How to Cope With the Shame and Stigma of Divorce

We often talk about what goes into a marriage, but seldom we openly discuss what happens when it ends. The journey of love has a unique language. We all strive to find people capable of understanding that unique language, our intricacies and in turn understanding their complexities. No one ever plans or expects to get a divorce when they get married but sometimes it’s the only and the best way for everyone involved. Today, I want to talk about the stigma of divorce. 

Divorce does not mean defective

In the South Asian community, perhaps more than other cultures, the stigma of divorce is very strong. When people hear about you being divorced, they try to speculate about what went wrong, whose fault it was, and what failed the marriage. They want to know about the struggles of the relationship, how much are the families involved – the chugliyan (gossip), the rumors, and all the dirt is investigated by the relatives.

And while they want to know all this information about you, they don’t really want you in their presence. People label you as bad luck or a bad omen and scatter when you come to functions – as if you are contagious and divorce is a deadly disease that they might catch. I once went to a friend’s wedding and her older divorced sister was asked to stay away from the altar because she was recently divorced.

Whatever the little voice in your head, your culture, or society may try to tell you, divorce is not a failure and it does not mean you are inadequate.

Divorce is not a failure

On top of the stigma of divorce, people who go through it feel an enormous amount of shame and guilt. The same friend of mine who was asked to stay away from a wedding expressed how naked she felt with all the glares and judgment from everyone around her. The silent whispers and the never-ending rumors were slowly attacking her and quietly killing her well-being. 

[Read More: Divorce: How to Survive While Maintaining Your Physical and Mental Health]

A message for self-love + healing

If you have gone through a divorce, then you know the shame and guilt I am talking about here. You hold your breath at family gatherings and hope the conversation doesn’t turn to you. You feel this pressure of getting remarried just to be able to lift this label of failure off your head.

And if you are one of the many who are silently struggling through the shame and stigma of divorce, LET THIS BE HEARD LOUD AND CLEAR!

You are not a failure, you don’t have to feel terrible about yourself. I want to remind you that you don’t have to hide or have to feel like disappearing from the world. There is nothing wrong with you. It takes a strong not a weak person to stand up for their happiness. Yes, your marriage may have ended, but your life has not. Your divorce does not define you. 

How to cope with shame

Do the internal work to help you get clear on who you are and what your authentic personality and qualities are aside from the perceived societal layers. Reducing the inner critic and the judgment will cultivate self-love from within. When you get to this comfortable inner truth about who you are, you will not feel the need to put on an act and there will be no reason to be another person. When you know yourself and are at peace with it, there will be no reason to hide or run away. I promise you can get to this point through self-care, compassion and authentic truthful living and a journey from within.

When you start listening to yourself, your intuition will guide you to a healthier balanced state. The key to healing is to learn to love yourself the most. Commit a part of each day to be kind to yourself and take care of yourself. Gift yourself with activities that make you feel good and help you feel relaxed and at peace. It’s your prerogative to remind yourself of your strength and beauty, to embrace and TO BELIEVE IT wholeheartedly.

Find a new perspective on shame. Remember you are not flawed or broken and shame does not define you or your life. Then ask yourself these questions:

  • Now that you know shame is not your weakness, how will you use it for good?
  • How will you show up for someone else who is struggling with a divorce and shame attached to it?
  • What did your divorce teach you about yourself and who you are?
  • What about your divorce has made you stronger than before?
  • How has surviving a divorce made you who you are today in a positive way?

Lastly, the biggest takeaway message of them all. Remember the way people treat you is a direct reflection of how they feel about themselves. So you have to take a step back and try to understand that YOUR SHAME HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH OTHERS. Shame comes from within – from not believing that you are good enough. You have the ability to heal from shame by accepting yourself. Others may have caused you to feel shame but your way out of shame is through yourself. You don’t allow anyone else to define your worth. Let every person who raises the feeling of shame within you be your teacher – a reminder to love yourself more, accept yourself more and show more self-compassion.

I want you to remember…

YOU are enough

YOU are brave

YOU are worthy of love again

YOU are more than your divorce

YOU are a success story

YOU are whole

As you embark on this self-compassion and healing path away from the shame and stigma of divorce, you will start harnessing your strength. You will start tapping into your self-worth again because you are living your truth, loving yourself and claiming your power. The wholeness that you are regaining will serve as a light to guide you back home – to yourself. When you get there, just remember to leave the light on and your heart open for others who are traveling on the similar path. 

