“In my family, really, in my culture, divorce isn’t acceptable. Weddings are a big deal as they represent the coming together of two families. And when the marriage comes apart… Well, let’s just say it’s considered deeply shameful. It took me months to tell my parents.”
One of my favorite writers, Brené Brown, covers the topic of shame extensively in her work.
Importantly, Brown points out, though guilt and shame seem similar they are quite distinct. And shame is significantly more destructive.
Guilt is the feeling you did something bad. Shame is the feeling you are bad.
Relationship breakdowns happen. If the relationship is truly over you need to forgive yourself and move on. Holding on to shame around your breakup will destroy you.
What shame tends to be triggered by in us men is being perceived as weak. In relation to your relationship ending, this may include thoughts you just didn’t try hard enough and that is ultimately why it failed.
First, you need to identify what you’re feeling is shame and there are three common ways that shame can show up. Moving away from others by withdrawing, moving toward unhealthy relationships by trying to be a people pleaser, and moving against others by overpowering them. If you’re demonstrating these behaviors towards your children or anyone else in your life, it’s very likely you’re coming up against shame.
Second, is you need to share what you’re feeling. Empathy is the greatest antidote to shame. Feeling we’re not alone. Though sharing can bring up a bit of anxiety at first because it requires vulnerability, the result is well worth it. Start by seeking out a safe group or person to talk to. You want to be able to share what you’re feeling and just have the individual or group listen, not try and offer advice or talk you out of what you’re feeling. And call it what it is; shame. Not guilt or embarrassment. Shame. Calling it by its name robs it of some of its power.
Third, you need to practice some self-compassion. This is particularly true of our self-talk. That voice that’s triggered inside our heads when we feel shame. “You’re an idiot.” “You sound like an asshole right now.” “You always mess everything up.” The general rule here is to talk to yourself like you’d talk to someone else you really care about. Chances are you don’t call them an asshole every five minutes (if you do, you have OTHER problems). If you wouldn’t do it to someone you care about, why would you speak to yourself that way?