Guilt. What an ugly word and a terrible feeling.
Guilt comes in all sorts of mutating forms before, during, and after divorce. We may feel guilty because of a specific/concrete action we have done, or, more likely, divorce guilt permeates our lives like a mist running through our bodies. It’s a general, lingering feeling that comes from a variety of factors — things that have nothing to do with us but nevertheless continue to threaten our happiness.
It is normal for many of us to feel guilty, to feel like we are to blame for everything leading up to the end of our marriage. Society certainly has not helped us break from that. Culturally, we were taught that keeping the household and marriage successful without any mistakes was our responsibility, without so much a thought that it takes two people in a partnership to make a relationship work.
But I’m here to tell you to knock that guilt off.
In Order to Overcome Divorce Guilt, You Must Forgive Yourself
Forgiveness is a beautiful thing. It’s a gift that we are generous in giving others, but we don’t afford ourselves the same luxury. Accepting responsibility for your own shortcomings and working on them to avoid mistakes in the future is one thing, but constantly blaming yourself for things in the past 1) is neither helpful nor healthy and 2) doesn’t change a single thing.
So why not put that energy you spend on feeling bad about the past into something awesome, like creating the good life you deserve and the chance to start over?
Forgiving yourself is challenging right now because you are looking at the divorce with warped vision. Right now, you are looking at it with 20/20 hindsight, where you have the luxury of picking your past self to pieces.
It’s time to change that way of thinking.
Feeling Guilty Stops Now
I know what you’re thinking, because I went through that same personal hell during my divorce, too.
And you know what? You’re going to until you let all that B.S. go and just be. Sure, you have made mistakes in the past. But who in the hell hasn’t? Remember that it takes two to tango in a marriage. You must accept that you did everything within your power at the time to make the marriage work. And even if you, for some reason, have still convinced yourself that you didn’t, the past cannot be changed anyway.
So, how do you forgive yourself, exactly? I’m glad you asked.
How to Move on From Your Divorce Guilt and Forgive Yourself: Reflections and Exercise
When a wave of guilt hits you, please remember this:
Guilt is a gray looming fortress — a mix of the Tower of London and Fort Knox, where you are trapped. But here’s the funny thing — all the doors are unlocked, there are no guards, and there’s no reason for you to stay there. So why not leave?
Guilt is your past holding you prisoner. It’s impossible to plan for the future if you keep holding yourself in the past. The next time you are feeling guilty and are unsure of how to forgive yourself, ask yourself this one question:
“How will this guilt serve me in the future?”
Are you drawing a blank? Write down why you feel guilty. To get you started, I listed some of the thoughts running through my head when I was dealing with guilt.
I feel guilty because maybe I should have suggested we go to couples therapy sooner. Maybe if I had done that, things would have been different.
Sound familiar? Here’s what you need to understand about the words of guilt: guilt speaks the language of “maybe, should have, would have.” They are passive words that your guilt is using to make you create some picture-perfect false reality that doesn’t exist.
The next time you find yourself with those thoughts running through your head, nip it in the bud with compassion for yourself and neutralize those words with forgiveness. Take a look at how to start countering them below, and then write your own counter-thoughts for the things that are making you feel guilty!
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. You were brave to try it, and should not feel bad about any of that.
Now it’s your turn! Write down the specific things that are making you feel guilty, then neutralize them with the compassion you deserve. Do this whenever the guilt sneaks up on you, and as long as you are mindful and consistent with this practice, you can keep the Guilt Monster at bay.