If you’ve ever made a mistake and upset someone (who hasn’t?), then you know just how difficult it can be to get over it. To forgive yourself after you’ve made a mistake is no easy feat. Not only do you have to deal with the disappointment and hurt that you’ve caused someone else, but you also have to deal with the sense of disappointment that you’ve caused yourself.
In this article, we’ll explore how to forgive yourself and move forward with your life after you’ve made a mistake. Know that self-forgiveness is not always easy. It’s a personal skill and is not something that is learned overnight.
It takes time, practice, and conscious and consistent effort, but it’s certainly achievable. Read on to discover how you can learn to forgive yourself, make amends with those you’ve hurt, maintain your mental health, and let go of the past, all for the purpose of improving and maintaining your happiness and quality of life.
Why is it important to forgive yourself?
We tend to spend a lot of time dwelling and ruminating on our mistakes. We berate ourselves when we make the same mistakes over and over and wonder how we haven’t yet learned our lesson. While it’s important to hold ourselves accountable for our behavior, being overly harsh or critical toward ourselves isn’t the answer.
If we beat ourselves up for a mistake, that only serves to make things worse. We make ourselves feel guilty, which affects our confidence and self-esteem and gets in the way of making the changes necessary to genuinely improve.
Feelings of guilt serve the purpose of showing us when we’ve done something wrong, but they can damage our sense of well-being when they persist.
The benefits of self-forgiveness
Instead of living with guilt and shame and jeopardizing our mental and emotional well-being while we’re at it, it’s more important, productive, and beneficial for yourself and those around you to show yourself some compassion and practice self-forgiveness.
Sometimes we need to forgive ourselves for hurting or disappointing someone we love. Doing so can be hard, especially when the other person hasn’t yet forgiven us. We sometimes believe we need to be harsh and judgmental toward ourselves as a means of making amends to other people.
There are also times where the need to forgive ourselves doesn’t stem from letting someone else down but from letting ourselves down. Perhaps you’re trying to follow a diet plan because you want to lose or gain a particular amount of weight. If you binge on foods that are not included in your diet or skip a few days at the gym, you might feel like a failure and struggle to forgive yourself.
If you’ve had a plan to start your own business for years now and realize that you haven’t done much lately to work towards it, you might feel disappointed in yourself.
Some degree of disappointment might motivate you to get things back on track. However, wallowing in the feeling is ultimately unproductive. Instead, you could try to forgive yourself, and instead of wallowing, use that time and energy to make a reasonable plan.
Some of the most important benefits of self-forgiveness include:
If you can learn to forgive yourself, you give yourself a stronger chance of getting back on track. When you forgive yourself, you’re more likely to improve or change your behavior so that you don’t hurt the other person in the same way again. You’re also more likely to improve your self-relationship, which will help you get back on track more easily if you lose momentum regarding a personal goal.
Improved mental health and emotional well-being
Research published in Cogent Psychology, shows that forgiving is good for our health, even when forgiveness is directed toward ourselves. When we practice self-forgiveness, our mental health, emotional well-being, attitude, and relationships improve.
Further, when we extend our self-forgiveness into deep self-compassion, we may reap even more benefits. Such as greater success in our pursuits, higher levels of productivity, and improved concentration and focus, not to mention greater confidence and higher self-esteem.
Reduced risk of anxiety and depression
A lack of self-forgiveness, on the other hand, creates even more suffering. If we are unkind or harsh towards ourselves, we may damage our self-esteem and increase our risk of anxiety and depression.
Harsh self-criticism, self-judgment, and a lack of self-compassion increase feelings of negativity and may lead to stress. The issue is that when these feelings are left unresolved, they can lead to burnout, ultimately making us less able to concentrate, less productive at work and in our personal lives, and less able to give ourselves in our relationships.
Learning to forgive yourself
To effectively recover from a mistake you made and eventually forgive yourself, you need to cut back on dwelling, ruminating and criticizing, and focus more on developing a positive, healthy self-relationship.
