7 Practical Ways to Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes

Yes, you can learn how to forgive yourself for your past mistakes. Your failures are behind you; you don’t have to carry them anymore. You learned from your mistakes, and you’re stronger, kinder, and wiser now.

To make peace with yourself and be happy, you need to learn how to forgive yourself. These steps towards forgiving yourself are inspired by a counseling session I recently observed when I was getting my Master of Social Work (MSW) at the University of British Columbia. I sat in on a therapy session with a counselor and a man recovering from heroin addiction. He said he has no problem forgiving people who hurt him, but he can’t forgive himself for the bad things he’s done. He hates himself. “Why is it so hard,” he asked, “to forgive myself for my past?”





In the therapy session I observed, the counselor didn’t explain why it’s so hard for us to forgive ourselves. I’ve been thinking about this for awhile, and I wonder if the struggle to forgive ourselves has to do with shame and guilt.

When we do something wrong, we should feel guilty. “I did a bad thing.” That’s appropriate guilt, and it motivates us to make amends and ask for forgiveness. Hopefully, we can forgive ourselves for making mistakes and doing the wrong thing.

But, if we feel ashamed of ourselves (“I am a bad person” instead of “I did a bad thing”), then we might have a more difficult time forgiving ourselves for our past mistakes and failures. If you read How to Forgive Yourself for Not Protecting Your Dog, you’ll see both shame and guilt in action.

Before you read my tips on how to forgive yourself for your past mistakes and failures, consider the difference between guilt and shame. Do you hate yourself for what you did? That’s shame. Do you feel that you made a mistake, used bad judgment, or made the wrong choice? That’s guilt. Learning how to separate the two concepts will help with self-forgiveness.

7 Tips on How to Forgive Yourself for Your Past

In Conflict: From Theory to Action Roxane Lulofs and Dudley Cahn describe nine elements of forgiving someone for what they did to you. Here are those ideas, rewritten into practical tips for forgiving yourself for your past mistakes or failures.

You’ll find 10 practical reasons for self-forgiveness after these tips on how to forgive yourself. If you’re not ready to learn how to forgive, you might be ready to learn why self-forgiveness is so important.

1. Accept that self-forgiveness is a process that takes time

You don’t forgive yourself once and poof! You’re suddenly free from guilt, conviction, condemnation. Why? Because you’re not God. He seems to be the only one who can just forgive and forget. Truly, He has a really bad memory for our past mistakes, failures, and regrets. He forgives Believers and forgets our failures quickly and easily – our mistakes are as far as the east is from the west.

But self-forgiveness isn’t that easy for us mere mortals. It’s a shame, because if God can forgive us…who are we to hold on to our past mistakes and failures? Learning how to forgive yourself for your past is a process that takes time to perfect. Unfortunately, the worse you feel about what you did, the longer it’ll take to forgive yourself. But it gets easier! Healing and learning how to love yourself is always a process – and so is grieving the choice you made or the harm you caused.

You can trust the process of self-forgiveness if you actively learn how to forgive yourself and let go of your past.

2. Learn how others forgave themselves

O, the guilt I carried around for the bad things I did! It’s embarrassing and shameful to think about my wrong choices, illegal behavior, and immoral acts. I tormented myself by recalling what I did wrong. I relived my mistakes, revisited my regrets, and reviewed my failures over and over. I burdened myself needlessly. What a waste of time and energy. What a waste of joy and peace. Instead of being productive and fruitful, I wallowed in my own muck and mire. Foolish!

How to Forgive Yourself for Your Failures

7 Practical Ways to Forgive Yourself for Your Failures

How did I learn how to forgive myself for my past?

I learned how to see myself the way God sees me. It was a life-changing moment: I was in a Bible Study, and we were to write down how God sees us. I closed my eyes, took a few minutes to picture myself in God’s eyes, and Hello! There she is, a vulnerable, innocent, bouncy, fresh, curly-haired, joyful little girl. I saw how the world hurt her, and I saw why she was so insecure and afraid. I understood why she made bad choices. I accepted God’s loving, compassionate, and kind view of me, and I was able to forgive myself.

