My parents have always been ashamed of me because I married the man that they did not want me to marry. And after almost 20 years of my marriage, I ended up in a divorce. My parents’ reaction was mixed — they were sad and at the same time felt I deserved it. Quickly after that I reconnected with my high school classmate. That’s when my parents panicked and wanted me to get back to my ex. And they were again ashamed that I divorced and was dating another man. Anyway, this new man had lost his wife to brain cancer. I thought he was depressed and took to alcohol because of sorrow and genuinely felt he will be alright once he had stability in life. But quickly after marriage I realized he was abusive and his mannerisms were not just due to the spousal death but much beyond that. I divorced him as soon as I married him. Again my parents never liked him. His parents made it very ugly by calling up all my relatives and talking ill about my character and integrity leaving my parents further ashamed. My younger sister married a man arranged by my parents and she has handled her marriage and life in general quite well.  But she assumes that she is the better daughter and the guardian of my parents and I am the sinful and bad girl.  So my parents and my sister – who is younger – are mostly scorning and mocking at me most of the time. I have two handsome boys – the best part of my life.  They are very loving, caring, supportive and in general great kids.  I wish I had given them a better childhood.  With all my marital discords and general feeling of embarrassment about myself, I know that they have indelible scars in them. My professional life has also suffered because of all this. I am trying hard to do well and hope someday I will be proud of myself at least professionally. I seek guidance on how to deal with all the hatred and shame around me and in me.

A: I’m sorry that you have been carrying this burden for so long, but it is time to lay it down and take charge of your life. You are well into adulthood and what should matter most is how you feel about yourself. Others will treat you how you allow them to treat you. If you hold your head high and focus your time and energy on the things you are proud of, such as your sons and your career goals, it may eventually change how others view you.  If it doesn’t, it is their problem, not yours.

We all make mistakes, some bigger than others, and some lasting longer than others, but no one is perfect. It sounds like you made some bad choices in choosing partners, but who hasn’t? Look at some other “Ask the Therapist” questions. Look at the selection of books in the self-help section of the bookstore. Talk to your friends or watch TV. The majority of marriages in America end in divorce these days. My point being, relationship issues are quite common. You are normal in this regard.

What you need to work on is not caring so much what others think of you. Due to the amount of shame piled upon you by your family, you may need to seek some help. This could include attending a support group, finding a therapist, taking an assertiveness class, or reading some self-improvements books.  I would encourage you to look into the books by author Brene Brown, who has written several books on the topics you are struggling with. In the end, we can focus on our faults and be miserable, or we can learn to appreciate our strengths and build upon those. I believe everyone is special and deserving, I hope you can begin to believe this, too.

All the best,

Dr. Holly Counts