A number of people who attend the divorce recovery and support groups that I facilitate share that they carry a great deal of guilt and/or shame during the early stages of the divorce recovery process. Where does our guilt and shame come from?
First, may I reiterate from a previous blog post, that all of us who have suffered a divorce have a great amount of grief to process. With that grief we can suffer from regrets and feelings of guilt. Some parents describe feeling guilt for not being able to provide a loving father or mother for their children. Because as the children suffer in the process of a divorce parents add the burden of "failure" to their pile of losses. Many people suffer from the fear of failure. I do. It doesn't cripple me like it used to because I experienced therapy, support groups, and grew in my faith tradition.
Healing takes time. And feelings of guilt are right up there with all the other feelings. However, if we continue to shame ourselves for not being the best parent or not being the best spouse, or not providing the way we wanted to, we will not be able to move beyond the sadness that accompanies the healing process from divorce and other failed relationships. Self-love and self-care are critical to healing the wounds of divorce. Self-criticism asks, "Are you good enough?", while self-compassion asks, "What is good for you?" I have this written on a post-it note, stuck to the front of my computer so I can see it every day throughout the day. For me it's a small yet powerful way to remind myself to do what is best for myself.
Shame. Oh boy, this is a big one. Maybe I will start with what I know by experiencing shame. Guilt and shame seem to go together. But shame has much to do with our feelings of self-worth. Jung says that a lack of self esteem is a root cause of a susceptibility to shame. Were you nurtured as a child? Loved for the individual you are and who you were created to be? We become susceptible at an early age by others being critical of us. Did you grow up feeling that you couldn't do anything right? Maybe you have feelings as an adult that everything you do is not good enough? We usually experience shame from others in many ways. For the woman caught up in an abusive relationship she may first experience small bits of shame like how she wears her hair or the clothes she wears. It is done in a subtle yet very deliberate way. Then the criticism builds up to constant shame and blame. Years of experiencing this mental abuse forms her self-worth. The same goes for a man in an abusive and controlling relationship.
For those who are fortunate enough to break free from an abusive and controlling relationship it takes time to reverse the recording that plays in their minds. I would say that therapy is necessary to work through the trauma that comes from living in an abusive relationship. Support groups then will help the person realize they are not alone in the journey. Recovery is a life-long process that each person needs to work at. There is no magic pill or easy fix. Sorry. I wish there was.
Shame can also come from the origins of a families religious traditions. I have seen so much shame and guilt come from this area and I dare to say I don't see it changing any time soon. It is unfortunate that the specific religion gets the rap for the ignorance of those who wield their power, or lack thereof. There are older generations who truly believe they are bad or will go to an eternal damnation because they are divorced. My mother-in-law was told she was going to hell for marrying my father-in-law! All because he had a different faith tradition than her family of origin. This could not be further from the truth. This type of belief expands all faith traditions because ignorance is present through the human factor. The one constant that I can recognize when others use religion to shame is fear. For those who seek control, their base feeling is fear. So, If I am the one who must have or be in control of others then I am going to say and do anything I can to gain your control. Threats, empty promises, anything to gain control.
I am not knocking faith traditions. In fact, in order to heal I needed my faith. It was the one stable factor in my life when everything else didn't make any sense. If you have a faith practice, then practice it. My faith keeps me centered. Whatever your higher power is, embrace it. Mine happens to be Christianity - Roman Catholic. Probably the one faith best known for shame. Again, shame is handed down through people not the divine.
So can one overcome guilt and shame? Yes. But keep in mind that there is healthy shame. Shame keeps us from running the streets naked. Shame keeps us from speaking (or saying the wrong thing) when we need to listen. Healthy shame, is humbling. I am in control of my guilt and shame. No one can put that on me unless I allow it. So, what is good for you?