How to Forgive Yourself for Your Past Mistakes

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Author Name: Beth Rush
Date: Thursday March 7, 2024

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It’s easy to advise someone to extend self-compassion to themselves. However, when it comes to the topic of how to forgive yourself, the matter seems infinitely more complex. But the truth is that you also deserve grace and understanding from yourself.

The Struggles Behind Self-Forgiveness

It is imperative for a person to forgive themselves to move forward, but it’s natural for the process to come with plenty of resistance. A person may feel too much guilt from the gravity of their past mistakes. They may also have an underlying lack of self-worth, as they don’t think they are worth absolving of their previous transgressions.

As a result of skipping self-forgiveness, you endanger different aspects of your health. For instance:

  • Mental health: Refusing to forgive yourself can agitate your mind as you spiral into looking at the past. This increases your stress levels and can put you at risk of developing depression and anxiety.
  • Emotional health: When it comes to matters of the heart, denying yourself self-forgiveness can cause personal turmoil. Developing a positive attitude or healthy relationship can be quite difficult.
  • Physical health: Compromising your mental and emotional health can also affect your physical well-being. Spending restless nights pondering about your past can lead to chronic stress. This increases your blood pressure and results in even less sleep.
A girl receiving emotional support from her friend

Steps on Forgiving Yourself

Every person’s journey for self-forgiveness is different, as they can cope with their past in many different ways. However, it’s an essential mental exploration to break the cycle of guilt you experience. Here’s a general outline of how you can start the process.

1. Recount What Has Happened

A good stepping stone to forgiving yourself for your mistakes is to recount the past. Being able to recall the events after time passes lets you view things with a more objective point of view. Assess the previous situations and the choices that keep you up.

There are plenty of ways you can contemplate your past. For instance, try to meditate alone or journal about what happened. You can also talk to someone if you would prefer to have the support of a loved one. A survey finds that 53% of Americans aged 18 to 29 talk to their spouse when they have a personal problem. About 16% turn to a friend.

2. Unpack Your Emotions

While you may initially feel more objective about what happened, it’s natural to feel more emotional midway. Personal experiences can draw many thoughts and feelings out and it’s important to let everything out into the open.

Many people do not forgive themselves because they ignore or bury their feelings. But when you’re ready, bring up the fear, grief and regrets that you have been carrying. And learn why you have been feeling that way.

3. Pinpoint Your Pain

What exactly can you not forgive yourself for? Asking this powerful question can pinpoint your primary source of pain. This progresses you further in the self-forgiveness process. Focus on why and how you hold that part of your past against you.

Dive deeper and identify why you handled things the way you did, too. Knowing your circumstances and your decisions can at least help you come to terms with why your past went the way it did.

4. Make Amends in the Present

When you pinpoint the main reason why you can’t forgive yourself for a mistake, you may see the situation connected to a certain person or group. At this stage, try to make amends where you can. Take responsibility by apologizing to someone or making a donation.

While you may not fully repair the repercussions of your past, it can bring you more insight into the outcomes of your mistakes. Atoning for what you can also put you more at ease, making self-forgiveness seem more attainable.

A person holding their hands together over a book

5. Practice Self-Compassion

The reason why you feel remorseful about your past is because your morals and core character have changed. In the past, you had settled with that experience. Now, you want to turn back time and do things differently because you know it was wrong.

In the same way you would extend compassion to a remorseful friend, give yourself that humanity and kindness. Be empathetic and know that you could have done better. No one knows how things will turn out and you did the best you could.

6. Shift Your Mindset

Not forgiving yourself can build up plenty of self-hatred. While in the process of self-forgiveness, try to shift your mindset. Rather than criticizing yourself for your past, look at it as an opportunity for growth. The past can no longer be changed, but there are a variety of ways that you can make the present better than before.

7. Know What You Can Do Better

People forgive themselves more easily when they know they won’t repeat the same mistake. And like Maya Angelou once said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” 

Build an action plan to let go of your past and build on the future. If leaving those former events behind feels wrong, simply move forward from your past self and learn from past experiences. For instance, if you deeply regret losing a friend because you didn’t listen to them, ensure future relationships won’t have the same problem. Be more attentive and understanding.

8. Give Yourself Time

The timeline of when you forgive yourself can be shorter or longer than another person’s. There are also instances where you go back to feeling regretful even after releasing your self-resentment. Dedicate as much time as you need to reflect and forgive yourself again. It’s a constant and repetitive process, but you can progress because of it.

Forgive and Move Forward

Forgive and forget is a common sentiment, but dealing with yourself can be challenging. A good compromise to make with yourself is to forgive and move forward. Go through the above steps and take it as a chance to improve yourself.

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