3. Learn about self-forgiveness from wise teachers

Tim Keller, author of Counterfeit Gods, has preached several sermons on self-forgiveness. He says it’s actually a sin not to forgive yourself for your past because you’re making yourself mightier and more important than God. If He forgives you, how can you hold on to your mistakes and regrets? You’re putting your ego and self-image above God’s view of you. You’re making yourself God when you don’t forgive yourself.

“Refuse to remember something God has chosen to forget,” says Joyce Meyer. “Whatever your sin or failure, you need to confess it to God and then let it go. Stop punishing yourself for something that is in the past.”

Read books on how to forgive yourself. If you’re not a Believer, find non-Christian books on forgiveness. Don’t assume that one blog post on forgiveness – or even hours of reading online articles about how to forgive yourself – will teach you what you need to know. You need to really learn how to forgive by reading about the gift of self-forgiveness.

4. Practice different ways of thinking – let the guilt whoosh on by

This is one of my most practical tips on how to forgive yourself for your past: simply replace your self-condemnation with a healthier, more life-giving thought.

When a guilty thought drops into my brain, I let it whoosh on by. I don’t engage it, I don’t fight with it, I don’t argue with it…I simply replace it with a healthy joyful thought that makes me feel loved, secure, and free. This is surprisingly effective! I’m also becoming more aware of when to expect those condemning thoughts, and I’m ready for them. For me, it’s while I’m making coffee at 4:15 am every morning. That’s the time I tend to feel most guilty for my past mistakes and failures, and that’s when I practice my own tips on how to forgive myself.

5. Choose your healthy life-giving thoughts that bring freedom and healing

It took me a long time to come up with the exact right thought for me. I practiced different Scriptural verses, but none really stuck. I saved different words of wisdom from teachers like Joyce Meyers, Nicky Gumbel, Tim Keller.

“The Spirit of the Lord brings radical freedom to our lives,” said Nicky Gumbel, founder of Alpha. “Freedom from legalism, guilt, condemnation, self-hatred and self-rejection. Freedom from the power of sin, selfishness, manipulation and control. Freedom from the fear of death and fear of what others think of us. Freedom from comparing ourselves with others. You are free to know, love and serve God. You are free to use your life and energy to love others. You are free to be yourself. You can approach God with boldness (2 Corinthians 3:12). You do not need to veil your face.”

That was too long for me to recite when I found myself struggling with guilty thoughts, so I say this to myself: “Come to me when you are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” Jesus said this in Matthew, and it comforts and heals me. It speaks to my regrets and failures, and it helps me forget my past mistakes.

6. Grieve your wounds; grieve the pain you caused others

What did you do wrong? How did you hurt other people; how did you hurt yourself? Meet your pain. Grieve your past. It’s scary and painful to grieve, but it is important and healthy. Write about the choices you made, and how your actions affected people.

Allow yourself to be angry about how you’ve been hurt. “Hurt people hurt others,” says Joyce Meyer. The reason you’re here, learning how to forgive yourself for your past, is because you were hurt. You hurt others out of your own pain and wounded-ness. To heal – to forgive yourself – involves grieving what you experienced. Grieve the choices you made. If you’ve been beating yourself up for years, decide that it is time for you to move on. Refuse to allow yourself to wallow in victimhood. Choose to give yourself the gift of learning how to forgive yourself.





If you’re dealing with shame, read How to Stop Hating Yourself.

7. Find a forgiving, accepting, humble person to talk to

Have you shared your mistakes and regrets with someone you trust? What you keep inside you will destroy you; what you “confess” will heal you. I’m not Catholic and I’m not suggesting you confess your sins to a priest, but I know that keeping secrets impedes healing and growth. Shedding light on your past by talking about it will help you heal. Walking in dark will make you stumble and fall; walking in light and connecting with others will help you go farther and faster than you thought possible.

How have you grown because of your past? What would you do differently next time? Use your experience to make better, healthier choices in the future. Don’t waste it your failures. Plant them.

Books on How to Forgive Yourself for Your Past

forgiving yourselfHow To Forgive Ourselves Totally: Begin Again by Breaking Free from Past Mistakes by R.T. Kendall will take you deeper into the process of self-forgiveness.

