How to Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes

7  Suggestions on how to Overcome Feelings of Regret and Guilt and to Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes

Forgiving yourself can be much harder than forgiving someone else. After all, they don’t live in your head, reading you the same old riot act. When you’re carrying around a sense of blame for something that has happened in the past, the feelings of anger and resentment can cause a pervasive sense of unhappiness. But forgiveness is such an elusive act, quickly changing in its ability to be strongly felt one moment and then disappearing beyond reach the next.

Forgiving yourself is an important act of moving forward and releasing yourself from the past. It’s also a way of protecting your health and general well-being. All the world’s major religions preach the power of forgiveness.

However, if you are feeling this way you are not alone.  Most people find the feelings of regret and guilt to be overwhelming and difficult to overcome.  Holding on to past mistakes negatively affects our self-esteem and can even feel paralyzing for a person. Feeling stuck and unable to engage in productive actions is not helpful and does not serve anyone.

 Here are some suggestions on how to overcome feelings of regret and guilt and to forgive yourself for past mistakes:  

  1. Accept your emotions.

Part of the struggle is often being unable to accept that you are experiencing such emotions as anger, fear, resentment, and vulnerability. Instead of trying to avoid facing these negative emotions, accept them as part of what is fueling your lack of self-forgiveness. A problem named is a problem ready to be tackled.

2. Reflect on why you’re trying to hold yourself to a higher standard than anyone else around you.

Perfectionism can cause you to hold too high a standard for your own behavior, a standard that you wouldn’t hold anyone else to; it causes you to be too hard on yourself. Try welcoming imperfection: allow yourself to accept that all human beings are imperfect, and you are human and imperfect too. Humility may be the first step to self-forgiveness.

3. Understand the importance of forgiveness.

Living in a state of being unable to forgive requires a lot of energy. You may be  preoccupied by the feelings of fear, resentment and anger, living with the constancy of sadness, hurt, and blame. This energy deserves to be put to better use, so that your creativity and abilities are fed, not your negativity. Forgiveness also allows you to live in the present instead of the past, which means that you can move into the future with a renewed sense of purpose focused on change, improvement, and building of a new productive life.

4. Stop punishing yourself.

There is a frequent misunderstanding that forgiveness equates to forgetting or condoning. This misunderstanding can lead a person to feel that they need to continuously punish themselves because in the process of doing so they are not forgetting or condoning the past wrong. However, punishing yourself with self-hate does not accomplish positive results.  It’s perfectly fine to say: “I am not proud of what I’ve done (or how I’ve devalued myself) but I’m moving on for the sake of my health, my well-being, and those around me.”  Disproving of your past mistakes is different than feeling that you are a bad person. Disown your mistakes, not yourself.

5.    Make Amends

If you need to apologize to someone or you have not done so genuinely, go ahead and do it.  Apologizing to someone may involve more than just saying “Sorry.” You may have to hear them out and let them tell you how what you’ve done hurt them.  Once you’ve restored that connection, the next step is to take action that would make the situation better, e.g., if you stole something, maybe you would pay that person/ organization back, etc. 

6. Practice Self-Acceptance

Forgiving yourself is about targeting the specific things that you feel bad about and aspiring to change these imperfections, not about the person you are. As a forgiveness technique, self-acceptance allows you to acknowledge that you’re a good person, even though you have faults. It doesn’t mean that you ignore the faults or stop trying to improve yourself, but it does mean that you value yourself above those parts of yourself and cease to allow your shortcomings to halt your progression in life. Learn from what you’ve done in the past, but value your whole self.  

  • Enjoy positive experiences consciously and don’t seek to downgrade them.
  • Be grateful for what you do have – great relationships, a home, a family, an education, abilities, interests, hobbies, pets, health, etc. Look for the good in your life.
  • Be self-compassionate.

7. See forgiveness as a journey, not a destination.

Human progress does not happen in a straight line, e.g., going from A to B.  In order to move forward we often make two steps forward and one step backwards, making “baby steps” toward better mental health.  Making a step backwards is not a set back; it is our opportunity to integrate the new progress that we’ve just accomplished. It helps to accept that forgiveness is an ongoing process and that you’ll have your up days and your down days, as with most feelings and experiences in life. You may feel that you’ve reached a point of forgiveness, only to have something happen that causes you to feel it was all a wasted effort and that you’re back to square one, angry and annoyed with yourself. The best approach is to let these feelings happen and see them as the necessary step back in our journey forward.

 If you would like help with forgiving yourself for past mistakes, please call me, Dr. Maya, on (818) 809-9519 for a free 10-minute phone consultation.


