Shame is a toxic emotion that is felt when a social norm an individual perceives, is violated. When shame is felt, despair often follows. Marriage is a normative age old social relational construct that is violated and called into question when a divorce occurs. As marriage is highly valued in society, divorce is transgression of a social norm – and no matter how you cut it, shame is inherently associated with divorce. Shame’s close cousin is guilt, and guilt soon follows.
What happens with shame, different from guilt is that shame is primarily internal. It is an “I” emotion, whereas guilt is often more about how we may have hurt another person’s emotion. With divorce, the shame comes with the perceived failure – which is an internal narrative. The guilt that often follows is related to children and family. Guilt is attached to a divorce, and untangeleing of a life may hurt and impact a family.
Shame also leads to depression and anxiety – which is very common among people that are going through the divorce transition. Shame leads people to believe that they are not worthy of love, they are not enough, not worthy of belonging. What is most dangerous about shame, is that it is an emotion that has real staying power. Different from guilt — with guilt we can apologize or take action to correct a transgression. It is much easier to apologize for a transgression than to accept oneself which in order to release shame which is what one must be willing to do.
Because of the corrosive nature of shame, the most important and most healing approach is to face it with courage – to speak it, to separate it from yourself, recognize your triggers and make connections.
When we speak of it, we take our power back and away from shame. The less we talk about it, the more power it has over us. The more awareness we cultivate around shame, the less power the emotion of shame has over us. To get beyond shame, we must talk about it with trusted people in our lives, ones that love us despite our imperfections. When feelings of shame are greeted with empathy and compassion, we can then put them in perspective and begin to heal from them.
Separating ourselves from feelings of shame is another key to healing the burden of shame. By understanding the core of the emotion that led us to the weight of shame, we can possibly release the inaccurate label we have attached to ourselves in the process.