How to Forgive Yourself for Not Doing More

Don’t let guilt and regret consume and overwhelm you. These seven practical steps on how to forgive yourself for not doing more will help you heal, let go of the past, and move forward. Who knows — maybe you’ll even start to plant the seeds and nurture the conditions that will help you Blossom into who you were created to be!

Are you one of those people who never feels quite good enough? I was. I always wished I’d done more to save a relationship or situation. I’d beat myself up for not saying smarter things, or being more helpful or wise in difficult situations. I constantly struggled to forgive myself for not doing more, being more, knowing more. But those days are over! Hallelujah, for it is finished. And you, too, can be comforted by the same peace, joy, and freedom. Here how’s to forgive yourself for not doing more — especially if you’re struggling with guilt, regret, and shame.

I usually write tips-based articles to help people cope with painful problems or situations, such as learning how to grieve in healthy ways or make a difficult decision. This article, however, is more of a process than a list of tips. Here, you’ll find seven practical steps on how to forgive yourself for not doing more to save a relationship or situation.

7 Steps to Forgiving Yourself for Not Doing More

Before you scroll through these steps on how to forgive yourself for not doing more, take a moment to write down your situation. Are you struggling because you didn’t do enough to save your marriage, fix a relationship, or keep a beloved pet alive? Do you wish you’d done more for your mother, sister, church, or God?

Write down your situation. Writing will help you work through your regrets and mistakes. You’ll find yourself lighter and perkier after you express your thoughts and feelings in writing. Your brain will calm down, your emotions will be less scary and overwhelming, and your breathing will slow. You will relax if you take time to write.

These steps on how to forgive yourself for not doing more also require writing, so don’t put your pen and paper away yet!

1. Write down exactly what you “should have” done

How do you wish your relationship or situation would’ve unfolded? Maybe you think you should’ve gone to more counseling sessions — or you regret not seeing a counselor at all. Maybe you wish you would’ve spent more time solving the problem, listening, carefully thinking things through. Maybe you regret an impulse decision, and you see in hindsight that made the wrong choice.

Write it all down. Record what you should have done, and how the situation or relationship would’ve unfolded had you done it that way. This is the first step on how to forgive yourself for not doing more because it reveals exactly what you should have done.

2. Describe the consequences that “should have” happened

forgiving yourself for not doing moreYou know what you should’ve done…now, what should’ve happened in response to your action? Say you should have gone to one or two more counseling sessions to save your marriage. What are the consequences of more counseling?

Pretend you know exactly what you should have done and precisely what should have happened. Pretend you’re God, and you know everything about everyone. Pretend you’re smarter than all the people who ever lived and you know how to run the world perfectly. This is the second step on how to forgive yourself for not doing more because it’ll help you see that you have no idea what would’ve happened even if you did what you think you should’ve done.

3. Consider the idea that things may not have gone your way

Here’s a crazy thought: what if you did exactly what you “should have done”, and the results didn’t unfold exactly the way you envisioned? Continuing with our marriage counseling example — what if you and your husband went to the counselor two or three more times. Do you know it would’ve saved your relationship?

Of course you don’t know for sure how your life or the situation would’ve unfolded had you done more. It’s easy to look back and beat yourself up, because you know more now than you did when you first experienced the situation. But, even if you had done more, you still have no idea what would’ve happened. Your marriage could’ve exploded instead of withering and dying on the vine. Who know what would’ve happened? Certainly not you! Face it: you don’t know what would’ve happened. This third step on how to forgive yourself for not doing more requires you to humble yourself and admit that you may know less than thought.

4. Allow for uncontrollable variables

If you’ve ever conducted an experiment, you know about uncontrolled and controlled variables. In an experiment almost everything is controlled (otherwise the results would be invalid and unreliable). Life isn’t the same as an experiment; almost nothing is under our control.

You may think that if you had done more in your relationship or situation, then X would’ve happened. But you’re not factoring in the Y variable that would’ve changed everything. And you CAN’T factor in those variables because you have no idea what they are! You can’t predict or control that which you do not know. This step on how to forgive yourself is about accepting that even if you had done more to prevent the problem, you couldn’t control the unknowns. Unpredictable little snags and accidents happen all the time.

