When I said “goodbye” to my Indian grandparents after a recent visit, I thought the encounter would end with a friendly hug, a small goodbye gift and good wishes.
And it did – until the last minute, when my grandmother become teary-eyed and emotional, wishing that I would get married soon and come back to visit her with a child.
In less than 60 seconds, our goodbye went from a friendly parting to an emotional and dramatic experience. They cried. I cried. They wished me a family and a baby and I left feeling like I had just walked off a taping of Days of our Lives or Vani Rani!
What had just happened, I thought to myself as I headed to the airport for my flight back to the States.
What had happened? What had turned two perfectly normal grandparents into emotional messes? Why were they experiencing so much pain and loss for me when I wasn’t quite sure I was feeling that myself?
Yes, it’s been a few years since the breakup and the divorce. Yes, it was hard on me, and yes, it must have been hard on them.
But life has moved on. I’m in a new place and I’m happy where I am today.
I don’t feel any big void in my life or feel incomplete being single. In fact, the last year or so has been the happiest of my life, with travel, family, writing and coaching.
Life has been great, but in the eyes of my grandparents, I felt pain, loss, sorrow and sadness.
I felt worthless and inadequate.
I felt ashamed for having failed.
It’s not unlike the shame I’ve felt being around other family and friends.
The stigma of divorce
In the Indian community, there is a strong stigma surrounding divorce.
When people hear that you’re divorced, they speculate about what went wrong, whose fault it was and who destroyed the relationship. They want to know about the couple’s relationship struggles, their families’ involvement in the failed marriage – yes, they want it all, the gossip, the rumors, the innuendos and all the dirt in between.
While they want to equip themselves with as much information and gossip about your situation as they can, they really don’t want you in their presence. When you’re divorced, it can feel like you’ve received a brand in the shape of a scarlet “D.”
People in your community often ignore you and scatter in your presence. You get the feeling that they think you’ll spread the disease of divorce to them – like divorce is a contagious and destructive bug, and you’re the carrier!
You’re the buzzkill at a happy occasion.
You’re the third wheel at any event – out of place, standing out like an unrecognizable alien, broken and displaying what happens when a life goes wrong.
You’re a misguided soul with a temper and a drinking problem who cheated on your wife.
Or a misguided soul with a man-hating independent streak who refused to “adjust” and be a “good” wife or “obedient” daughter.
The shame of divorce
On top of the stigma, you carry around with you the shame of divorce. As does your family.
In my case, I’ve felt shame around most people who have known me throughout my life. More so if they knew my ex-wife and me. And more so if they attended our wedding.
I feel like I let them down.
Like I failed and didn’t live up to their expectations.
Like I’m doing something so different from what people expected of or wanted for me.
In fact, I think it was likely the shame of my divorce that kept me isolated from most of my immediate and extended family for a couple of years.
I felt so ashamed, I didn’t return phone calls, answer emails or see anyone I knew because I felt bad about what had happened. I felt guilty, like somehow I was knowingly hurting them or would be inappropriately sharing my heartbreak with them.
I felt awkward for bringing something so devastating and a topic so toxic with me wherever I went. My divorce was not the elephant in the room. I felt like I had become the elephant!
You may feel the same shame about your divorce.
You may feel inherently flawed, messed up and broken.
You feel naked in the eyes of the judgmental, harsh world around you.
You let glares bully you, silent whispers softly attack you. You feel like the never-ending rumors that swirl around you are quietly killing you.
You feel ashamed for being alive.
A message for healing
If you’ve gone through a divorce, you can likely relate to the stigma and shame I’m speaking about here – one that your family, community or culture makes worse.
You know what it’s like to attend a holiday party or family gathering nervous that the conversation will turn to you. You’re holding your breath, hoping that no one talks to you. And by mistake if someone does, he or she avoids the topics of partners, spouses, relationships and family!
You’re terrified of every conversation that can serve as an opening to the topic you most fear and are most ashamed of – your failed relationship.
Today I’m writing to you who are silently suffering through the shame and stigma of divorce.
I want to remind you that you don’t have to hide, you don’t have to feel terrible about yourself and you don’t have to feel like disappearing from the world.
Yes, your marriage might have ended, but that’s no reason to feel like a failure in life or to let your inner circle perpetuate the pain of your shame.
Here are 4 ways to cope with the shame of divorce.
You are now powerful beyond measure because you’re realizing your worth, loving yourself, claiming your power and living your truth.
The compassion and love you’re cultivating for yourself will be the light you use to find your way home.
Once you do, please leave the light on for others who are traveling the same path that you are.
To pick up my ebook on self-love, called the Self-Romance manifesto, click below. Learn to treat yourself with compassion and love.