There was plenty of blame to go around during my divorce.
It seemed that on Mondays, I would be so angry at the man I was divorcing that I couldn’t even see straight. But on Tuesday, I would fall into guilt-ridden despair, blaming myself for days over the things I felt that I had failed to do to make the marriage work.
Looking back, this hot-cold dynamic of blaming the other but also blaming myself significantly slowed down my ability to recover and move on from the divorce, but it’s not anything new. We run ourselves ragged with guilt and the inability to forgive and let go all the time.
It took years to recognize the divorce guilt for the obstacle that it was and all the mutating forms that it comes in.
It is normal for many of us to feel like we are somehow to blame for our divorce. Culturally, women are taught that keeping the household and marriage successful is our responsibility, with hardly any acknowledgment that it takes two people to make a partnership work. And, naturally, because there was a lot of pressure on us to be perfect, when the marriage unraveled, our reaction was to blame ourselves for it.
It is time to stop that unhealthy and damaging behavior, and it starts with us.
In Order to Overcome Guilt, we Must Forgive Ourselves.
Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. It’s a gift that we generously give others, yet for some reason, we don’t give ourselves the same luxury. We think our actions, especially divorce-related ones, are somehow reprehensible and we feel like the worst people in the world for letting everybody down.
Accepting responsibility and working to avoid mistakes in the future is one thing. But constantly blaming ourselves for things in the past is neither helpful nor healthy.
So why not put that energy we spend on feeling bad about the past into something better, like creating the good life we deserve?
Forgiving ourselves is challenging because we are looking at the divorce with warped vision. We indulge in the luxury of 20/20 hindsight, where we pick apart and judge our past actions. And that’s just not fair.
Sure, we have made mistakes in the past. But who hasn’t? Remember that it takes two to tango in a marriage. We must accept that we did everything within our power at the time to make the marriage work. And even if, for some reason, we are convinced that we did not, the past cannot be changed anyway.
How to Embrace the Forgiveness Mindset.
When a wave of guilt hits us, we must remember that guilt is a gray looming fortress—like the Tower of London—where we feel trapped. Here is the crazy part though—all the doors are unlocked, there are no guards, and there’s no reason for us to stay there. So why not leave?
The next time we are feeling guilty and are unsure of how to forgive, we must ask ourselves the following question:
“How will this guilt serve me in the future?”
If we are coming up with a blank, that’s the point! Guilt does not serve us, so we must forgive and let go.
Guilt speaks the language of “maybe, should have, would have.” These are not action words—they are passive words that our guilt uses to create a false past-reality that doesn’t exist. The next time we find ourselves with those thoughts, nip them in the bud with compassion.
Need an example? Here are a few:
Guilt Thought: I feel guilty because maybe I should have suggested we go to couples therapy sooner.
The Forgiveness Mindset: We went to couples therapy when we thought we needed it, and did everything in our power at the time to fix it. We were brave to try it, and should not feel bad about any of that.
Guilt Thought: I feel guilty because maybe I should have brought up the fact that we weren’t communicating anymore.
The Forgiveness Mindset: It takes two people for a marriage to work and I am not responsible for both myself and my husband. I did what you could with the strength I had at the time. I must be proud of myself for that.
Now it’s everybody’s turn! Write down the specific things trigger guilt, then neutralize them with the much-deserved compassion. We can do this whenever the guilt sneaks up, and as long as we are mindful and consistent, we can keep the Guilt Monster at bay.
The road to forgiveness and overcoming divorce guilt can be a long one, but showing ourselves much-deserved compassion will ease that journey.
Author: Martha Bodyfelt
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Editor: Emily Bartran