If you’re dealing with feelings of guilt and shame over something you’ve said or done, and you’re trying to learn how to forgive yourself so you can let go of your mistakes and move forward, this post has 8 tips to help.
I was first inspired to write this post during my morning ride a few months ago. If you follow me on Instagram, you know I’m a tad obsessed with all things Peloton. I love the rides and strength classes they offer, the instructors motivate me, and the community keeps me accountable to my goals. I never anticipated I would get so much out of buying a stationary bike, but the classes aren’t just about fitness for me. The instructors have this unbelievable way of weaving words of wisdom and inspiration into their classes, which has been more important than ever during the 2020 pandemic that has impacted each of us so deeply.
My favorite instructor is Emma Lovewell. She makes incredible playlists (you can follow her on Spotify here), and during this particular ride, she included a song from Pearl Jam I’d all but forgotten about called Present Tense. I’m a huge fan of moody music that forces you to sit with your feelings, and when she read the lyrics out, it made me stop and think:
‘You can spend your time alone redigesting past regrets,
Or you can come to terms and realize…
You’re the only one who cannot forgive yourself,
Makes much more sense to live in the present tense…’
Over the course of our lives, we’ve all done or said things we’re not particularly proud of, but some people make mistakes that feel impossible to overcome. They become consumed with guilt, and those feelings end up snowballing into every other aspect of their lives. It can impact them physically, causing problems with their heart health and blood pressure, it increases their risk for depression, and it can negatively impact the quality of their lives and their relationships with others.
If you are having a hard time letting go of past regrets, the tips in this post will challenge you to face your feelings and learn how to forgive yourself.
How to Forgive Yourself For Past Mistakes
1. ALLOW YOURSELF TO FEEL ALL THE FEELS
The first step in learning how to forgive yourself is to acknowledge what happened, and the emotions it has caused you and others. Stop avoiding the thoughts and feelings that are festering below the surface, and confront them head on. There are so many ways to avoid feelings of regret, pain, and shame – retreating into yourself, sleeping, lying, drinking, taking drugs, gambling, eating, exercising, etc. – and while these tactics may help you in the short-term, they often backfire in the form of strained relationships, addiction, unhealthy lifestyle choices, and misery. Instead of avoiding your feelings, confront them head-on, no matter how hard that might be.
2. TAKE ACCOUNTABILITY
Whether it’s silently acknowledging that you made a mistake for your own personal benefit, or publicly apologizing to someone you hurt, taking accountability for past mistakes is an extremely important step in helping you learn how to forgive yourself and move forward. Don’t blame others, play the victim, or try to make excuses for your behavior – own up to what you did, apologize, and try to make amends. Instead of putting up walls, be open, honest, and vulnerable. Reflect on what happened and the role you played, and take responsibility. You will be amazed at how much better this one small step can make you feel.
3. BE PREPARED THAT YOUR APOLOGY MAY NOT BE ACCEPTED
While it’s important to take ownership of your mistakes – and to apologize to, and ask for forgiveness from, those you have wronged – you must also be prepared that your apology may not be accepted. The person you have hurt may not be able to move past what happened, and while that may not be your desired outcome, it is out of your control. What’s done is done, and the only thing you have power over is how you move forward from here. Owning up to your mistakes without making excuses or attempting to place blame on others is important, but remember that actions speak louder than words. Changed behavior is just as important, and while the person you hurt may never be able to forgive you, you can use the experience to better yourself and your relationships moving forward.
4. SEARCH FOR LESSONS
It is so easy to dwell on past mistakes, but wallowing in guilt can negatively impact your physical, emotional, and mental health. If you want to know how to forgive yourself, a great tip to try is to find ways to turn your mistakes into learning opportunities. While you can’t change the past, you can use the experience to better yourself. Being proactive and finding ways to learn from your indiscretions will help you feel in control, allowing you to let go and move forward.
5. CHALLENGE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
If you want to know how to forgive yourself, get into the habit of challenging negative thoughts with positive ones. This is a practice that is much easier said than done, and can be particularly challenging when you’re struggling with feelings of regret and shame. A great way to master this concept is to write down all of the negative thoughts that creep into your mind over the course of a few days. Next, set aside some time to sit down and turn each negative thought into a positive one. Remember to use factual, positive, and present-tense words. Continue practicing, and over time you will become more comfortable and familiar with the process, allowing you to re-focus your thoughts when you catch yourself spiralling into feelings of negativity.
6. PRACTICE GRATITUDE
Another great tip to consider if you’re trying to learn how to forgive yourself is to get into the habit of writing down 3-5 things you’re grateful for each day. I suggest doing this first thing in the morning to set a positive tone for the day ahead, and highly recommend The Five Minute Journal to keep yourself accountable. It’s a guided journal you can use to train your brain to start and end each day with an attitude of gratitude so you can learn how to be a happy and positive person, instead of dwelling on negative emotions over past events. The Five Minute Journal only takes 5 minutes to complete, and it’s a great tool to encourage you to create change from within while also reminding you to count your blessings and resolve conflicts before the day is done.
Find out more about The Five-Minute Journal HERE.
7. DO GOOD
If you’re trying to figure out how to forgive yourself, finding ways to spread positivity and do good things for others can be extremely helpful. Instead of remaining stuck in a negative feedback loop filled with pain and regret, remind yourself that while you can’t change the past, you can start where you are and change the future. There are so many little things you can do on the daily to add positivity to the world around you, and with each good deed, you will find yourself feeling more positive and in control of where you’re headed instead of being stuck in the past.
There are so many simple ways you can do good things each day, as you’ll see from the examples below:
- Give someone a compliment
- Tell people how much you appreciate them
- Give praise
- Help a neighbor
- Volunteer for an important cause
- Be kind
8. SEEK PROFESSIONAL HELP
As much as these ideas can help you learn how to forgive yourself, some indiscretions are harder to overcome on your own. And that’s okay! If you’re struggling, I urge you to get help. Talk to your doctor about your concerns and ask if he or she can recommend a therapist to help you find ways to deal with feelings of guilt, shame, and regret. As scary as this may sound, it’s essential that you learn how to let go and move forward, and it can be extremely therapeutic to unload your worries onto a stranger and get a different perspective on what happened.
If you’re trying to figure out how to forgive yourself, I hope the tips and ideas in this post helped. Remember to confront your emotions, search for lessons, challenge negative thoughts, and find ways to do good in the world. The only way out is through, so let yourself feel all the feels, take accountability, and find positive ways to move forward.