If you feel like a failure after a divorce, everything carries the dark “you suck” cloud of self-flagellation.
Your once-familiar instincts feel like harbingers of idiocy … because “you suck.”
Every vision of your future is torn to shreds and new ones seem impossible … because “you suck”.
You know you’ve survived worse, but with the best of intentions, you can’t remember what or when … let alone how you did it.
Right now all you know is that you screwed it up.
You entered into a marriage and gave up.
Do not be afraid, brave woman of the future!
Your fear is actually evidence that you are moving forward on the grief spectrum. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross identified 5 main stages of grief in the early 1970s: denial, anger, negotiation, sadness, and acceptance. Anger is really a mask for much more nuanced frustrations that went untreated. Haggling is a “would / should / could” mind game that we unconsciously play with ourselves. The core of this suffering comes from the misguided belief that we are in control of the uncontrollable.
Moving from one step to another look and feels like a collage of our greatest ups that is permanently on display in the foyer of your life. “Hello newcomer (job/relationship/opportunity / etc), please take note of my utter and utter failure as we squeeze around it and try to get to the heart of my real home, where hope once dwelt … hmm … es is here somewhere, I know that I saw it the other day. “
Even if beating yourself up is the only practice you have right now, it’s time to divert that attention and do these 7 small but effective things instead. Before you know it, you will forgive yourself for your past and confidently create a new, fulfilling future.
1. Take a third-person perspective
If you had to describe in detail who you were when you were 11, what would you say about them? Is she impetuous? Adventurous? Insightful? Afraid of authorities?
Now do the same exercise for yourself at 18. 25. 38. Today.
At each stage of the game, she becomes a unique character, defined less by her circumstances than by her character.
Habits change. Some beliefs wither while others deepen.
From this distant, more objective perspective, you can see that she (you) is constantly learning and growing. You can see that the decisions you made when you were 11 were really the best that you could do with the information and tools you had at the time.
Just because your decisions at 18 were shaped by different experiences and tools doesn’t mean that your 11-year-old self was an incorrigible fool. The same goes for every age and situation.
Yes, even with your divorce! You did the best you could with the tools you had at the time.
Your growth, your success, is iterative. It has always been like this. If you feel like a failure after a divorce, you can see that it really, REALLY is just a feeling. It’s not the truth.
2. Examine your beliefs.
Beliefs are just habitual thoughts.
What you understand to be truth builds up over time on the evidence you have looked for.
Repeat every mistake and you will eventually believe that you are a failure.
However, hold on to any success and you will build belief that you are a success !!!
Instead of berating yourself for what you perceive to be a mistake, be your own cheerleader:
- Talk to yourself the way you would talk to your best friend. What would you tell her
- What strengths would you point out?
- How many examples of their Amazonian awe would you tout as telltale signs of your courage and tenacity?
- Sure, she fell, but didn’t she get up again, for Christ’s sake?
Make this best friend yourself now.
Write down any evidence you find of your unique type of “winner”.
Check your strengths every day.
Add new ones every time someone (even yourself) sees great in you.
At some point your “awesome sauce” will feel as true as any old bullshit thought you had about your “weaknesses”.
3. Take advantage of [future] hindsight
Imagine you are the older, wiser version of yourself from the future.
“Older” takes years.
“Sages” need some growth and healing.
You can focus on growth and healing at any point in time … even now.
What are your thoughts and insights + 10 years? What about You + 20? When she recalls her life and sees her strength, wisdom and joy, what painful experiences is she grateful for?
Chances are, the divorce fits in there somewhere. At least to a certain extent. What lessons did she learn? Does she appreciate being able to survive (and even thrive) terrifying life transitions?
It is possible that she may feel empowered by the fact that she can let someone go if they don’t respect their healthy boundaries. Perhaps she even appreciates the irony that the space her ex created when he left created space for the kind of relationships she doesn’t need to set healthy boundaries with!
