Shame is an emotion that many people live with their entire lives. It prevents them from living life fully. A divorce is a life event that often leaves you feeling raw and exposed. You don’t realize how much the burden of shame is weighing you down until you start trying to move on.
It’s ironic that it’s often the partner who has been rejected who feels ashamed. You have internalized that pain of abandonment. And when shame hits, it makes you crawl into your shell like a snail under threat. You try to make yourself as invisible as possible. You feel as though all eyes are on you and you hide away to escape their scrutiny. Your self-esteem suffers a severe blow and it’s easy to buy into the idea that you are a complete failure. Throwing off the shame is harder but carrying its weight around for the rest of your life is an impossible burden to bear.
The stigma of divorce
In a survey of 1000 divorced people in the UK, 46% of divorcees felt they were judged daily because their marriages had failed. In our society, we have many preconceived notions about marriage and divorce. We marry our ‘soulmate’ and when he or she no longer wants to be with us, we consider ourselves seriously flawed. Why is it that we feel this way even if the end of the relationship is hardly our fault? Is it because of the way society looks at marriage and divorce? A book called Sacred Cows: The Truth About Divorce and Marriage, by Danielle Teller, MD, and Astro Teller, PhD reveals different responses to divorce in our society. The authors talk about seven of these sacred cows. ‘The Holy Cow’ is that righteous person to whom marriage is always good and divorce is always bad. ‘The expert cow’ says that every problem can be fixed and if you are divorced it’s because you haven’t tried hard enough. ‘The selfish cow’ says that you didn’t sacrifice or compromise enough to make the marriage work. ‘The defective cow’ says that there’s something wrong with you. ‘The innocent victim cow’ focuses on the children and says that you should have stayed together for them because they are irrevocably harmed by divorce. ‘The one true cow’ gives rise to endless self doubt when the romantic ideal that there’s one person who’s right for you ends. ‘The other cow’ states that no one should ever leave a marriage for another person. The common thread between these attitudes is that they are all judgemental and based on assumptions. No-one else can really know the intricacies of your relationship except you. I have personally found empathy and support from my closest friends but it’s still hard to deal with assumptions about divorce made by society in general that cling to me like a mangy coat.
The influence of social media
The end of my marriage was played out on social media where a comment and photographs put a swift end to my illusions. Suddenly the whole world was involved in my marriage and its ugly demise. My children were subjected to all the sordid details without any chance for me to protect them.
Social media has added an extra layer of complication to the end of relationships. I am not against social media and feel, like any other media, it can be used for positive and negative purposes. Unfortunately, when a relationship ends and the fallout occurs on social media, it adds hurt to an already difficult situation.
What shameful beliefs do you need to ditch?
The rules and values you attempt to live by are your core beliefs. They determine what you expect from yourself, from others and from the world around you. With divorce, your core beliefs may take a knock and become distorted. You may think that:
- your divorce is due to a flaw in your character.
- you are to blame for every bad thing that has happened.
- your life ahead is not worth living because it’s not what you imagined for yourself.
- you may as well overeat, drink too much etc. because no one will ever love you again.
These are just a few of the beliefs that cause you to shrink away and hide in a corner. You’re afraid to put yourself out there because you feel undesirable, unwanted, unloved and ashamed. Because someone who may have once loved you deeply was the source of your hurt and pain, the cut is really deep. There is nothing that compares with pain inflicted by a loved one.
Why you must leave shame behind
Cynicism, despair and hopelessness are part of a life of shame. This is why shame has a way of morphing into a whole slew of addictive, irresponsible, compulsive and demoralizing attitudes and behaviours. Strong feelings of shame warp your perspective on life. Before you know it, your deep sense of inadequacy and shame may explode in anger. This can result in bitter fights over children and other issues of divorce. Your hostility may even drive away the people closest to you. Your shame may lead to deep depression which makes you feel completely powerless. You no longer believe that you can do anything positive to improve your life. Sadly, you may also become self-destructive and your self-destructive behaviour only creates more shame.
Your feeling of being defective in some way affects what you think and how you behave. Living with shame is isolating and it makes you push others away. Intimacy is difficult because being too close to others is just too scary. You imagine they will hurt you in the same way that you were hurt before.
When you’re full of shame, you lack of energy, you feel immobilized and it takes tremendous energy just to continue living. Your motivation is sapped and you no longer have the ability to take positive risks. If you feel trapped and unable to move forward, it could be because of your shame. Shame can be behind many of your choices that keep you from experiencing a full life.
Leaving shame behind
The first step towards becoming free of shame is to understand what it is and how it affects you in your daily life. When you begin to identify your shame, it can feel overwhelming and depressing. It is not an easy task because you have to rewrite the script you have been living by and you are the only one that can do it.
Think about how you speak to yourself. What does that inner voice say? Does it tell you that you’re no good, a loser, and that you’re incapable of being on your own? When you have created a habit of talking negatively to yourself, it needs to be addressed. Commit to taking note every time you hear this voice. The truth is that it often voices lies and deceptions. When you begin to realize that, you take away its power.
Recognise your tendency to isolate yourself. On occasions when you feel separate and alone, question why you are pushing others away. Slowly, as you begin to work on being more open, you will find that people respond to you.
It important to write a new story that will propel you towards a life you love. Your story is about who you really are inside and who you want to be. It is only when you begin to believe and live your new story that you gain new emotional strength and experience new possibilities. It helps to write down your story and go over it frequently in your mind so that the old negative story has no place anymore.
Shame makes you hold back, keep yourself separate and close yourself off. Shame loves secrecy. When you experience the shame of divorce, it’s like a blanket of protection that you wear to prevent further hurt. You have to choose to live without that blanket. Before long, you will a start feeling more fully alive. You will feel the lightness of having shed an intolerable burden and your shame will no longer define you.