Seven Tips to Help You Forgive Yourself

When you refuse to forgive yourself, you don't change the past (that's impossible anyway), but you paralyze your present and limit your future.
Seven Tips to Help You Forgive Yourself
Elena Sanz

Written and verified by the psychologist Elena Sanz.

Last update: 06 December, 2022

You make many decisions as you go through life, some of which are more successful than others. Along the way, you make mistakes, fail, and hurt both yourself and others. However, every experience is part of life, and making mistakes is inevitable. In fact, both success and failure teach you and make you who you are. Therefore, to move forward, sometimes, you have to forgive yourself.

When you exaggerate your mistakes and fail to integrate them as part of your history, guilt can paralyze you. You start thinking that everything could’ve been different, and regret certain actions that can no longer be changed. But this only brings pain and bitterness. It’s time to be compassionate with your past self and forgive yourself.

Why can’t you forgive yourself?

Knowing the causes of your inability to forgive yourself will help you overcome the problem. Among the most common reasons are:

  • How severe you perceive your error to be. We want to emphasize the word perceive here because you often magnify your mistakes in such a way that you assume them, in reality, to be unforgivable. However, you shouldn’t make such assumptions.
  • A punishing ego. If you have a hard time forgiving yourself, you’re probably really hard on yourself. Consequently, you only have to make the slightest mistake to punish yourself.
  • External agents. Your inability to forgive yourself can be fueled by constant memories from your environment. For example, when a loved one continually blames you for a mistake you made.

The above causes can all occur at the same time and severely damage your self-esteem. That’s why you must be attentive to these signs and be more self-compassionate. Remember that everyone makes mistakes and it’s okay.

How to forgive yourself

If you want to learn to forgive yourself, you’ll have to do some work on yourself. Here are some tips.

1. You did your best

You often analyze your past decisions through the prism of the person you are today. Indeed, knowing what you know today, your past acts may seem crazy and wrong. So, you beat yourself up for not having chosen your words and behavior better, and endlessly blame yourself.

However, you forget that at that time you didn’t have the same knowledge as you do now. You probably also lacked maturity and experience, and you did the best you could at the time. You did your best based on your level of consciousness then. What happened, happened. You couldn’t behave in any other way because you didn’t know how.

It’s not logical to punish yourself without taking into account the context. If you think differently today, be thankful that you’ve been able to learn and be compassionate with your past self. You didn’t know then. Maybe your priorities were different, your fears more pressing, and your resources more limited. You did the best and the only thing you could.

Woman eyes closed forgiving herself

2. Forgiveness is liberating

Sometimes, it’s difficult for you to forgive because you feel that doing so implies justifying wrong behavior. You cling to resentment thinking that it constitutes a kind of penance toward the one who did you wrong. However, the only person who gets hurt is the one who refuses to forgive. Holding a grudge is like taking poison yourself and expecting the other person to die.

The same thing happens when you don’t forgive yourself. You’re incapable of doing it because, maybe, the consequences were so painful and unpleasant. But, you can’t go back in time and change what happened. Moreover, continuing to reproach yourself only fills your soul with bitterness and prevents you from continuing on your path.

Feeling guilty without taking action is the most useless feeling in existence. It doesn’t relieve either the guilty or the offended party. It’s always preferable to act and compensate for the damage caused. You should ask for forgiveness and do whatever’s in your power to compensate your victim. When it comes to yourself, the operation is similar. Ask yourself for forgiveness for the negative that you brought into your life with your wrong decisions and try to make up for it.

For example, if you still blame yourself for allowing someone to disrespect you, apologize to yourself for not having known how to defend yourself better. Offer yourself all the self-love that you couldn’t give yourself back then. Free yourself and move on.

Learn to forgive yourself

3. As long as you’re learning, you’re not failing

Finally, try to modify the image you have of your mistake. It isn’t your enemy. It’s not a negative element that must be eliminated from your life. To err doesn’t make you a bad person. You don’t deserve to be punished for life.

Failure is part of learning. It teaches you to know yourself and to improve yourself. Even the worst mistake of your life has brought you a valuable lesson that you wouldn’t have if you hadn’t made it. Therefore, always make sure to draw wisdom from your mistakes. As long as you’re learning, you’re not failing.

4. Always analyze what you do

This may seem obvious advice, but when the time comes to face your own failures, you often lose perspective of yourself. So, before you beat yourself up, carry out an exhaustive study of your motives, impulses, thoughts, and emotions. Only then will you be able to glimpse the network of psychological processes that have led to your mistake.

5. Connect with your emotions

Once you’ve discovered what you were feeling when you made your mistake, take an extra moment to connect with those emotions. Forgiving yourself means reliving them, integrating them into your being, and accepting them. Only then will you be able to carry out correct emotional management in future similar cases.

6. Meditate and visualize forgiveness

It’s possible that there are currently no solutions for the mistakes you’ve made. If this is the case, your guilt might drag on for years. A useful technique is to employ meditation and visualization techniques. They help you delve into the images that are hurting you emotionally and you can visualize situations where your pain is relieved.

7. Go to a specialist to learn to forgive yourself

Many people suffer on a daily basis over their past actions. If you’re in this situation, it’s best to go to a psychologist. That’s because, if you enter a loop of guilt, it’s highly likely that you’ll get stuck in cyclical thoughts that don’t lead to any solution.

A psychologist will teach you different techniques for forgiving yourself. For instance, apology letters, guided meditation, or behavior changes necessary to repair the damage.

Forgiving yourself means allowing yourself to move on.

In short, stop blaming yourself for your past. Give yourself a chance. You deserve to experience a full and free life and have the right to stumble and get up, make wrong decisions, and learn from them. Your mistakes don’t define you, the attitude you take toward them does. That’s why you need to understand yourself, forgive yourself, and learn. Above all, you need to move on without that heavy burden.

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The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.