Well how does that feel? The emotional state of dissolution, peace, and even joy will give you an internal reference point for the species
Feel the truth about it deep in your bones.
4. Redefine failure.
Think long and hard about your favorite successes. Each and every one of them was built on the back of a multitude of failures. This is exactly the way that you can improve everything in your life.
Every single perceived “failure” in your life comes with the opportunity to strengthen something you need: patience, resilience, forgiveness … YOU.
You have this opportunity now. If you keep berating yourself for “failure” you are missing out on your chance for success. Grumbling about the past is only helpful in that you are willing to seek out the tools you used to overcome it.
“Failure” means having the courage to finish one chapter and write the next.
Failure is the opportunity. Courage is the tool.
“Failure” means having the wisdom to let go of what no longer serves your greatest good.
Failure is the opportunity. Discernment is the tool.
“Failure” means being gracious enough to let someone go, even if you don’t understand why.
Failure is the opportunity. Forgiveness (letting go) is the tool.
What chance does your “failure” offer you?
5. Look to future opportunities.
Whether or not you are feeling better about your past is just a matter of practicing the first four things you can do if you feel like a failure after a divorce.
With practice, you will soon understand (and accept) that no matter what you believe about the end of your marriage (that either she, or you, or both were a failure), this chapter is closed. You have a wide open future ahead of you.
Once you’ve consented to be married to someone, you’ve also consented to opt out of an infinite number of other opportunities in your life. This is the essence of “opportunity cost,” the idea that saying “yes” to one option also means saying “no” to all other options. When you understand this, you will quickly realize that without your spouse, you have once again opened the door to a multitude of non-married options in your life.
There will be times when you will be overwhelmed by the loss. After all, not only did you lose your relationship, but all the hopes and dreams that came with it. The pain is normal. It’s not the only possible experience either.
There will also be times when you will see new opportunities, feel curious, and (dare I say) hopeful! Allow yourself to feel all of these good things too. A whole new world is now available to you. Like a kid in a candy store, you get the chance to look around, imagine something, get a sense of it, and ultimately decide whatever you want.
6. Allow more than one “right” way of what the future should look like.
I got it … on your European vacation, you introduced yourself and a partner. What if instead it’s just you and you practice photography on your journey?
Wouldn’t it be great to learn all about South American wine and find others who do the same? How about if you and a close friend went off on your own with no plan? Couldn’t it happen that you are rescuing a stray dog in the streets of Paris?
What adventures await you when you go out into the world, untied from the relationship or from the despair over its loss?
Create new rituals for yourself. Sunday picnic in the park, knitting in the local café, skipping work once a month and going hiking. Your future doesn’t have to be a huge departure from the past to bring either conclusion or hope. Small steps pay off.
7. Imagine your feelings of hope, wholeness, and happiness.
Do you want to know why the idea of an argument with your boss triggers the same adrenaline reaction as an actual argument with your boss? Because the brain doesn’t know the difference between what you see with your eyes and what you see with your imagination. The nice thing about it is that it also works in a positive way.
You don’t have to imagine that you are at peace with your divorce, just imagine that you are at peace. Imagine laughing. Imagine adventurous things. Allow your imagination to spark the emotions you need to guide you to your next best step forward.
Be kind to yourself
Not everyone will understand why you just aren’t over it. This is their story of an arbitrary timeline for grief and, more likely, an expression of their own lack of security for not knowing how to help friends who are dealing with grief.
So it’s up to you to be kind to yourself.
All of these little things to do when you feel like a failure after a divorce are just advanced versions of being nice to yourself.
Yes, small gestures and kindness go a long way. Treat yourself to a decadent coffee in a cosy little cafe. Take a bubble bath. Spend time with the injured parts of you in meditation or in a journal.
But if all of this is not enough, or worse, it makes you feel worse, it is time for the more intense practice described here.
Give yourself space to feel, think, heal, and grow as you begin to move into your new future. With a lot of practice and a little confidence in yourself, you will move forward successfully.