Do you relate to any of these feelings after divorce?
“It’s not fair that my family has been torn apart!”
“This sucks! I hate having to start over at this stage of my life.”
“My ex seems to be doing just fine. Why am I having such a hard time of this?”
“Nobody else gets this. They haven’t had to deal with the stuff I’ve been dealt.”
I felt all of those and more during those first dark months. There were many days that seemed hopeless and the lonely nights stretched into eternity.
To the public, I put on a hopeful face. While behind closed doors, I threw myself quite the pity party after my ex husband cheated and then left the marriage.
The theme of the shindig was simple – innocent woman victimized by malicious husband. I resisted mailing out invitations, yet I encouraged others to attend by sharing the sordid details of what he did to me. The playlist featured various versions of, “It’s not fair,” stuck on repeat. The space was decorated with reminders of my former life, strewn about like fetid petals clinging to the floor.
This pity party went on for far too long, until its motif grew dull and everyone, including me, tired of its lack of momentum. And more than anything else, I became tired of feeling sorry for myself. And so I decided to crash my own pity party.
I found the following techniques helpful to stop feeling sorry for myself after divorce:
1 – Fire the victim and hire the hero.
In the beginning, I focused on what was done to me. I was the object of the actions, the victim. Eventually, I grew weary of that role. After all, it really is quite limiting. I made the decision to fire the victim and hire the hero, taking charge of my own life from that point forward. This reframing of your role has to come before you can begin to make changes in your situation.
2 – Depersonalize the situation.
Part of my “poor me” came from my early belief that my once-loving husband had somehow morphed into some malevolent creature worthy of a Marvel feature. I saw him as the weapon and me as the target. With some time and consideration, I began to realize that his actions had little to do with me. I just happened to be in the way. It still stinks to realize that you’re collateral damage, but it’s easier than accepting that you’re the hapless prey.
3 – Put it in perspective.
Even to this day, when I reflect upon my divorce, I have a tendency to be overdramatic and claim that I lost everything. Yet even though it felt like all was gone, that wasn’t quite true. I still had family, friends, career and hope that I could rebuild again. Resist the temptation to sensationalize what happened. The dry facts are often much easier to swallow.
4 – Use anger as fuel to motivate action.
“It’s not fair!” became my go-to phrase. And it was accurate. It wasn’t fair. But it was the reality. So I bundled up all of that rage about the unjustness of it all and I used it as energy to write my story and to make changes in my new life. Instead of wasting the energy of the anger on your ex or your divorce, try funneling it into the creation of something better. Even if you have a, “I’ll show them!” attitude while doing it.
5 – Edit your personal narrative.
I used to say, “I was abandoned” when speaking about my divorce. And with every repetition of that phrase, I felt even more discarded. Once I realized that I was self-inflicting further trauma with my words, I shifted to, “My ex left,” which left me feeling much better. The words we say to others have influence. The words we say to ourselves have power. Be intentional with the words and phrases you repeat to yourself.
6 – Avoid pity party attendees.
Living in the South, I probably heard, “Well, bless your little heart” dozens of times a day during my divorce. At first, I accepted those words and the pitying embraces that accompanied them. I felt comforted. Validated. But then as I started to find my voice and embrace my inner hero, those words began to chafe. At some point, those that continue to pity you will begin to hold you back. Avoid them and instead seek out those who inspire you.
7 – Remind yourself that it could be worse.
My ex left me holding the debt he incurred while building his other life (and while courting his other wife). As I made those painful payments every month, I reminded myself that at least I could pay off that balance, even if it meant living lean for a few years. Whether considering your own situation or comparing it with others, remember that it could always be worse than it is. And be thankful that it’s not.
8 – Keep a daily gratitude journal.
My journal was my savior that first year. It didn’t judge my anger, censor my pain or question my fears. But perhaps its most important role was to help train me in the art of gratitude as I made an effort to consider something I was thankful for each day. It’s hard to feel sorry for yourself when you’re busy being grateful. Whether on paper or on an app, try jotting down one to two things you’re thankful for every day.
9 – Ban the words, “I wish” and “Why me?”
I spent some time wanting things to be different, falling down a rabbit hole of “how?,” “why?” and “I wish.” Every time I indulged those words, I felt worse. Hopeless, even. Those were thoughts anchored in hopes. Instead, I replaced them with views leading to action – “I can,” “I will” and “I have.” By making this switch, you shifting your focus from what happened in the past to what you can control in the future.
10 – Call in reinforcements.
Of all of the people in my life during the divorce, surprisingly the policeman who arrested my husband became one of the most important. As an officer, he had seen it all and so he was largely immune to the shock of my situation (although he still says it’s the story he tells the most!). His matter-of-factness and lack of effusive sympathy was exactly what I needed. Seek out people who help lift you out of feeling sorry for yourself through a combination of encouragement and butt-kicking. It may not always feel great in the moment, but it will pay dividends later.
11 – Build your confidence.
Part of my self-pity was anchored in a feeling of weakness and apprehension. I felt small and broken, impotent against insurmountable odds. So I started to challenge myself, to build my strength, baby step by baby step. I faced my fears – the small ones at first – and tested my beliefs about my limitations. Self-pity thrives on unease and frailty. As you begin to build your confidence, you starve out pity.
12 – Learn from fictional heroes.
I became obsessed with the True Blood books during my divorce. Not only was the series light and easy to follow, I envied Sookie Stackhouse’s can-do attitude no matter what disasters befell her. I even found myself thinking WWSD (What Would Sookie Do?) throughout the difficult days. Find a particular character that embodies who you want to be and channel their energy on the days when you don’t feel strong enough on your own.
13 – Consider the role model you want to be.
I remember looking out at my class of eighth graders one day as the court date for my divorce rapidly approached. I was scared. Frightened of what would happen. Anxious about what would come next. And then I looked at those kids, who were looking to me as a role model. And I decided that I wanted to show them courage and perseverance, not fear and self-pity. Who are you a role model for in your life? What do you want to teach them by your reactions?
14 – Replace pity with compassion.
Part of my pity party was a cry for compassion, both from myself and others. I wanted the pain to be heard. To be recognized. With pity, the pain is nurtured whereas with compassion, the pain is acknowledged and then the person is nurtured. Compassion accepts the suffering and also advocates the overcoming of it.
15 – Fake it until you make it.
At work, I spoke confidently about my plans for my future. With my friends, I expressed unbridled interest in dating. Yet at home, once the sun went down and I was in the safety of my bed, I still wondered why I had to endure this. And the strangest thing began to happen. The more I practiced the brave, “I got this” face, the more I began to believe it. And as my faith in myself fueled my progress, I began to experience surprise when people expressed pity for what happened.
Because at some point, the worst thing that had ever happened had become a turning point that led to the best days of my life.
The best way to stop feeling sorry for yourself is to create a life that you love.