Divorce can feel like a public failure. Shame and a sense of being “less than” can develop. But do we have to succumb to that feeling? How can we move through that sense of failure, shedding the shame like old bark from a tree?
“Revel in your newly enhanced humility. That’s what I do.”
– A Michigan family lawyer.
I loved this quote from a colleague who posted it on our Michigan family law listserve. It at once extended grace to her client after he had done something for which he felt shame and acknowledged this lawyer’s shared humanity. After all, who hasn’t felt that burning sense of shame spread across their face? The quote also found the gift in the trauma: “newly enhanced humility!”
Failure, Even Public Failure from Divorce, Does Not Have to Define You
From a young age, we learn that success is valued. It is to be pursued and celebrated. Failure and its constant buddy, shame, on the other hand, should be avoided at all costs. Rarely are we taught how to move through failure. And yet… it’s something we’ve all experienced and will experience again. Few events feel more like a public failure than a divorce.
But whether it’s a divorce, a failed business venture, or an academic goal not realized, we want to learn to fail with skill and grace. How? By separating the failure from who we are.
Experiencing Failure Does Not Mean You are a Failure
When we have a success, we identify with that success. It means we’re victorious, talented or important. But when we have a failure, we label ourselves as “less than.” We lose our confidence. We feel ashamed. We’re the same persons we were before, but in an instant a defeat has altered our sense of self. We allow our failures to define us. It’s no longer that we simply had a failure. We allow our experience of failure mean that we are a failure. Our experience of failure is not the problem; the problem is our view of it and our response to it.
While it’s natural to feel disappointment, we don’t have to let failure be the measure of our self-worth. We can re-frame our experience, recognizing that failure is proof that we courageously tried. It might even be possible to declare failure as a victory because we took a risk or learned something new. Just because you have a failure does not mean you are a failure. While we can revel in our newly enhanced humility, failure doesn’t define who we are. We don’t have to succumb to shame because of it.
In times of defeat, I encourage you to be gentle and forgiving, to view each failure as a passing event without imbuing it with more meaning than it deserves. When we respond to disappointments with humility, non‑judgment and compassion, we can pick ourselves up and move forward, we can celebrate our effort not just the outcome. We can fail proudly, gently, beautifully.
And with time, we can shed that sense of shame the way a tree sheds old bark, revealing a smooth, rich surface, ready to take on a new season.
Wishing you wisdom,
P.S. For more information about overcoming failure, I highly recommend Dr. Brené Brown’s work on transcending failure and Rising Strong.