How to Forgive Yourself and Get Over the Past

You know the importance of forgiving others, but what if you need to forgive yourself? You can learn how in this article.
How to Forgive Yourself and Get Over the Past
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 December, 2021

To forgive yourself and overcome the past requires delicate psycho-emotional craftsmanship. As a matter of fact, the pain for a yesterday that you feel guilty about is like a loose thread in your existential fabric. If you pull it, you feel like everything might start to unravel. Indeed, it’s not good to live with permanent anguish, with that inner heaviness that just doesn’t allow you to move forward.

The composer, Frédéric Chopin used to say that it’s useless to go back to what once was and is no longer. This is true. In fact, we all know it’s not appropriate to constantly keep looking back to a time that no longer exists. However, our minds are devious and they like to rub salt in our wounds.

What can you do in these kinds of circumstances? Firstly, you need to refuse to get caught up in the debilitating pattern orchestrated by self-punishment. You can and must develop adequate resources to handle this psychological reality. We take a closer look.

Along with guilt the emotion of shame is often added. In fact, it becomes extremely difficult to separate one from the other. Therefore, when facing your past, you must know how to handle both dimensions.

sad girl trying to forgive yourself and get over the past

Keys to forgiving yourself

Ever since you were a child, you’ve been taught the importance of not hating and being able to forgive others. Sooner or later, you became aware that when you stopped projecting contempt or resentment on others, you healed, felt relief, and were able to move forward in all senses. However, something that nobody ever taught you was that it’s also necessary to know how to forgive yourself.

You might think, why should you forgive yourself? The answer is simple: for the sake of your mental health. It’s a fact of life that everyone, at some point in their lives, makes mistakes that they regret. Therefore, you sometimes fail and hurt others with your decisions. This leads to situations that you later regret. Indeed, making mistakes is human. However, constantly blaming yourself for them is insane.

King’s College London and the University of Manchester conducted research that claimed that, in many cases, guilt is behind major depression.

Therefore, understanding how to forgive yourself and overcome the past is one of the best tools for preventing this mood disorder.

Acceptance and responsibility: you own yourself, both to make mistakes and heal

When it comes to overcoming a traumatic yesterday that you’ve dragged along behind you for so long, always remember one thing. It’s the fact that, while what happened was bad, you didn’t know it was going to happen and you didn’t possess the experience you have now. Therefore, it’s important to understand that you have the right to make mistakes, but you also have the obligation to heal your wounds.

For this reason, you must stop being ashamed of that mistake or failure. Stop feeding those feelings of self-loathing and criticism. Instead, try to understand what happened by placing it in its correct frame of reference. What prompted you to take the decision you took? What was happening at that moment for you to act that way?

Everything has an explanation and understanding it will allow you to see it from another, more logical, and not so emotional perspective. Remember, self-understanding facilitates self-forgiveness.

Your past self isn’t your present self. You didn’t know what was going to happen, you didn’t have your current perspective and experience. Forgive the old you. This will allow you to shape a wiser and more mature you.

Be aware of your resistance: it’s time to let go of the past

When it comes to forgiving yourself and overcoming the past, you need to become aware of your resistance. It consists of those mental obstacles that prevent you from moving forward, that act as psychological anchors. For example, some people never stop feeding their guilt, day after day. On the other hand, others may fall into addictive behaviors.

Taking an ‘inventory’ of those thoughts, emotions, and behaviors that prevent you from moving on is a priority.

Embrace your fragility and learn from experience

You have the right to fail, to make both small and big mistakes. Indeed, as part of being human, you’re allowed to be fallible and vulnerable. You might even show the world your worst side regret it later.

Living is changing. It means going from the worst to the best, intelligently exploiting your strengths and weaknesses. Allowing this to happen gives you learning opportunities. Take advantage of them.

Your past helps shape the person you are today. Each notch, crack, and small bump trace an unusual beauty that you must appreciate. In fact, you’re perfect, so start forgiving yourself by accepting every nuance of your past and present experiences.

When it comes to forgiving yourself and overcoming the past, look for compensation

Every exercise of forgiveness requires an exercise of compensation. This means that if you believe your behavior caused someone pain and you feel guilty about it, stop suffering and ask them for forgiveness.

Also, if you carry resentment and regret around with you, think of actions that’ll allow you to repair it in some way. Show yourself that you’ve learned from experience and that you can improve yourself.

When it comes to forgiving yourself and overcoming the past, the ideal is to push yourself into new behaviors and goals. Then, you’ll discover that you’re a better person than you think you are.

Woman in the field with yellow flowers thinking about forgiving yourself and getting over the past

Celebrate a moment of farewell, it’s time to start afresh

There are some extremely interesting therapeutic rituals that facilitate self-forgiveness and the beginning of a new stage. One example is saying something like ‘I forgive myself and I’m giving myself a new opportunity to be happy’ aloud. Taking a short trip or giving yourself some time to rest and reflect also usually helps in these cases.

In this little farewell ceremony or ritual, you let go of the old you -the one who blames yourself for the past- and welcome the new one – the person who learned from yesterday and looks forward to tomorrow with hope. Give it a try.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Wohl, M. J. A., Pychyl, T.A., & Bennett, S.H. (2010) I forgive myself, now I can study: How self-forgiveness for procrastinating can reduce future procrastination. Personality and Individual Differences (2010), doi:10.1016/j.paid.2010.01.029
  • Zahn, R., Lythe, K. E., Gethin, J. A., Green, S., Deakin, J. F., Young, A. H., & Moll, J. (2015). The role of self-blame and worthlessness in the psychopathology of major depressive disorder. Journal of affective disorders186, 337–341.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.