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How to Heal From Feeling Rejected After Divorce

12/06/2013 10:15 am ET | Updated Feb 05, 2014

When a marriage ends because our partner leaves or betrays us, it's natural to experience feelings of rejection. When we are left, it can be a devastating experience and it can leave us feeling angry, sad, and self-critical -- at times, ruminating about what went wrong. We may be in shock and feel shaken to the core of our being. Self-defeating thoughts can grab hold because we are vulnerable and trying to make sense of things. However, it's important to realize that this is a normal part of grieving and letting go after a marriage dissolves.

While it's natural to go through a period of self-reflection when you are rejected by your partner, it's important to keep things in perspective. Ask yourself if your fears of being alone are preventing you from looking at the breakup honestly. For instance, it's likely that there have been problems in the relationship for some time and that one or both of you have been unhappy.

Part of the grieving process at the end of a relationship is accepting that what you wanted to happen no longer will happen. Thoughts might range from: We will never have children together, to the mundane: We won't ever eat another meal together. For example, Kerry told me during a counseling session that the hardest part of being left by her husband Jake was watching TV alone after he moved out.

However, when we feel rejected, we might be listening to destructive "inner voices" which are rarely based in reality, according to author Dr. Lisa Firestone. She writes, "When we are listening to these destructive thoughts, we're more likely to feel humiliation than real sadness over our loss. Our inner critic fuels feelings of not being able to survive on our own, often saying that no one will ever love us. When these voices aren't viciously attacking us, they are often raging at our partner, which only supports a victimized orientation to a situation."

Feelings of rejection are closely tied to feelings of self-worth and self-love. Part of the healing process after divorce is recognizing and accepting that the way you feel about yourself affects the way you relate to people in the world. As you learn to accept what happens and begin to love yourself again, your feelings of rejection will diminish. When you're connected to feelings of self-worth, you'll have more energy to relate to others in meaningful ways.

Let's take a closer look at rejection and examine whether someone is a dumper or a dumpee in the divorce process. These two terms were coined by divorce expert Dr. Bruce Fisher in his groundbreaking book, Rebuilding When Your Relationship Ends. Fisher writes, "Dumpers are the partners who leave the relationship, and they often feel considerable guilt; dumpees are the partners who want to hang on to the relationship, and they often experience strong feelings of rejection."

It's important to remember that the roles of dumper and dumpee aren't always clearly defined and that sometimes they can be reversed. For instance, a partner might be told by their spouse that their marriage is over, and then they decide to file for divorce. Surprisingly, it's not always the dumper who files for divorce. Sometimes the dumpee simply gets tired of waiting and takes this bold step as a way to take charge of their life.

When you think about it, aren't guilt and rejection two sides of the same coin when it comes to emotions after divorce? It makes sense that a partner who decides to terminate the marriage would experience more guilt, while the person who is left would suffer from feelings of rejection. Notice the difference in their priorities. The dumper typically focuses on personal growth and will say things like ,"I have to find myself." On the other hand, dumpees usually express a desire to work on the relationship and will say things like, "Just tell me what you want me to change and I'll work on it."

Although it's not an exact science, we might expect that roughly the same amount of people would identify themselves as the person who was left (dumpee) as the one who decided to leave (dumper). However, in a small percentage of divorces, people say their divorce was mutual. In these cases, it's normal to feel both guilty and rejected at times.

Here are six ways to heal from feelings of rejection:

  1. Accept the fact that it's normal or typical to have emotional reactions to the ending of a relationship. They've probably been there all along (in your marriage) and are simply intensified during and after the divorce process.
  2. Acknowledge that all relationships end due to breakup or death. Just because your marriage is over, it doesn't mean you're inadequate or inferior -- or there's something wrong with you. Give yourself a break.
  3. Work on self-love. You are a worthwhile person who doesn't have to let the end of your love relationship define your self-worth. No person can complete you.
  4. Accept that feeling rejected is an expected part of the ending of a marriage and it takes time to heal. Discover that relationships are our teachers.
  5. Adopt a mindset of getting to know yourself better. Stay open to new experiences, hobbies, or interests that you couldn't pursue with your partner.
  6. Cultivate supportive relationships. Being with people who accept and support you can help ease feeling of rejection. Get energized by the possibilities ahead for you.

In closing, looking at how feelings of rejection that may be impacting your behavior can help you gain a healthier viewpoint. Are you neglecting your health, interests, family, or friends due to grieving the loss of your marriage? Consulting a counselor, support group, or divorce coach may help to facilitate healing. A person whose marriage ended due to their spouse making a decision to end the relationship must fight against falling prey to a victim mentality and take care of themselves. Lastly, developing a mindset that you don't have to be defined by your divorce experience can help you to heal and move forward with your life.

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