Haven't you felt guilty long enough?
When a couple gets a divorce, a death of sorts happens between them.
And facing this death is similar to how we typically handle all deaths — with an onslaught of emotions (sadness, anger, fear, guilt, shame, uncertainty) and usually a sense of feeling lost, like a boat without a shore. Prospects for your life ahead seem uncertain and very, very confusing.
As Elizabeth Kubler Ross so deftly explained in her book "On Death And Dying," there are five distinct stages people go through when something meaningful ends. These stages are not limited just to the experience of physical death; but also apply to divorce, breakups and other significant losses, as well.
Ross tells us that the emotions we feel during this time are like a series of concentric circles; we feel them all at once, then to a lesser and lesser degree until we are left with the final feeling (and stage) ... acceptance.
So how do you get there and how long does this process take?
It's hard to tell. Grief is different for us all. You may need a few months, your friend may need a few years. The sign to watch for is noticing that, as you move through your various emotions, their intensity is lessening over time.
Can you still move on even if you feel a noticeable amount of anger, sadness and fear? ... Absolutely. Yes!!
It's when you remain stuck in one feeling, unable to move past it, that you're not processing your loss. That "stuckness" lets you know there's more work to do (and is a strong indicator that therapy, coaching or some other personal support service is likely in order).
Complicated grief is also something to pay attention to. Sometimes, divorce can jumpstart emotional reactions that have laid dormant in the brain during happier times. Research tells us children who experienced extreme feelings of guilt early on in life may be more likely to suffer from more intense mental health challenges, like depression, later in life.
So, if you're someone who can't STOP feeling guilty about the end of your marriage, something more powerful may be going on inside of you.
Yes, it's normal to feel some guilt, especially if you harmed your spouse (I.e. you cheated, lied, belittled, betrayed or otherwise harmed them), feeling bad about that is normal. It's the internal signal for you to NOT do that sort of thing again.
But, marriages ultimately end because of the actions and choices of two people. You're not all demon, and he's not all saint; there are shades of gray in every relationship. Even if you're the one who ended the marriage and devastated your partner in the process, there comes a reasonable time to let go of those self-inflicting feelings of guilt and move on.
How to finally forgive yourself.
It's not an easy task, we know. So, before you hung yourself up on the proverbial cross for good, we took this question to a panel of Experts to ask how to let go of divorce guilt. Our panel included Thought Leader Charles J. Orlando, who led the discussion with Experts: Dr. Foojan Zeine, Anabelle Bugatti, Karen Covy and Patty Blue Hayes to discover their best advice about how move through guilt as part of a healthy breakup.
What you'll hear, in the video above, will both surprise you and soothe your heart!
You're not alone in your divorce, even if it feels that way sometimes. If guilt is coloring your thoughts too much (you know who you are), it's time to move past those feelings and start living your new life with a positive outlook.
It's time to make amends with yourself. Right the wrongs from your past, say your apologies and move on with your life.
Love yourself enough to do that and if you can't — reach out for help. The Experts on the panel are available to answer questions or for consultations if you're ready to let go of the guilty feelings cluttering your thoughts.
Make today the day that you STOP allowing irrational feelings color your life and get over your past. That is the only path forward if you ever want to find love again.