A beautiful, flowing white dress. A large wedding party clad in single-color outfits. And lots of bright smiles.
Pictures from your high school best friend’s wedding catch your eye as you scroll through Instagram’s feed. Their nuptials seem harmonious…blissful even.
Then, a picture of THE kiss, right before they proclaim the couple husband and wife, draws out your lingering heartbreak, bringing back thoughts of your current marriage, or rather—divorce.
And even though you didn’t ask for it, unwavering thoughts of self-blame begin their nagging flow—“I didn’t even ask for this divorce so why do I think it’s all my fault?”
While you may feel alone in your divorce, statistics tell us that divorce is common. In 2021, the Census Bureau listed 1,985,072 marriages and 689,308 divorces or annulments in the United States. (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/marriage-divorce.htm)
So, why do people succumb to unwarranted thoughts of self-blame?
CAUSES OF SELF-BLAME
As a healthy adult, it’s important to own your behavior. To accept responsibility for wrongdoing. But many people cross the line, and take responsibility for their ex-partner’s choices or bad behavior. Not only does that cause depression and regret, it keeps you stuck, unable to heal and move past a divorce you didn’t even want! (And it doesn’t allow you see the light up ahead . . . the life that might actually be better than the life you’re leaving behind.)
Let’s look at some common causes of self-blame.
Were you in a relationship with a partner who didn’t accept fault or wrongdoing? Who knowingly put blame on you? When this repeatedly occurs, we begin to believe we truly are at fault. When a partner shifts blame, and causes you to question your own experience or beliefs it’s called, gaslighting. A few examples of gaslighting are:
“You’re the problem, not me.”
“Look what you made me do.”
“Quit making it a big deal.”
Did you grow up in a family with a parent who didn’t take responsibility for their behavior? This type of behavior occurs in families with addiction, narcissism, and anti-social behavior. Because of normal development, egocentric children are quick to blame themselves when no one else steps up to accept responsibility. This habit leads to an eventual pattern of self-blame or over-apologizing.
When you don’t understand why the divorce is happening, your mind conveniently invents an explanation. This often causes people to conclude it must have been them—I must have done something to cause the divorce even if there isn’t a clear “culprit.”
If you find yourself nodding at one or more of these causes, what can you do to move past self-blame?
- Talk to yourself as you would a friend. Be kind to yourself. Divorce is HARD— heartbreaking, even. Don’t say anything to yourself that you’d never say to a friend. In fact, validate yourself—“It makes sense that I’m having a hard time. This divorce has completely spun my world.”
- Pay attention to your self-blaming thoughts. Do they match the facts? Or do they match your feelings? Facts are truths whereas feelings lead us astray.
- Substitute your hurtful, critical thoughts to ones that are more helpful to you. Instead of “I was such an idiot to trust (the other person),” try “I’m devastated by this divorce and how my life has been turned upside down.”
- Notice your thoughts and the impact they have on your feelings. We know that thoughts lead to feelings. Critical, negative thoughts cause depression, hopelessness, and shame. Validating thoughts create hope and resilience.
- Get help if you need it. (I’m a therapist and always think therapy is needed!) At the minimum, therapy can be a support to you through a difficult time. In the bigger picture, therapy can help heal this immense pain and prepare you for your next relationship . . . and there will be a next one!
Carol Lozier LCSW is licensed in California and Kentucky. Ms. Lozier specializes in treating PTSD, divorce recovery, anxiety, depression, adjustment issues, emotion and behavior dysregulation, and family difficulties.
Carol Lozier is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with over 34 years experience working with children, teens, and adults in individual, family, and group therapy. Ms. Lozier graduated with a Masters degree in Social Work from Florida State University in 1989.
In addition to her clinical work, Ms. Lozier is the author of five books including her most recent book, DBT Therapeutic Activity Ideas for Kids and Caregivers.
Carol Lozier LCSW is currently taking new clients via Telehealth. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org
If you’re going through a divorce and need help re-establishing your sense of self or if you need assistance in preparing for mediation at Family Court Services, please contact us through our website, www.DivorceCounselingCenter.com, at info@DivorceCounselingCenter.com, or 619-865-3203 to set up an appointment.