How to forgive yourself for mistakes

12 Tips for Forgiving Yourself

Making peace and moving forward is often easier said than done. Being able to forgive yourself requires empathy, compassion, kindness, and understanding. It also requires you to accept that forgiveness is a choice.

Whether you’re trying to work through a minor mistake or one that impacts all areas of your life, the steps you need to take in order to forgive yourself will look and feel the same.

All of us make mistakes at times. As humans, we’re imperfect. The trick, says Arlene B. Englander, LCSW, MBA, PA is to learn and move on from our mistakes. As painful and uncomfortable as it may feel, there are things in life that are worth enduring the pain for in order to move forward, and forgiving yourself is one of them.

Here are 12 tips you can try the next time you want to forgive yourself.

One of the first steps in learning how to forgive yourself is to focus on your emotions. Before you can move forward, you need to acknowledge and process your emotions. Give yourself permission to recognize and accept the feelings that have been triggered in you and welcome them.

If you make a mistake and continue to struggle with letting it go, acknowledge out loud what you learned from the mistake, says Jordan Pickell, MCP, RCC.

When you give a voice to the thoughts in your head and the emotions in your heart, you may free yourself from some of the burdens. You also imprint in your mind what you learned from your actions and consequences.

Englander says to think of each “mistake” as a learning experience that holds the key to moving forward faster and more consistently in the future.

Reminding ourselves that we did the best we could with the tools and knowledge we had at the time, will help us forgive ourselves and move forward.

If you make a mistake but have a hard time putting it out of your mind, Pickell says to visualize your thoughts and feelings about the mistake going into a container, such as a mason jar or box.

Then, tell yourself you are putting this aside for now and will return to it if and when it will benefit you.

Journaling can help you understand your inner critic and develop self-compassion. Pickell says one thing you can do is write out a “conversation” between you and your inner critic. This can help you identify thought patterns that are sabotaging your ability to forgive yourself.

You can also use journaling time to make a list of the qualities you like about yourself, including your strengths and skills. This can help boost your self-confidence when you’re feeling down about a mistake you made.

We are our own worst critics, right? That’s why Pickell says one important action tip is to notice when that harsh voice comes in and then write it down. You might be surprised by what your inner critic actually says to you.

Sometimes it can be difficult to recognize the thoughts that are getting in the way of forgiveness. If you’re struggling to sort out your inner critic, Pickell suggests this exercise:

  • On one side of a piece of paper, write down what
    your inner critic says (which tends to be critical and irrational).
  • On the other side of the paper, write a
    self-compassionate and rational response for each thing you wrote on the other
    side of the paper.

If the mistake you made hurt another person, you need to determine the best course of action. Do you want to talk to this person and apologize? Is it important to reconcile with them and make amends?

If you’re on the fence about what to do, you might want to consider making amends. This goes beyond saying sorry to a person you’ve hurt. Instead, try to fix the mistake you’ve made. One study found that forgiving ourselves for hurting another is easier if we first make amends.

Oftentimes, it’s easier to tell someone else what to do than to take our own advice. Licensed marriage and family therapist, Heidi McBain, LMFT, LPT, RPT says to ask yourself what you would tell your best friend if they were sharing this mistake they made with you, and then take your own advice.

If you’re having a difficult time working through this in your head, it can help to role-play with your friend. Ask them to take on your mistake. They will tell you what happened and how they are struggling to forgive themselves.

You get to be the advice giver and practice telling your friend how to move on.

It’s human nature to spend time and energy replaying our mistakes. While some processing is important, going over what happened again and again won’t allow you to take the proper steps to forgive yourself.

When you catch yourself playing the “I’m a horrible person” tape, stop yourself and focus on one positive action step. For example, instead of replaying the tape, take three deep breaths or go for a walk.

Interrupting the thought pattern can help you move away from the negative experience and reduce stress and anxiety.

If your first response to a negative situation is to criticize yourself, it’s time to show yourself some kindness and compassion. The only way to begin the journey to forgiveness is to be kind and compassionate with yourself.

This takes time, patience, and a reminder to yourself that you’re worthy of forgiveness.

If you’re struggling to forgive yourself, you may benefit from talking to a professional. McBain recommends talking to a counselor who can help you learn how to break these unhealthy patterns in your life and learn new and healthier ways of coping with mistakes.

Online therapy options

Read our review of the best online therapy options to find the right fit for you.

