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7 Ways to Get Your Self-Esteem Back After Divorce

Keep your self-worth afloat and come out stronger on the other side.

Key points

  • Divorce does not have to be considered a failure. It is a transition to the next phase of one's life.
  • Acting according to one's values rather than temporary emotions helps improve self-esteem post-divorce.
  • Addressing any “baggage” brought to, or from, a marriage helps create a sense of control over one's destiny.
Antonioguillem / AdobeStock
Source: Antonioguillem / AdobeStock

Divorce is painful. There's no way around that. But for many people, divorce also has a negative impact on self-esteem.

It doesn't have to be that way.

Here are a few tips to keep your self-esteem from slipping as you navigate a potentially rocky path.

1. Stop thinking of divorce as a failure. Your marriage ran its course and ended, and you have lots and lots of company; a very large minority of all marriages in the U.S. don’t last a lifetime.

Remember it takes courage to let go of the familiar, even when the familiar isn’t working or causes you pain. Think of divorce as a transition to the next phase of your life—one to which you’ll bring the benefit of your experience.

2. Grieve what you’ve lost. If you refuse to acknowledge the good parts (and surely there were good parts), those feelings of grief will follow you until you do.

Let yourself miss whatever was positive about the relationship, so those feelings can move through you, dissipate, and make room for something new. Practice constructive wallowing.

3. Don’t let emotions drive your behavior. Being angry at an ex-spouse is one thing; going after them in court is another. Missing someone has no impact on the situation; texting them does. Feeling unlovable is painful; dating too soon can delay (and multiply) the pain.

Don’t act on feelings that may be temporary. Instead, act according to your values, the interests of any children involved, and your own long-term goals.

It’s okay to go back and forth in the privacy of your own mind, but it creates havoc when you do so with your actions in the real world. Keep a rein on your behavior and you’ll be favorably impressed with yourself.

4. Don’t assume your children are irreparably damaged. Research indicates that living with frequent parental conflict is damaging to children. If you were in a high-conflict marriage, your divorce could bring more good than harm to your children.

But take note: How you divorce can have a greater impact on them than whether you divorce.

5. Never, ever speak ill of your child’s other parent in front of them. No matter what the other parent has done, bad-mouthing them will only ruin your relationship with your child. Not to mention damaging his or her sense of well-being.

If your ex-spouse is neither a parent nor a parental figure, still be careful with your words in front of children. You’re the one who chose to be with this person; what do you suppose your kids will learn if he or she turned out to be a kook?

Protect your self-esteem and your children’s emotional health by being “the bigger person” who never speaks ill of an ex in front of your kids.

6. Get physical. If you've never been in shape in your life, after a divorce is a good time to start, assuming you get the go-ahead from your doctor.

If you're used to working out or playing sports, it's important to keep that up.

Exercise triggers good feelings. So does setting and achieving goals. With all you're going through, you deserve to feel good. A fitness regimen or a new goal such as a half-marathon will boost your mood and increase your self-esteem.

7. Get support, especially if you feel unlovable in the wake of your divorce. Join a divorce support group or find a compassionate therapist, and talk about what happened in your marriage.

Underneath a cloud of guilt, shame, or feelings of unworthiness, you might find areas of potential growth in yourself that you can actually do something about.

When you actively address any “baggage” you brought to, or from, the marriage, you’ll gain a sense of control over your destiny.

The courage it takes to look at your core issues, and your commitment to following some of the other tips above, will convince you that you’re a courageous, constantly growing human being—someone who deserves your affection, respect, and esteem.

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