16 Effective Ways to Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes
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Forgiveness is the key to moving on from the past. But if it’s your own mistake, how do you forgive yourself?
In addition to truth, forgiveness is what can set you free and make you feel happy. It is what will make or break your life, both in the present and the future.
Sometimes, though, it is even more difficult to forgive yourself than other people. This is because your mistakes that have been haunting you for a while now are harder to forget. They are like the last song syndrome that keeps on playing in your head all the time.
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But here’s the thing: Once we learn to forgive, we also learn to take full control of our lives again. Forgiving may be challenging and exhausting, but trust me, the result is well worth it.
This article is about why you need to forgive yourself, and how to forgive yourself.
But first, let’s talk about the reasons why it is sometimes so hard to do this.
Why It’s Hard to Forgive Yourself
You are not yet ready to admit what you did. You can’t believe that you’ve done it, so you can’t acknowledge it. Forgiving yourself means that you are acknowledging your sense of responsibility, which makes your actions real. It is significant but can also be very difficult to acknowledge the negativity behind something that you may have done wrong, and to learn to accept it.
There’s that voice in your head that keeps on repeating the mistakes you’ve done. You can’t get over them because that voice, which is your conscience, keeps taunting you. Whatever you have done is now ingrained in your nervous system. If you continue to allow your nervous system to tell you to feel guilty, it will be very difficult to forgive yourself.
You keep on thinking about what will happen next, without even trying to forgive yourself. It’s your advanced-thinking mind versus your actual feelings, which is a very destructive way of thinking. You think about the things that you regret missing out on or couldn’t do, and think about how your life may have turned out if you had acted differently.
Doing this causes you to lose yourself in a reality that is so far removed from your present moment. You stay there and lose hope, feel depressed, and can’t make peace with your current situation. This never goes away until you let go and focus on the present.
Sometimes you can’t forgive yourself because you’re afraid that you might lose the person you have wronged. You can’t focus on forgiving yourself if these worries surround you.
It is important to realize that fearing something does not necessarily mean you should avoid it. By facing this fear and moving forward with a positive mindset, you will always have a positive outcome. You can also learn more about yourself in the process.
Maybe you were able to admit and acknowledge what you have done, but you are uncertain why you did it—you can’t believe that you actually did it. You don’t know the root of the evil. Because of this, you may be nervous that you will repeat the action. You may not want to come to terms with what you have done, so you choose to remain angry at yourself as a way of disconnecting from the action. You may tell yourself, "I didn’t do that—some other, horrible version of me did."
While it can definitely be hard to forgive yourself for many reasons, keeping yourself locked in this place is not only damaging to you, but it is also damaging to those around you. Let's look at some things you can do to remedy this.
16 Effective Ways to Forgive Yourself
1. Take time to process what happened.
Forgiving other people for the mistakes they have done to you is not easy—it takes time. This is no different than forgiving yourself. You need to learn what forgiveness is and evaluate what happened in the first place to allow yourself to heal.
Ask yourself a few questions to help you process what happened, such as, "Were my actions avoidable?" and "Did I make the best decision I could at the time with the information I had?"
2. Classify the mistake you made.
There are different kinds of life mistakes, and one of them could be the reason why you can’t forgive yourself. Knowing what kind of mistake you have made lets you internalize what your next steps should be. If there is nothing you can do to change what has happened and all you can do is learn from your mistake, it is time to forgive yourself.
There is no use in beating yourself up over something you can't change, even if it is still affecting your life today. Most mistakes you have made are probably worth forgiving yourself for.
3. Accept and admit the offense you have committed.
There’s no going back anymore to correct what has been done. When things happen, all we can do is accept and admit the wrongdoing, along with the consequences. You have to accept responsibility, and the fact that a moral norm has been violated. You are not acknowledging your mistakes to beat yourself up or punish yourself, you are figuring out what you must face.
You have to name the offense without glossing over it with generalities like, "I accept that I made a mistake." In order to truly forgive yourself, you must be specific: "I have had a bad attitude that has hurt my family and friends" or "I misjudged a person who could have been a very good friend." Remain focused on the things that are important. Put your vanity aside.