“Detached forgiveness is when there is a reduction in negative feelings toward the offender, but no reconciliation takes place,” writes Kendall. “Limited forgiveness is when there is a reduction in negative feelings toward the offender and the relationship is partially restored, but there is a decrease in the emotional intensity of the relationship. Full forgiveness occurs when there is a total cessation of negative feelings toward the offender, and the relationship is fully restored.”

How to Forgive YourselfIn Forgiveness: How to Make Peace With Your Past and Get on With Your Life, Sidney B. Simon and Suzanne Simon offer practical exercises and tips for healing. You’ll learn the art and practice of self-forgiveness and self-acceptance, and give yourself the freedom you need to heal.

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” – Lewis B. Smedes.

If you haven’t written about your past mistakes and failures, share them below. Don’t use your real name. Be honest about what you did wrong and how you’ve changed. Tell us what you learned and where you’re headed. I can’t offer advice or forgiveness, but you may find yourself one step closer to learning how to forgive yourself.

 

Forgiving Yourself After a Difficult Decision

Here’s a part of an email I wrote to a woman who can’t forgive herself for rehoming her dog:

Dear MK,

I’m sorry you’re going through this — it’s such a terrible feeling, wondering if you did the right thing. And the guilt and pain never seems to go away (though it does get lighter and easier to live with!). Getting counseling is a good idea, because it’ll help you deal with the guilt. A good counselor will help you learn how to forgive yourself, and how to let go of your own self-judgments and self-criticisms.

Try not to people bother you – they who judge, condemn, and criticize you for the choices you made. They’re too narrow-minded to see that we’re all on different journeys in life, we have different reasons for making the choices we do, and we’re all doing the best we can. Maybe we made the wrong decision to give our pet away – I often wonder if I did! – but we made the best decision we could at the time.

If you feel guilty for the “bad” things you did, you need to learn how to accept, love, and forgive yourself. I’m working on that – I want to be more compassionate towards myself, so I can be more compassionate and loving towards others. You did the right thing — you made the best decision you could’ve made at that point and time in your life.

We have to remember that we made decisions based on what we were going through at the time, and know that we did the best we could.

Blessings,
Laurie

10 Reasons to Forgive Yourself for Your Past Mistakes or Failures

“If you reject or push away some aspect of yourself, it only gets bigger,” writes Judd in Love Has Wings. “You have to embrace it – it is a part of you and you cannot deny it forever. Don’t label something as ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’; embrace it with honesty and acceptance.”

Are you tired of beating yourself up for the mistakes you made? It’s time to forgive yourself, because…

1. Changing the past is impossible. You did the best you could with the skills, knowledge, emotions, and personality you had at the time. What good comes from beating yourself up for the mistakes you made?

How to Forgive Yourself for Your Past Mistakes

How to Forgive Yourself for Your Past Mistakes

2. Accepting the worst parts of yourself – your insecurities, weaknesses, shameful acts, “bad” decisions – will help you love yourself. The result? You’ll be at peace with who you are and what you’ve done.

3. Forgiving yourself makes you strong, confident, safe, secure, and trusting. The result? This will help you make good decisions now and in the future.

4. Having compassion for yourself makes you more compassionate towards others. The result? You’re a kinder, happier, more caring person. And the world needs more of those!

5. Embracing your fears and insecurities may bring short-term pain, and long-term relief. The result? You’ll build better relationships with people – and with yourself.

6. Learning how to forgive yourself for the mistakes you made increases your self-perception and self-esteem. The result? You feel better about yourself, which inspires you to make better choices.

7. Releasing your inner critic makes you feel happier and friendlier towards both yourself and the world. The result? You will attract happy, friendly, positive, warm people into your life.

8. Surrendering to your regrets and failures, to your past decisions and choices, will help you live mindfully. The result? You learn to exist in the moment…and the moment is all you have.

9. Loving yourself frees you from addiction – whether you’re addicted to food, shopping, drugs, sex, or people pleasing. The result? You’re free from addiction!

10. Letting go of the past makes you lighter and free-er. The result? You can move forward without emotional baggage that drags you down.