Healthy Relationships: Helpful Tips for Creating Supportive Relationships

“Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.” Archimedes

Healthy relationshipsHaving supportive relationships in life cannot be underestimated.  People who have healthy relationships are likely to worry less and to be less prone to falling into deep depressions.  Remember, that where the relationships are concerned, it’s the quality, not the quantity that matters the most.

Having even one close relationship where one can feel at ease, accepted for who they are, comfortable sharing their innermost fears and concerns can move mountains in terms of the emotional relief that provides.  As Archimedes, one of the greatest mathematicians of all times wrote, “Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth.”

Engaging in caring relationships is critical to our emotional health and well-being.  However, not all relationships are created equal: some people just don’t have what it takes to be supportive. In order to surround yourself with supportive people, the first step is to begin to identify the qualities of healthy relationships, spend time with people who embody those qualities, and, as much as possible, avoid people who are detrimental to your well-being.

Below are some considerations on how to tell which relationships are more supportive and how to cultivate some of these qualities in you.

1. Good Listener

When you talk to your friend about something you are going through—a crisis or problem— are they able to listen?  Are you able to share your experience or vent your frustration about a situation without them offering advice?  You are likely looking for someone to validate your feelings, to feel understood and empathized with.

2. Non-Judgmental

When you are sharing something that’s in conflict with your own values, is your friend able to avoid judgment?  Are they able to remember that other people are not them and take care not to impose their values on you?  Remember, everybody’s doing the best they can at any given moment. If you feel judged by someone, you are unlikely to talk about the dilemmas that may be arising in your life, and that’s the time when you especially need emotional support.

3. Avoid “shoulding” people

It’s best to refrain from people who tell you what you “should” or “shouldn’t” do. If you’re in a relationship with someone who has a habit of telling you what you should and shouldn’t do, that’s a red flag. Instead of listening, this person is making assumptions about you or about the way you should be living your life.

4. Empathy

Empathy is the act of putting yourself in another person’s shoes. It’s a trait you’ll want to develop in yourself and a quality you can be looking for in others. If you tell someone something painful, recounting a personal crisis you went through, or a difficult situation you once faced, are they able to show compassion? The simple statement “I’m really sorry you had to go through that” can be the most supportive approach.

5. Emotional Maturity

Look for emotional maturity in your relationships. Here’s an example. Say you’ve made plans with a friend to go out, but you have to cancel because you got sick. A supportive friend may be disappointed, but will understand. They might even offer to pick up some chicken soup or a movie for you. But, if your friend gets angry, it’s a tip-off that you’re not dealing with a supportive and emotionally mature person. On the flip side, a friend who frequently cancels planned engagements without giving you a good reason, may also be immature and irresponsible, and will make you feel unsupported.

6. Develop Effective Communication Skills

You’ll encounter occasional conflicts with any friend. Those conflicts present you with an opportunity to develop effective communication skills. Try to own your feelings and avoid blaming others; at the same time, communicate what you need from another person.  In supportive relationships both people are able to step back, re-evaluate their actions and discuss the conflict without blaming and judging each other.

7. Emotional Honesty

Emotional honesty, which involves the willingness to be vulnerable, is central to supportive relationships. For example, let’s say a friend says something hurtful to you: “You look like you’ve put on weight,” or “I saw your ex-boyfriend last night with his new girlfriend and he looked really happy.” It’s important to tell that person how you feel. You might say: “I’m having a reaction to what you just said. It may not have been your intention, but I found what you said hurtful.” Vulnerability is a sign of authenticity; it makes the relationship feel real. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable shows other people that you care enough about them and the relationship to share who you really are, and you’re inviting them to be who they really are. In healthy relationships the other person usually responds with being vulnerable on their side.

8. Know When to Let Go

Every relationship hits bumps along the way, which is when effective communication becomes especially important. It helps you find out whether you can effectively work through a conflict and negotiate your differences with someone else. However, sometimes a person may lack the maturity to provide supportive relationships.  Sometimes, people change and their values are no longer the same.  If you feel that your relationship with someone is stressful, you feel judged and misunderstood by them and your attempts to repair conflicts are not working, it’s OK to let go of the relationship.  Just because you used to be friends with someone, does not mean you have to be in close contact with them if the relationship is no longer supportive of who you are today and the values you’ve developed. You can say: “I don’t think we’re a good fit as friends.” Or “I think our values or lifestyles are just too different to support a friendship.” The better you know yourself, the easier it is to assess whether people are a good fit as part of your support system.

If you would like help with creating healthy relationships, please call me, Dr. Maya, on (818) 809-9519 for a free 10-minute phone consultation.

photo credit: HAMED MASOUMI