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Avoid guilt over divorce with psychotherapist advice

When the Hardest Person to Forgive Is Yourself


Written By Psychotherapist Meg Josephson, L.C.S.W. 

“My worst mistakes I’ve made have been the ones directed by sweet-natured hopefulness.” - Charles Baxter, Feast of Love⁣⁣

⁣⁣In the midst of a major transition like a breakup or divorce, there will undoubtedly be times when we do or say things that give us pause (or make us cringe). Perhaps it's a below-the-belt comment aimed at our soon-to-be ex, or losing it in front of the kids. Divorce is fraught with emotion and often, the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. Maybe it feels less important, but failing to relieve yourself of long-standing guilt has actual proven health consequences like depression, cardiovascular problems and immune dysfunction. ⁣⁣

Next time you’re faced with a sense of guilt you just can’t shake, consider the following:

  1. Consider what guilt can do for you
  • Use guilt as an opportunity to define your values and beliefs.  People often feel badly when their actions don’t align with the person they want to be. This is an opportunity to commit yourself to making value-directed decisions in the future. Perhaps that means treating someone you love with more respect or doing more research before pulling the trigger on a big decision.  Replace the negative feelings and beliefs that surround the “mistake” with ones that make you feel hopeful and proud about moving forward. This will help you affirm that you are capable of making decisions (and mistakes) that don’t result in feeling ashamed or guilty. ⁣⁣
  1. Accept the fact that the past is the past 
  • Nothing can be done to change it and the future is the best (and most worthwhile) place to put your energy.  It may sound obvious but acceptance is a very difficult albeit powerful state of mind to achieve. ⁣⁣
  1. Put it in perspective and look at the big picture
  • So you messed up.  You are in good company because everyone makes mistakes (including your ex, your friends, your family, your boss). People are inclined to try, mess up, forgive and evolve. ⁣However, it can be especially hard to forgive yourself when your children are on the receiving end of your lapse of judgement or lack of composure. The good news? Kids are resilient and a few slips-ups in high stress scenarios are normal. Bottom line: assuming you're in the range of typical going-through-a-divorce "bad behavior" and you keep your infractions to a minimum, your kids are likely to move past your mistake way faster than you are. 
  1. Guilt is a useless emotion
  • It doesn’t get you anywhere. Repeat that like a mantra and if you have to, fake it 'till you make it. ⁣⁣
  1. Give Yourself the Benefit of The Doubt. 
  • Most people (including you!) mean well and don’t intend harm.  Know that you were acting with the information you had at the time and that good decision-making and behavior patterns take practice to get right.  Mistakes are part of the process--especially the divorce process!
Meg Josephson, a licensed clinical social worker in private practice in NYC.  She is a frequent relationship advice contributor to it's over easy.  Follow her on Instagram @citytherapist or connect with her on her website at
As a therapist, she is committed to providing therapy that is both compassionate and practical.  Some of her clients seek therapy to address a concrete issue such as the dissolution of a marriage or relationship; others come out of a more abstract sense that something in their lives could be different or more fulfilling.  By exploring and defining their personal values, Meg works with her clients to take the necessary steps in developing richer, more rewarding relationships and lives. 
Go to this page about online divorce to learn more.