Another Resource for Self-Forgiveness

Reasons to Forgive YourselfI’m reading Love Has Wings: Free Yourself from Limiting Beliefs and Fall in Love with Life, and I love it. It’s about accepting yourself, your life, and the choices you made — but also making change and taking steps forward.

“True freedom is about taking responsibility for who you are, embracing who you are, and trusting in your own inner voice,” writes Judd in Love Has Wings.

I’d add that true freedom comes from forgiving yourself for your past mistakes, regrets, and failures. Before I learned how to forgive myself, that was the biggest thing holding me back in life: remorse for the things I did.

Now I know that God has a terrible memory 🙂 and I am free from guilt and condemnation. I am free!

What do you think – can you forgive yourself for your past mistakes, regrets, failures, and choices? I welcome your thoughts below. I can’t offer advice, but you may find it healing and liberating to be honest about who you are.

xo


16 Responses

  1. Anna says:

    I know exactly how you feel as our kitty was returned to the breeder after just 2 days. His presence triggered the sadest memories for us and it became to painful to surrender to him and love him. I posted my story here and felt much better afterwards. Even though we waited over 12 months to bring a new kitty into our lives, we were not ready. We may never have pets again but we will manage. Life must go on and we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for giving up our loved ones.
    I wish I could find those amazing quotes re forgiveness that Laurie posted. I’m so glad I found Laurie’s website.

  2. Laurie says:

    Thank you for being here, and for sharing your thoughts on how to forgive yourself. It seems like forgiving others is easier than forgiving ourselves, isn’t it?

    May we accept the greatest forgiveness of all – from God – and learn how to treat ourselves with compassion.

  3. Lori says:

    Just googled “guilty for giving pet away”. I am so happy that I found you’re article. Thank you for you’re insight and experince. I thought I could do it all. Be a mommy to a 20 month old and six year old, own a dog with alot of needs, work full time, cook, clean up after a dog and children, keep social life, fit in time for my partner, romance…It became a whirlwind of domestic confusion. Something had to give. Sadly that was our beautiful Chihuahua we have only owned for three months. It is the hardest thing dealing with guilt that you couldn’t do it all and that you brought an animal into you’re life. I still think about her alot at night time and convince myself I made the right choice….Thank you again Laurie.

  4. MK says:

    What i don’t understand why I’m doing this to myself, why I can’t learn how to forgive myself. I gave my dog away, i know where he is with good people, I see him every week sometimes a few times a week, I’m not judging anyone for having to give dog to a shelter I know for me it would hurt me even more then the pain I feel now and we are still in each others lives.I know he’s ok but i still have the guilt.it just doesn’t make sense to me why I feel the way i do.

    I just hope that with telling my story it will help me deal with my own pain and help others deal with theirs.I hope I’m on my way to healing and i plan on doing a lot of reading with these books that are recommended because i can’t go on like this.it feels like quicksand that i can’t get out but I’m gonna try to use your tips for forgiving myself.

  5. Uppal says:

    Hi Laurie,

    Enjoyed your article. The tips which we tend to forget all the time and torture ourselves unnecessarily.Forgetting and moving forward is the key thing in life.

  6. Anna says:

    I know exactly how you feel as our kitty was returned to the breeder after just 2 days. His presence triggered the sadest memories for us and it became to painful to surrender to him and love him. I posted my story here and felt much better afterwards. Even though we waited over 12 months to bring a new kitty into our lives, we were not ready. We may never have pets again but we will manage. Life must go on and we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves for giving up our loved ones.
    I wish I could find those amazing quotes re forgiveness that Laurie posted. I’m so glad I found Laurie’s website.

  7. Laurie says:

    Thank you for being here, and for sharing your thoughts on how to forgive yourself. It seems like forgiving others is easier than forgiving ourselves, isn’t it?

    May we accept the greatest forgiveness of all – from God – and learn how to treat ourselves with compassion.