Forgiveness is important to the healing process since it allows you to let go of the anger, guilt, shame, sadness, or any other feeling you may be experiencing, and move on.

Once you identify what you’re feeling, give a voice to it and accept that mistakes are inevitable. You’ll begin to see how freeing forgiveness can be.

11 Ways to Forgive Yourself

We’ve all been there. You forgot to send a wedding present, spilled a secret that wasn’t yours to share, or perhaps even did something to intentionally hurt someone else. And now you feel like a total jerk. You’ve got a lump in your stomach and you can’t stop replaying the situation in your head. Deep down, you know you’re better than this, but right now, it feels like you’re the worst person in the world. And you have no idea when—or even if—you’ll ever be able to forgive yourself.

However, stewing in remorse isn't a productive way to cope. As difficult as it may seem, letting go of guilt and shame is a necessary part of moving on from any mistake or embarrassment. Even if we can't change how someone else reacts to a situation, we can always change our own outlook. Here's to finally forgive yourself—or at least try.

Remember that it's okay to feel guilty.

“Every emotion we have serves a purpose," says Jenny Scott, LCSW. "Happiness tells us something is going right and encourages us to connect with others. Sadness informs us that we’ve lost something. It's the same with guilt.”

Mistakes help us evolve into better people.

When we learn to experience guilty feelings as a way of receiving information, we are already healing from our mistake. “The emotion of guilt lets us know that our actions or behaviors conflict with our values and beliefs,” says Scott. “It also helps us repair the damage that might remain thanks to our wrongdoing or accident."

But, understand the difference between guilt and shame.

“Guilt serves a purpose. Shame does not,” says Scott. With guilt, you tend to understand exactly what you did wrong, why you made the mistake, and how you can repair the situation. There’s nothing left to do. Shame is a bit trickier. With shame, you can feel like you’re underneath a pile-on, with no way to climb out, which is not a helpful way to heal, she says.

Admit you messed up.

Everyone struggles with admitting they’ve done something bad, but denial is how people get themselves into even deeper trouble. There are only so many times you can blame tardiness on the train, or forget your mother-in-law’s birthday because you’ve “been so busy.

Own your mistakes.

“Often times, we use denial as a way to protect ourselves from the negative emotions of shame and guilt,” says Scott. “And while it may be more comfortable to believe that we haven’t done anything wrong, it never helps the situation. Ignoring a problem does not make it go away.” At some point (soon), you’re going to have to claim your mistakes for what they are: not your proudest moments, but part of your evolution towards becoming a better person.

Apologize to anyone you may have hurt.

Of course, your first impulse will probably be to mend relationships or trust that's been breached. The only way to do this correctly is to step fully into your culpability, and admit fault.

“Offer a heartfelt apology and do your best to right any outstanding wrongs," says Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist and author of How To Be Yourself: Quiet Your Inner Critic And Rise Above Social Anxiety. Make sure to listen and be open to however that person responds, and don’t pressure or demand forgiveness from them right away. Or even ever.

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“You can't control when or if someone else forgives you,” says Scott. “But if you've done what you can to make amends then you can move on.” Give that person space if they ask for it.

Give those you've wronged space.

Imagine what forgiveness would feel like.

Hendriksen offers an exercise for mastering this complex emotion. “One thing we can do is visualize a scene in which we are forgiven. How does your body feel? What emotions arise? What actions would you take? A vivid imagining of how forgiveness would feel, both inside and out, can help true self-forgiveness come to fruition.”

Write yourself an apology.

Include how you offered remorse to others and how you plan to make amends. Ask yourself what you’ll do differently next time, and then, if you like, read what you’ve written out loud.

Know that this error doesn't define you.

Be comfortable saying you disappointed yourself, but find strength in knowing this one error doesn’t define you. Most importantly, remember to be kind. “Rather than ruminating or lashing yourself with guilt, practice self-compassion, which involves soothing and coaching yourself as you would with a good friend,” says Hendriksen. Afterall, as Hendriksen points out, “you can't heal in a punitive environment.”

Learn from your mistake.

What’s the point of feeling guilty if it doesn’t change how you’ll respond in the future? "If you think you’re ready, ask yourself the question, 'Why did your action feel okay in the moment?'" says Dr. Scott. “All of these questions have a lesson behind them and can be a teachable moment.”

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Take care of yourself, mentally and physically.

