yourself kindness in the form of self-care such as extra sleep, taking some time off work if possible, spending time in nature, and being around supportive friends. Self-care makes you feel good and gives you a break from feeling bad. So, don’t be stingy about giving yourself the care that you need as you go through this process.
Get moving. No- I’m serious. Go for walks at the park, join a workout class, take yoga, starting riding your bike with your kids daily. Physical movement, especially at intense levels, has been shown to change the chemistry of your body and increase hormones that make you feel good. No matter how bad you feel, just try to move in any way possible a few times a week. It will make you feel better and over time will be a part of your healing journey.
Getting personal therapy before, during, and after a divorce is also highly recommended. During my marriage, I got a personal therapist that helped me cope with a difficult relationship. During and after my divorce, I had a therapist that gave me space to talk through my emotions, get to some of my other underlying issues, and start rebuilding my self-esteem.
If you have not already found a therapist, then I highly recommend OnlineTherapy.com. They have therapists all over the world in various time zones that provide various levels of support. Check them out here.
Getting divorced is tough, but what’s worse is how we punish ourselves with divorce shame. Divorce shame only makes you feel worse, limits your ability to start healing, and may decrease your ability to help your children cope with the situation. Instead of giving into shame, be willing to see your bravery in leaving what may have been a detrimental situation, or in allowing the other person to leave if they were unhappy. Focus on rebuilding your life and forging a new path.
Ready to start the process of gaining more clarity, confidence, and courage? I have created 3 simple steps to help you on your journey.
Don’t let more time pass by, reclaim your life today!
Tiffiny has a B.A. in Psychology, and master’s degree in Public Health Education. She worked in consulting for over 16 years, as well as previously owning a fitness and health business. In her personal life, she used personal development, mindset and health strategies to go from being overworked in a demanding corporate career, emotionally drained in a toxic marriage, physically unhealthy, and depressed to becoming an award-winning figure level bodybuilding athlete and entrepreneur. As a women’s empowerment coach, she works to help women get clear on their goals, build confidence, increase self-esteem, take action on their deep desires and create a life they love