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.

 

Comments

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