Divorce is one of the most shame, blame, and guilt producing event in life. Doesn’t really matter if we are the one leaving or being left, it affects our sense of worth like nothing else. We question everything we believed and thought about ourselves, our abilities, characters, and choices. Even if we are blaming our ex for it all, deep down we are filled with shame. The more we try to run from it, the more it will hunt us. The more we try to cover it up with anger the more damage it will do in us and ultimately in everyone around us.
There is only one way to battle the shame and guilt we feel for leaving or being left, and to stop the endless blame cycle: learning and practicing self-compassion.
Self-compassion is exactly what it sounds like. Compassion for ourselves. The same way we have (or don’t have) compassion for others. With the same feelings, thoughts, words, and actions.
The definition of compassion is having sympathy and concern for the suffering and misfortune of others, having the ability to show empathy, love, and understanding to someone in pain. But why is it so much harder when we have to show it not to another but to ourselves? Why do we tell ourselves those horrible things we would never say to a grieving friend or even to our worst enemy? Why is it so hard to direct the same kindness and support we show our loved ones toward ourselves?
According to Dr. Kristin Neff, self-compassion researcher and author of Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, self-compassion has three elements. Self-kindness: replacing our self-judgmental thoughts with kind and loving ones; common humanity: recognizing that suffering and pain are inevitable and part of being human; and mindfulness: experiencing but not over-identifying with our pain and shame.
This is how to practice self-compassion daily during our divorce so we can give ourselves the love and support we desperately need in this critical time.
1. Acknowledging my suffering and feelings.
Just like I notice and acknowledge other people’s hardships, difficulties, and pain during their divorce, it is important that I do the same with my own troubles and pain. Admitting to myself and others that it is hard, at times almost unbearable, it is painful, soul crushing, and all around awful. That I’m having a hard time and sometimes I feel like I won’t make it. Turning toward the uncomfortable feelings, facing the pain and shame, acknowledging their existence, holding space for it all, and letting myself feel them. Then comforting myself with the same gentle, loving, kind words I would comfort a friend. Telling myself that I’m human, and many others experience the same pain I do. But it will be okay, feelings pass, and things change. Giving myself a gentle hug when having a hard time, or doing something nice for myself. Being compassionate with myself is not wallowing in self-pity. Self pity is isolating, it separates me from other people’s suffering because I feel like it’s only happening to me, and my pain is worse than others. Self-compassion accepts the universal truth about life and suffering and reaches out to a Higher Power to receive compassion from above, so I can extend it to myself just as much as to others.
2. Accepting my past, mistakes and all.
We beat ourselves up merciless during divorce. For things we did and things we didn’t do. Things we wish we had done differently and things we should have done or shouldn’t have done. The list is endless and the voice in our heads doesn’t stop until we make peace with our past. Fully and completely. Choosing to believe that everything happened for a reason and all things serve a purpose. We don’t always understand the whys but we can still accept what happened. We might need to reframe some stories and rewrite the commentaries we wrote up in our minds. We definitely have to stop all self-judgment and replace it with kindness and gentleness toward ourselves. Guilt and shame never motivates us toward our better selves, love and kindness does. If my ultimate goal is to come out of this divorce as a better person, it is necessary to practice self-forgiveness and self-love. Self love is not selfish or self serving. It is accepting and it is the core of spiritual and emotional well being. Without self-forgiveness we can’t love ourselves and won’t be able to make divorce decisions that serve our overall best interests.
3. Affirming my worth.
Divorce can do serious damage to our self-worth and self-respect if we let it. Most of us never felt this bad about ourselves and we wonder if we would ever be able to regain what seems like got ripped away from us. But the wonderful thing about self-worth and self-respect is that it has nothing to do with other people, their opinions, their behavior or choices. If it does it would be other-worth and other-respect. We can practice loving kindness and compassion toward ourselves by daily affirming our self-worth with words. By repeating affirmations like “I am a child of God” “I am unconditionally loved” “I am worthy of love” “I am a good person” “I am a beautiful expression of humanness” “I am forgiving and forgiven” even if we don’t fully believe them first, they will help us restore our self-worth. Gentle and kind words spoken out loud have tremendous power. It might feel strange or even fake at the beginning if we have never practiced self-affirmations before, but with time these sentences will become natural and believable, and our souls will soak them up like the emotional nourishment they are.
When we are able to forgive ourselves, love ourselves, be compassionate with ourselves during divorce and make decisions from this kind, compassionate, loving place toward ourselves, our divorce process will be more manageable, we will be able to choose our next steps wisely, and we will have a much better chance for a favorable outcome at the end.
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