4. Acknowledge your feelings.
When we don’t acknowledge our feelings, we find it hard to manage and release them. This tends to alter our behavior, and we become more vulnerable to being hurt again. Before you can move on, you need to acknowledge your emotions so you can process them.
For example, if you are feeling guilt, recognize that this is common, and also realize that feeling this emotion may help motivate you to take corrective action either for yourself or for others.
Allow yourself to recognize, accept, and feel the emotions that have been triggered. It may also help to write down any actions or situations that trigger these feelings to pinpoint exactly why you are feeling your emotions.
5. Don’t look at yourself as a failure.
It’s okay to feel sorry about the mistakes you have made in the past. However, remember that they don’t define who you are. They may or may not have been beyond your control, but they can never determine what the future holds. There are many times in life when you may fail at doing something, but that does not make you a failure.
When you internalize self-doubt to the point of believing that you are a failure, your body absorbs it. You probably have a lot of demands on you, so it should come as no surprise that not everything is perfect.
There is no one on earth who can satisfy everyone. When you see yourself as a failure, you are giving your control away, which will make you feel even worse. You are more than your past mistakes. It's important to accept responsibility for what you did, but one bad choice should not define who you are.
6. Learn to think of the mistake as an experience to learn from.
Cliché as it may sound, sometimes we need to make mistakes so we can learn from them. As the saying goes, “Experience is the best teacher.” Failure can often be seen as an important step on the path to eventual success. People who are considered to be accomplished are those who are able to learn from their mistakes, not people who never make a mistake.
You don't have to publicly confess what you have done wrong to learn from it. But if you think about how you contributed to the mistake and what you could have done differently, you will be much more likely to correct yourself in the future and succeed next time.
7. Understand your inner critic.
Your inner critic is that little voice inside your head that tells you it’s not right to forgive yourself. But don’t let it be a distraction. Instead, appreciate what it’s telling you and try to overcome what it’s making you think.
A good way of doing this is to start journaling, as it can help you to understand your inner critic and develop compassion for yourself. This can also help you identify some unhealthy thought patterns you are having that are preventing you from forgiving yourself.
8. Be clear about your morals and values.
The people who often feel the guiltiest are those who acted in a way that was contrary to their own morals and values. It is essential to identify these morals and values clearly so you can understand “why” you made the mistake in the first place.
The best thing you can do to start forgiving yourself is to replace your negative thoughts and behaviors with those that are in line with your morals and values. By doing this, you are telling yourself that you can handle situations exactly how you want to.
9. Embrace self-care and self-compassion.
If the first thing you do when you make a mistake is criticize yourself, it is time to be more gentle with yourself. This may take some time, but you have to remember that you are worthy of forgiveness. It is not fair to judge your former self with the insights and knowledge you have now.
So, what is self-compassion? Being compassionate toward yourself is not letting yourself get by with excuses. It’s clearing your mind of negative emotions toward yourself so that you can start over with a clean slate. Self-compassion is the ability to be moved by your own suffering, and the ability to have feelings of caring and kindness toward yourself. It is the capacity to have an understanding and nonjudgmental attitude toward your inadequacies and recognize that your experience is one that all humans have. Allow yourself to have a moment of peace and understanding.
Be kind to yourself. Yes, you have done something wrong, but that doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to be loved. Develop self-compassion by taking care of yourself—emotionally, mentally, and physically.
10. Monitor your progress and don’t be too hard on yourself.
Trying to forgive yourself is already a hard thing to do, so don’t make it even harder. Once you decide to start embracing self-care, track how you’ve been keeping up. True forgiveness of yourself is a work in progress and will not be completed overnight.
There are steps you will go through during the forgiveness process, including accepting the circumstances, deciding to forgive yourself, working toward understanding why you did what you did, and finally discovering your true compassion for yourself. It is ok if you have a setback during this progress, but continue to push through and monitor yourself as you go.
11. Quit ruminating and stop thinking about the mistakes that you made.
Don’t torture yourself. Quit replaying in your head the mistakes of the past. Overthinking kills—it causes chronic anxieties, severe distress, and mental irrationality. There are a few things you can do to stop yourself when you are ruminating on past mistakes.