Because guilt is such a visceral feeling, it can manifest in all sorts of painful ways. “Emotionally you can feel tense, and have this drive to make things better even if you’ve already done so," cautions Scott. “If we carry the guilt and shame too long, it can cause distance in our relationships. Carried even longer, it can begin to alter our perception of ourselves and take a significant toll on our confidence and mental health.” That’s why it’s important to apologize and forgive yourself as soon as you can, and, if you are having serious trouble moving forward, seek the help of a therapist.

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Physical signs of guilt manifest themselves similarly to anxiety, says Scott. Muscle tension, headaches, GI issues, lack of focus and concentration, are all symptoms. That’s why it’s important to move your body, practice mindful breathing, and eat healthy, even if you might feel the inclination to punish yourself.

Be patient.

This might be the hardest part. Often when we feel embarrassed and guilty about our actions, we want everything to be back to normal (especially if we’ve hurt people). But you can’t rush your own feelings, and you certainly can’t make anyone else move faster on their emotions, either.

You can't rush your feelings. Or anybody else's.

“We're social animals—we need the company of others for belonging, community, and plain old love,” says Hendriksen. “When we transgress, we acknowledge our mistake by feeling guilty. It's a way of demonstrating empathy, regret, and understanding, and ensuring we will be accepted back into the group. But sometimes we overshoot and flog ourselves to a point that's out of proportion with our transgression.”

Instead of ruminating in your error, try accepting that there’s nothing else you can do to resolve the issue, and press pause on your worrying. Of course, your feelings will still be there tomorrow, but at least they won’t have ruined your entire day.

Don't try to change other people.

Even if you've apologized to the people you've hurt, and begun the process of forgiving yourself, it’s still likely that you'll feel embarrassed by our actions—if only because you're still concerned with how other people feel about you. But other people’s opinions can only hold so much weight, and their opinions are rarely part of the solution.

Practice what you preach.

“Social media puts out this idea that we expect perfection and anything less deserves to be shamed," says Scott. “This, when seen on a daily basis, only reinforces the idea that we better not make a mistake or else this may be us.” But the truth is, everyone makes mistakes—whether they’re accidents or bad judgement calls. Learning to process feelings of guilt and avoid those of shame will prevent us from reacting in a way we might regret, or worse, continuing to feel bad for something we can’t change.

Pro tip: Practice doing this for others before you have any reason to do it for yourself. Don’t shame people who’ve wronged you, and, if warranted, truly grant them forgiveness when they ask for it.

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How to forgive yourself for mistakes and move on

September 16 Life

Learn to distinguish "good" mistakes from "bad" ones and turn regrets into invaluable lessons.

None of us can change the past, no matter how much we would like to. Therefore, we learn to live with obsessive thoughts “I wonder what would happen if…” and try to get used to the constant regret that accompanies our every mistake.

The approach of psychologists Shelley Carson and Ellen Langer, who divide mistakes into “good” and “bad”, will help to cope with such a rush of emotions. They differ only in our reaction - we learn from the "good" ones, and we are desperately ashamed of the "bad" ones.

To identify your "bad" mistakes, do one simple task - continue the phrase "I'm sorry that ...". This way you will know what regrets to work with. And to turn “bad” mistakes into “good” ones, use five basic strategies.

1. Accept joys and difficulties equally

To change the perception of events that occur in our lives, we need to look into ourselves. This is where mindfulness management comes in handy.

Focus on your breath or try any other meditation practice that you enjoy. Listen to your thoughts and feelings, accept what is happening in your life and consider possible scenarios. Yes, you cannot change the past, but you can choose the future.

2. Be kind to yourself

Author of the book Self-Compassion. About the power of compassion and kindness to yourself ”Christine Neff is sure that it is self-compassion that helps to accept yourself. She suggests trying a practice that combines inner strength and self-love.

To do this, ask yourself two important questions:

  1. How can I show self-compassion when dealing with my mistakes?
  2. How to give yourself the opportunity to think about the current situation and draw the necessary lessons from it?

The answers will help you understand how to work through past mistakes without blaming yourself.

3. Study yourself

To do this, try asking yourself leading questions:

  • What can I learn from this experience?
  • If I were in that situation again, what would I do differently? How would you change yourself?
  • What do I need to learn to make the right decision next time?
  • What advice would I give to someone in the same situation?
  • What thoughts, habits, or character traits do I need to work on to avoid making the same mistake again?

4. Determine what you can and cannot change

Not all mistakes can be corrected. Sometimes the worst has already happened, and the only thing you can do is to accept it. Ask yourself if you can make a difference. Just be honest with yourself: is what happened just one unfortunate mistake or a whole chain of reckless decisions?

