divorce healing processing guilt releasing shame

Divorce Healing: Processing Guilt, Releasing Shame

You tried your best to make your marriage work, but it did not. Maybe your spouse left you, or perhaps you were the one who filed for divorce. Now, you may be trying to resolve conflicts and forgive your ex. That’s hard work. But what about forgiving yourself?

The Difference Between Guilt and Shame

The terms “guilt” and “shame” are not the same, even though people sometimes use them interchangeably in conversation. Whereas guilt can be a positive force in your life, shame is a highly negative one.

What is Guilt?

Guilt is the state of having committed some kind of breach and knowing you carry the blame for it. You stole the cookie from the cookie jar. You’ve confessed. And you’re accepting the consequences. But guilt is not, by definition, a moral judgment, nor is it a painful emotion that keeps you up at night.

What is Shame?

Shame is a painful emotion that keeps you up at night. Often, shame stems from guilt. You may be guilty of taking the cookie from the cookie jar, but are you ashamed of your behavior? If you have decided you’re a bad person for taking that cookie, then yes, you are engaging in self-shame.

Embracing Guilt Rather Than Letting It Bring You Down

Think about your feelings of guilt without the moral lens for a moment. What did you do, purposefully or not, that caused someone else to feel bad? Accept the facts, whatever they may be. You cannot turn back the hands of time and undo past events, whether you want to or not.

Now, identify the feelings you have attached to this guilt. How do you feel, and why do you feel this way?

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When you’re ready, start thinking about forgiveness. Can you forgive yourself for what has occurred? Moreover, does the self-punishment you’ve inflicted upon yourself accomplish anything? Does it make anyone else feel better? Does it make you a better person?

The healthiest way to cope with guilt is to embrace it, stop judging yourself for it, and let any bad feelings go. Each situation is different, and each person’s emotional makeup is different. Many people can’t just “get over it” on their own, no matter how hard they try. If you can’t let go of guilt (and can’t stop punishing yourself) on your own, there are actionable steps you can take to work on it. Consider journaling your thoughts and feelings, confiding in a friend or support group, or seeking help from a therapist you trust.

Coping with Feelings of Shame

While it’s okay to acknowledge our contribution to the end of a relationship and sit with it for a while, it’s not okay – not good for your health – to remain dance partners with shame. Shame is self-destructive. You can’t stride with confidence into your new life wearing shame’s heavy weight on your shoulders. And yet, a lot of us wrestle with divorce-related shame.

Research-Based Reasons Why We Must Let Shame Go

Shame attacks our physical and mental health, leaving us weak and less able to deal with whatever life throws our way. Here are a few scientific studies to back that up:

  1. Shame has been linked to post-traumatic stress disorder. This study explores how shame and PTSD are linked.
  2. Shame leads to depression, according to this study. In fact, feelings of shame are much more likely to yield feelings of depression than are feelings of guilt.
  3. Shame causes stress, and stress kills cognition. This study shows that stress reduces the number of neurons firing in your brain and impairs your thinking.
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In other words, to wallow in shame is to make yourself vulnerable to the ravages of posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and cognitive decline.

Actionable Ways to Release Yourself from Shame

  1. Think about why you’re stuck: Shame is a normal human emotion, advises trauma and addiction recovery coach Kendra McLaughlin. But it’s not who you are. Without judgment, ask yourself why you continue to feel shame after your divorce. Why are you stuck in this emotion? And, as Kendra says, “Remind your inner critic that you are a work in progress and that you’re navigating the best you can.”
  2. Speak kindly to yourself: If you’re stuck in a shame loop, you’re undoubtedly engaging in a lot of negative self-talk. Step back and listen to that nagging voice from a neutral point. Is this the way you’d talk to a friend? No, of course not! So why speak to yourself that way? If you must criticize yourself, make it constructive – and do it gently.
  3. Meditate: Shame is a difficult emotion, but it doesn’t have to rule your world. Examine your shame, but don’t judge it. Meditate on it. This guided meditation about shame explores the idea that shame is a negative emotion that will pass and that you can learn and grow from it.
  4. Engage in self-care: Self-care can be a lot of things, from scheduling an appointment with a divorce therapist or a life coach to going to bed 15 minutes earlier than usual. Commit to nurturing yourself rather than berating yourself.
  5. Find like-minded friends: Surround yourself, literally or virtually, with others in similar situations. You can find an online support group or social media groups for like-minded individuals. Reading about the lives of others in your situation and learning what they have to say can also be helpful.
  6. Accept yourself: You are human. You tried your best. Now, you’re turning an uncomfortable situation into a growth experience. Embrace the guilt, but send the shame packing. You owe it to yourself. And you can’t afford not to.
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Divorce can be a challenging and emotionally taxing experience. Embracing guilt as a positive force for self-growth while letting go of shame is crucial in moving forward and healing. Remember that forgiving yourself is an essential part of the healing process, and it’s okay to seek support and guidance if needed.


  1. How long does it take to get over divorce? The timeline is different for everyone, but an oft-quoted figure is two years. So, be gentle with yourself. Give yourself time to grieve and to heal.
  2. Can I cope with guilt on my own? While some people can manage guilt on their own, seeking support from friends, support groups, or therapists can be beneficial for others.
  3. Is it common to feel shame after divorce? Yes, feeling shame after divorce is a common emotional response, but it’s essential to work through it for your well-being.
  4. What are the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)? Signs of PTSD may include flashbacks, nightmares, avoidance, negative changes in thinking and mood, and increased arousal or reactivity.
  5. How can self-care help in the healing process? Self-care activities can help reduce stress and promote emotional well-being, allowing you to focus on your healing journey.

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