First, ask yourself, "So what?" What is the worst thing that could happen from your mistake that hasn't already happened? Chances are, what's done is done, and nothing is going to get worse.
Secondly, consider the impact that your mistake still has on other people. People largely focus on themselves, but if your mistake had to do with past behavior or something that you think other people might be judging you for, the truth is that people have likely have moved on and forgotten about it.
12. Don’t look back on the past.
Your focus should be on the present and the future. Everything has already been said and done. The only way to change things is to open yourself up to endless possibilities and new opportunities.
While looking back fondly at your memories isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the past is not where you should focus your time, brain power, or energy. You can't change the past, and you're wasting your energy if you worry about the “What if’s” of your yesterdays. If you’re going to use your efforts to think about something, think about the present moment and invest the appropriate amount of time into shaping your future.
13. Seek help from a professional if needed.
If you’ve been trying to practice self-love and self-care for so long now but you still can’t forgive yourself, maybe it’s time to see a therapist. Professional counselors can help you break the unhealthy patterns that distract you from coping.
Get help from a counselor to help you sort through the problems of your past. Find someone who can listen to your circumstances and help you make sense of what has happened. Do this as soon as you can to prevent your feelings from damaging your psyche. The sooner you get help, the better.
14. Learn how to start loving yourself again.
Sometimes we can easily forgive other people because we love them. Why should it be different for yourself? Unfortunately, this can be a hard thing to do. The greatest struggle in life is the one that requires us to accept and love ourselves, regardless of our imperfections. Loving yourself requires you to be completely honest about who you are, how you're feeling, and what you need.
To stop discrediting yourself for the things that you may regret and start giving yourself credit for all of the positive things you have done, you have to accept that not everyone you love will necessarily agree with everything that you do, and that is ok. There are so many things you can do to start loving yourself again.
15. Make amends and repair the damage.
If you can’t forgive yourself because you have wronged someone, apologize to that person and try to rebuild the relationship that was broken. Righting your wrongs with others is a critical way to make things right with yourself. It may take time before that other person finally forgives you, but that’s okay, as making amends still gives you emotional relief.
Show sincerity in asking for forgiveness. Consider some things you can do to make life better for those who have been negatively impacted by your actions. If you aren't sure what you can do, you could even ask them directly. People who may have been hurt by your actions may ask for you to make amends such as promising to do things differently in the future. You should take these requests to heart, and be consistent. Often, making amends takes time, so keep at it.
16. Be thankful and learn the art of gratitude.
Feeling resentful toward yourself can be exhausting and shameful. Save yourself from the guilt by replacing the ill feelings with gratitude. The art of gratitude brings so many benefits. And if you still feel bad, you can at least do something good.
Forgiveness and gratitude often work hand-in-hand. It may be difficult to know which comes first, but it is easier for some to begin with gratitude because it's a more tangible process than forgiveness. It is easier to understand and integrate into your everyday life. Gratitude requires you to be grateful for the things that come into your life.
It requires you to be grateful for the irritations, frustrations, pain, and disappointment in your life, and accept them as they arise. As soon as you can view a situation from a place of gratitude, the chaos will turn into acceptance, which can then lead to forgiveness. Gratitude is key to living in joy.
Forgiveness takes time—the guilt, acceptance, healing process, self-compassion, and everything that goes along with it. It’s not something you can get done overnight.
But learning to forgive yourself and others is worth all of the pain and hardship. It can set you free from all the things that hurt, and more importantly, it can make you happier.
With the reminders and tips we have given above, we hope you can learn how to forgive yourself for the past mistakes you’ve made. Forgiving is not easy—it never is, never was, and never will be. But true happiness and real freedom only come once we learn to forgive ourselves for all the wrong things we have done.
In addition, if you want to experience less worry and anxiety, I invite you to check out Declutter Your Mind. The book contains habits and actions that promote peace of mind, allowing more room for meaningful things to happen in your life.
Here’s to forgiving yourself and becoming a free, happy person. Cheers!