"We can't choose the cards we're dealt, but we can choose how we play them," says Carnegie Mellon University professor Randy Pausch.

If your mistake hurt another person, try not just to apologize, but to listen to him. After that, you can share your thoughts and tell what this situation has taught you and what you plan to do next.

Randy Pausch identified three important parts of any apology:

  1. Mentioning what you did wrong.
  2. Apology for causing pain.
  3. Question about what can be done to improve the situation.

5. Motivate Yourself

Find an inspirational phrase that will help you move on through difficult times. You can repeat it to yourself or make it a screensaver on your phone - as long as it makes you feel better.

For believers, and perhaps not only them, the prayer of the German theologian Karl Etinger will suit: “Lord, give me peace to accept what I cannot change, give me the courage to change what I can change, and give me wisdom distinguish one from the other."

Read also 🧐

  • Why we blame people for other people's mistakes, but circumstances for our own
  • 7 mistakes in life that anyone can make
  • Why it is so difficult to admit your mistakes and what to do about it

9 steps to forgive yourself

82 017

Know yourself A man among people Practices how to

Quarrels, misunderstandings and insults happen to everyone. It happens that because of fatigue, we take out our anger on loved ones. Or, on emotions, we say something that in a normal state would never be said. And sometimes we are completely guilty only because our words were misunderstood.

One way or another, imperfection is inherent in any person, and we do not need to be ashamed of this. On the contrary, you should learn from your mistakes and do everything to forgive yourself for them. Otherwise, this negative experience will be a heavy burden on the heart and pull other problems with it.

1. Recognize and embrace your "dark side"

You may not like the way this part of you looks. You do not want to admit that you have difficulty controlling your anger and aggression. Or the fact that you lead an unhealthy lifestyle or hate your job. But having accepted it, you will accept yourself entirely - with all the advantages, disadvantages and ambiguous features. And do not underestimate your human dignity, but, on the contrary, you will become a unique personality.

2. Be honest with yourself

When you embrace your dark side, you become truly honest with yourself. You can rejoice in both your own strengths and weaknesses, rejoice in the humanity that makes you such a unique person. And you can also admit that you are not always able to meet your own and other people's expectations. This awareness and closeness to natural human experiences will help you forgive yourself.

3. Learn from mistakes

As we have already said, mistakes are most often useful: they provide new experience and new tools that may come in handy in the future. If you look at them from this angle, will your attitude to what happened change? At the same time, think about what else you could do. What could influence your behavior at that moment? How would this change the situation?

4. Ask for forgiveness from those who have been hurt

Forgiveness requires sincere repentance, so you need to ask for it only for what you are really guilty of. You should not apologize to please someone: the fact that a person is dissatisfied with something does not mean at all that you are to blame. Don't forget to show your regret visually, such as showing changes or sharing your thoughts. So people will understand that you are apologizing from the bottom of your heart.


Remember your good deeds

A person cannot be divided into good and bad parts. Each of us is a whole world of emotions, sensations, thoughts and spiritual experiences. So while we encourage you to embrace your "dark side", it's equally important that you remember all your good deeds. Feel them and rejoice in the energy of kindness! And don't think that the little good things you do every day don't matter. It's the little things like this that make the world a better place.

6. Find rituals to help you forgive yourself

Rituals help us come to terms with our nature: in Christianity, for example, the sacrament allows believers to acknowledge their imperfections, but reminds them that God loves them anyway. Such ceremonies, which give meaning to life's successes and failures, are exactly what is lacking in the modern world, where many are far from religions.

But you can come up with your own, not necessarily complex. A good option is a daily family dinner, during which everyone shares the events of the past day. Such joint meals (with friends, colleagues, relatives) help to feel like a part of something bigger.

7. Become friends with yourself

There are many tools to help you accept and understand yourself at the level of body, heart and mind. Someone uses diaries with questions, others keep notes and share their thoughts about the past day in them. Try to find what is right for you.

8. Take care of your body

Try to evaluate your lifestyle. Do you eat healthy food? Are you physically active enough? Are you taking care of your mind by giving it a chance to rest? All of these are important components of good health. If there are problems with him, then you will not even get to the thoughts of forgiveness soon.

9. Remember that you are part of something bigger

The easiest way to achieve this understanding is through a religious community—a church, temple, mosque, or synagogue—because they keep people from feeling alone in their experiences.

Learn more