  8. Tracy says:

    Hi Laurie,

    I have just come across your website. I too gave my pet away after losing my other dog that I had had for 11 and a half years. My first dog who I had to have euthanised due to very ill health was everything to me, I did not want him to suffer so stayed with him as he was put to sleep, he had heart problems and his eye sight was fading, the vet said it was the kindest thing to do. Not long after I got a rescue dog, when I brought him home, I cried constantly and felt it was not fair on the dog. I took him back to the dogs home after two weeks and since then have felt tremendous guilt and still think of him. I kick myself constantly for taking him back and miss him so much. He was a year old and a lovely dog, I wished I had given him a chance, I have not felt the same since and not had any other pets since. This was in 2010 and the feelings have still not gone away. I have had counselling too.

    I just wanted to share my feelings and I wish I could have peace of mind again and forgive myself.

  9. Lori says:

    Just googled “guilty for giving pet away”. I am so happy that I found you’re article. Thank you for you’re insight and experince. I thought I could do it all. Be a mommy to a 20 month old and six year old, own a dog with alot of needs, work full time, cook, clean up after a dog and children, keep social life, fit in time for my partner, romance…It became a whirlwind of domestic confusion. Something had to give. Sadly that was our beautiful Chihuahua we have only owned for three months. It is the hardest thing dealing with guilt that you couldn’t do it all and that you brought an animal into you’re life. I still think about her alot at night time and convince myself I made the right choice….Thank you again Laurie.

  10. Laurie says:

    Thanks for your comments – I’m glad to hear from you, and very happy that this article about forgiving yourself was helpful.

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  11. Chickiepea says:

    Thank you again. The part about dogs triggering a deep emotional response is spot-on. I just said to a friend that I have “doggy issues” the way some people have “mommy issues.” There is something to that.

  12. eileen says:

    I want to thank you for helping me see and feel there’s hope.now i just have to figure out what’s really going on and hopefully get to the bottom of it because this really sucks.I plan on reading these books u mentioned, continue counseling,volunteer at shelter.I’m sick and tired of feeling this way and I’m the only one who can change that.these articles have given me the strength to acknowledge that now the real work begins.

    Thanks again

  13. Laurie says:

    Hi Eileen,

    Yes, it was you I was referring to! I’ve learned that readers don’t always like when I use their real names in my articles, so I changed yours.

    Sometimes we feel inappropriately or inordinately bad about the decisions we made, because of unresolved issues in our past. The current situation is a “trigger” that opens up the floodgates of past feelings.

    So, maybe you feel extremely guilty not just because of your dog, but because it’s touched something else inside of you.

    I recently read that if we have extreme or unrealistic emotional reactions to a specific event, then it’s a sign of an unresolved past emotional issue. I’m not saying this is the case for you, but it’s what I read…and it’s often the case for me.

    Also, dogs bring out a whole different side of us! When I got my dog Jazz, I cried every day for the whole time we had her. She was triggering some deep emotional response in me, and I still don’t really know what it was. But, just knowing that there’s something else going on does help.

    Anyway, thanks for commenting on this article – and for inspiring me to list the reasons to forgive yourself for the “bad” things you did! I don’t think you did anything wrong or bad AT ALL, but I do hope you can forgive yourself, have compassion, and move on into a happier, healthier stage.

    Please do come back and let me know how you are!

    Blessings,
    Laurie

  14. eileen says:

    What i don’t understand why I’m doing this to myself is because I know where he is with good people, I see him every week sometimes a few times a week, I’m not judging anyone for having to give dog to a shelter I know for me it would hurt me even more then the pain I feel now and we are still in each others lives.I know he’s ok but i still have the guilt.it just doesn’t make sense to me why I feel the way i do.I just hope that with telling my story it will help me deal with my own pain and help others deal with theirs.I hope I’m on my way to healing and i plan on doing a lot of reading with these books that are recommended because i can’t go on like this.it feels like quicksand that i can’t get out but I’m gonna try.

  15. eileen says:

    Your response to the woman who can’t forgive herself for giving away her pet was actually the response to my comment on your other article.to see this article knowing u were talking about me made my jaw drop.even tho the names r different I no it was my comment and ur response was exactly the same.I’m going to get this book and hope it will help me with my guilt and to help me stop beating myself up over my situation and find some compassion towards myself.

  16. Uppal says:

    Hi Laurie,

    Enjoyed your article. The tips which we tend to forget all the time and torture ourselves unnecessarily.Forgetting and moving forward is the key thing in life.

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