By Punita Mangat

Punita Mangat is a certified Holistic Health + Wellness Coach accredited by NASM and Yoga Alliance. She is the owner … Read more ›

Oak Creek: A Story of Hate, Hope and Healing

Every year on August 5th, the Sikh American community remembers one of our community’s most devastating tragedies in recent memory — the Oak Creek massacre. On this day in 2012, a white supremacist gunman entered the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin, a gurdwara (Sikh house of worship) in Oak Creek, Wisconsin where he shot and killed six worshippers and severely injured others. This violent attack was the deadliest mass shooting targeting Sikh Americans in U.S. history, and at the time, was one of the worst attacks on a U.S. house of worship in decades. Six worshippers — Paramjit Kaur Saini, Sita Singh, Ranjit Singh, Prakash Singh, Suveg Singh Khattra, and Satwant Singh Kaleka — were killed on that horrific day. An additional community member, Baba Punjab Singh, was severely paralyzed and ultimately passed away from complications related to his injuries in 2020. Others, including Bhai Santokh Singh and responding police officer and hero, Lt. Brian Murphy, were seriously wounded during the shooting. 

[Read Related: Oak Creek Gurdwara Massacre’s 4th Anniversary: Young Sikhs Express Optimism for the Continued Struggle Against Hate and Ignorance]

In 2022, the community came together to demonstrate that we are undaunted. My organization, the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) joined in supporting the anniversary observance at Oak Creek: a remembrance event centered around the theme of “Heal, Unite, Act.” The Oak Creek Sikh community hosted a series of in-person events, including the 10th Annual Oak Creek Sikh Memorial Anniversary Candlelight Remembrance Vigil on Friday, August 5, 2022. The program included a representative from the White House, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, Oak Creek Mayor Dan Bukiewicz, and representatives of the families who lost loved ones. Being there in Oak Creek 10 years after the tragedy was deeply meaningful — both to see the inspiring resilience of this community and to remember how much remains to be done.

In D.C., SALDEF continues to fight for policies that improve the lives of Sikh Americans. I had the honor of chairing the most recent iteration of the Faith-Based Security Advisory Council at the Department of Homeland Security, providing recommendations at the request of Secretary Alejandro N. Mayorkas. Consequently, the three subcommittees published a report that emphasized the importance of greater accessibility, greater equity, and greater transparency in counterterrorism efforts that for too long revolved around surveilling populations like the one that was senselessly attacked at the Oak Creek gurdwara in 2012. Leading the FBSAC as a Sikh woman, and representing a community that was highly targeted alongside Muslims by both white supremacists and in post-9/11 counterterrorism profiling, was an opportunity to push the Council to advocate more fiercely for further information-sharing between communities and law enforcement, extending grant opportunities for security for Gurdwaras and other houses of worship, and building trust between the government and Sikh communities. In addition, I advocated for accountability for the damage needlessly caused to Muslim, Arab, South Asian, and Hindu (MASSAH) communities by federal agencies historically pursuing “counterterrorism” objectives which has resulted in eroded trust rather than the development of strong partnerships. 

Although we have made great strides in this country, there is still more to do. Through our work we have partnered with many across the nation to come together and find solutions through tenets central to Sikhism and America — unity, love, and equality. SALDEF continues to strongly endorse the policy framework articulated across the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act (H.R. 350 / S. 963); Justice for Victims of Hate Crimes Act; and the Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) Improvement Act (H.R. 6825). We believe strongly in mandating federal agencies to create dedicated offices to investigate domestic terrorism; allowing prosecutors to feasibly indict perpetrators of hate crimes; and allowing religious nonprofits to access federal funding to enhance their own security.

[Read Related: Anti-Sikh Hate is on the Rise: Here’s What we can Do]

While 11 years have passed, the effects of the Oak Creek shooting are never far from the minds of Sikh American advocates and the community we serve. SALDEF will not stop taking a stand against senseless violence and hate crimes. We continue to work in unity with our community and movement partners, and fight for better policies that will actively keep all of our communities safe. Through tragedy, we find hope. We know there can be a world where people from all backgrounds and cultures can practice their faith freely and, even though it has eluded the Sikh American community in the past, we still believe this world is possible.

Photo Courtesy of Amrita Kular

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By Kiran Kaur Gill

Kiran Kaur Gill is an accomplished professional with exemplary executive experience. In her role as Executive Director, she is responsible … Read more ›