“Love yourself, accept yourself, forgive yourself, and be good to yourself, because, without you, the rest of us are without a source of many wonderful things.” – Leo Buscaglia.
Developing a healthy self-relationship can be challenging if you’ve made some big mistakes, but it’s a key factor in learning how to forgive yourself and learning how to make better choices in the future. It is also an effective tool for maintaining positive mental health.
Below, we have outlined some tools and techniques to help you reach self-forgiveness. Please take note of these tips and apply them whenever you feel that you’ve made a mistake, whether that involves someone else or in your own private life.
Ways to forgive yourself
Acknowledge your mistake and apologize
Whether you’ve made a mistake involving someone else or it is exclusive to your personal and private life, the first step toward self-forgiveness is acknowledging that a mistake has been made. It’s normal to make a mistake every now and again, and doing so reflects your worth or value as a person.
If your mistake involves hurting or disappointing another person, you need to let it be known that you see the mistake you’ve made. It’s important to make a sincere apology and admit what you did wrong.
When it comes to making an apology, try to be direct and responsible. When we apologize for our actions, we often add a ‘but..’, implying that we may not have done what we did had the other person not behaved in a certain way. For example, ‘I’m sorry I called you a name, but you were annoying me,’ or ‘I’m sorry I looked through your phone, but you were acting suspiciously.’
If you know that you made a mistake involving someone else, take full responsibility for what you’ve done. That’s not to say that the other person is perfect or flawless – they’re human too and may well have made a mistake or exacerbated the situation.
Still, your responsibility is to apologize for what you’ve done, not allocate blame on anyone else. No matter what other people do, we are responsible for our own behavior.
Make amends if possible
If you’ve made a mistake by hurting someone else, try to seek forgiveness from that person and do your best to make amends. Understand that the person you’ve upset might not yet be ready to forgive you. You can’t rush or force other people’s emotions. If your mistake has caused irreparable damage to the relationship between you and the other person, that may be a consequence you simply have to accept.
Still, whether the other person is ready to forgive you or not, doing your best to make amends is an important step on the path to self-forgiveness. Once you’ve acknowledged your mistake, sincerely apologized, and tried to make amends, you can go a little easier on yourself, knowing that you did what you could to make the best of things.
We are our own worst critic. When we’ve made a mistake, there is a tendency in many of us to listen to and believe our harsh inner critic when it tells us we’re worthless, unlovable, or shameful. This harsh inner critic is not constructive and often makes us feel much worse.
Self-compassion is the act of being kind to yourself. It involves accepting yourself as a naturally imperfect but entirely lovable, worthy human being. Self-compassion and self-forgiveness go hand in hand, which is why those with a lack of self-compassion often find it difficult to forgive themselves.
Learn from your mistakes
Being human means being imperfect and being prone to make mistakes once in a while. Do you know anyone that has never made a mistake? One of the most important things to do after you slip up is not to panic and stress about having messed up but to take some time to step back, reflect on your experience, and find the lesson within it.
‘We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience’, writes American philosopher John Dewey.
To learn from your mistakes, you need to own them. It would be best to take full responsibility for everything in the mistake that was within your control, learn from that experience and move on.
Set positive intentions
Once you recognize that a mistake has been made, you’ve apologized for it to yourself or the person you hurt, tried your best to make amends and reflected on the experience so that you could learn the lesson held within it. The next step is to think about how you’re going to move forward.
What are you going to do to make sure that the same mistake doesn’t happen again? What are you going to change, work on, or be more mindful of to avoid a repeat incident?
To help you figure that out, try writing down your intentions. Take a journal or simply a piece of paper, and set some positive intentions for yourself, such as:
- I intend to be more grateful for the people in my life
- I intend to apply more focus and determination in reaching my goals
- I intend to practice mindfulness
As hard as it may be to believe, your past mistakes do not define who you are. You do not have to see yourself as a bad person or as someone unworthy of love and happiness because you’ve made mistakes in the past.
Life is here to be lived and to learn from every single one of our experiences. If you really want to forgive yourself, use your mistakes for good. Learn from them, and let them inspire you to take positive action.