The Scarlet Letter: Overcoming The Stigma Of The Big 'D'

09/11/2012 12:38 pm ET | Updated Nov 11, 2012

When you have to tell someone that you're divorced, it feels like admitting that you failed at something. You've experienced a great loss, and you may feel shame at having gone through the "Big D": divorce.

Some statistics suggest that half of all marriages end in divorce. Those statistics do not, however, show what it's like to live with divorce. You are not alone. None of us need judgment while we're going through the often painful steps of divorce, or when we talk about if afterwards. Nobody needs to hear about how hard it must be on your kids, or that all marriages are hard.

While society can be the driving force behind the negative stigma of divorce, often it is we who place that stigma on ourselves. How can we overcome it?

Here are three places to start:

1. Find support.
When you're going through a divorce, one of the most important steps is to set up a support system. Try to be open with your family and friends. If you separate yourself, it will be hard for people to know that you want their help. Most family and good friends are going to be much more supportive than they are judgmental. Also, with divorce rates as high as they are, it's likely some of your friends and family have gone through the exact same thing.

You should also consider joining a professional support group. The act of talking about what you're going through with people who are having similar experiences is extremely helpful.

What's more, it may be true that you can tell who your "real" friends are by who shows up for you and who stays away. In fact, if you find that some of the folks in your married crew stay away as if divorce is contagious, understand that it's a reflection of their fear and not about you.

Tell your friends how you're feeling and let them know how they can support you. Whether it's just a movie night or sharing a mani/pedi moment, assuring your friends that they aren't responsible for fixing you or taking away your pain can set your relationship in the right direction.

2. Take this opportunity to reinvent yourself.
Instead of mulling over the "pity" looks you think all the neighbors or moms at school are giving you, take this time to focus on yourself. In reality, it's probably you who are giving yourself those looks in the mirror. How you define yourself impacts what you do and how you do it, so now is the time to get really clear on removing the labels you've put on yourself that are getting in the way of your moving forward.

It is now time to make a plan to reclaim your life and rediscover (or discover) those things that make you happy. I like to call this plan the "Whole Life Reinvention Plan," and it ensures that you have action steps to take care of your emotional, physical, intellectual and spiritual needs.

Make sure you set yourself up for a solid future in which loving you is the focus. Whether you start with a new haircut, fitness regimen, healthy eating plan or learning how to pole dance, make it about you and being kind and loving to yourself.

The best way to get over someone is not to get under someone else. Make sure you don't try to cure your loneliness and fear by getting into a new relationship immediately. Before you date, get clear on your dating and relationship goals so that you're dating from a place of confidence, fun and ease. Dating to find a replacement relationship is a recipe for disaster.

3. Let go.
It's very easy to stew over the fact that you're the only divorced person you know and hold resentment toward your former spouse for the position you're currently in. You can also harbor bitterness toward all the happily married couples you know who are still in marital bliss, envious of their domestic happiness.

Or you can do the opposite of that and let go.

There's no way for you to pave a path for your new life if you cannot let go of these feelings of animosity. Divorce is truly a process, and being patient with the transition (as well as with yourself) will ensure that you don't fake your way through looking good on the outside. Forcing happiness or trying to think your way out of your thoughts will only cause you to beat yourself for not getting over it faster.

The truth is, you can't simply get rid of your thoughts or you would have already. Instead, focus on what it would like to truly be over it. Ask yourself what it would take to truly let it go. Write a journal about what it costs you to stay hooked into the past. Ultimately, remind yourself to stay in what's true now whenever you find yourself questioning the past or catastrophizing about the future. Stay present to let go of the past.

Nobody is in the position to judge the outcome of your life but you. Take control of your life, refocus your energy and take care of yourself. Don't hesitate to reach out for help. If you think you may need more assistance to find out what you want out of your life, consider a private coaching session with a dating coach to break out of the post-divorce rut and get back on track.