5. Accept your vulnerability

How to Forgive Yourself for Not Doing More to Prevent the ProblemAh, here’s the really scary part: you have no control over what happens to you. You are vulnerable to people, the marketplace, the workforce, traffic, loved ones, and even the weather. You’re human, weak, frail, and maybe even unprotected (unless you’re saved by Jesus).

Forgiving yourself for not doing more or being more is about accepting that you’re just a human being who can’t do it all. You can’t do it right or perfectly every time, and sometimes you’ll make mistakes. You’ll drop the ball. You’ll make the wrong call. You’ll regret…but if you’re  smart, you’ll choose to move forward in your life.

6. Know what you don’t know

If you still think you should’ve done more, you’re allowing your ego to override your wisdom. You don’t know what you don’t know. What does this mean? It’s a brain teaser, to be sure. But it’s true: there are things you don’t know, that you’ll never know, that you’re not meant to know. And those things — if you knew them — would change everything. But since you don’t know them, you don’t know how they would’ve affected your relationship or situation.

This penultimate (next-to-last) step on how to forgive yourself for not doing more is about your limited capabilities. You’re smart, but you don’t know everything. Thus, you can’t know for sure that unforeseen problems and pains would not have happened even if you’d done more, even if things worked out the way you think they should have. Those things you don’t know have the power to change everything — and you’re oblivious! We all are. Why? Because we’re human. We’re not God.

7. Allow God to be God

And finally, we take the last step toward forgiving yourself for not doing, being, and knowing more: accept that you are a teeny tiny little speck of beauty and uniqueness in a vast universe that is controlled by a huge God who loves you. Not only does He love you — He created you for a specific reason, and He knows exactly what you’re going through.

God allowed this situation into your life for a reason, and you handled it precisely the way you were supposed to. Sure, you’ll do things differently in the future because you’re smarter now. But the past is finished, and you need to keep practicing these steps on how to forgive yourself for not doing more until it actually sinks in.

What do you think? Can you find it in your heart to forgive yourself for not doing more to save your relationship or situation? Or, will you insist on beating yourself up and allowing yourself to be covered in shame, guilt, and regret for the rest of your days?

The choice is yours, my friend. You can choose to Blossom naturally and become who God created you to be, or you can choose to bury yourself in dreck.

Choose wisely, for it’s a matter of life and death.


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4 thoughts on “How to Forgive Yourself for Not Doing More”

  1. A friend of mine feels exactly the same way you do, Donna. She is considering separating and divorcing from her husband – and she feels very embarrassed and ashamed. I think part of it is that she doesn’t know how to forgive herself for not doing more to save the marriage, even though there was nothing more she could have done. The other part is that she made a huge mistake by marrying him and it’s hard for her to admit that.

    So, you are not alone in feeling like you’re a failure. I’m sorry that you’re going through this difficult time, but you are not alone. Surround yourself with people who care for you and love you, and keep moving forward. Soon the most difficult parts will be over, and you’ll find yourself in a new season of life.

    Take good care of yourself, for you are worse taking good care of.



  2. Hi – it’s Donna again from Dubbo, Australia. One of the new ladies at work asked me a question today – and she said the words ‘your ex-husband’ – You know, I felt so embarrassed. I feel as though I’ve done something wrong – to have an ex-husband. Married for 32 years, 3 adult children. And I’m very alone. I feel like I’m a failure? I really do.
    sorry – trying not to be negative..
    love donna

    1. Hi Donna: sorry to hear you are feeling alone and like a failure. Since I have never been divorced, I can’t fully relate to the devastating loss and pain you are going through. I have, however, experienced my own loss and pain and I know that I have found healing through my faith in God and the support of people and groups like “She Blossoms” on facebook. She Blossoms is a closed group on facebook for ladies like you and me. There are ladies that are suffering the same devastating loss of a spouse as you and are finding hope and encouragement through the group. You might consider joining the group if you are not already a member. You may find it healing. Prayers and hugs. Edna

  3. Thank you so much Laurie. This article spoke personally to me. I don’t know about anyone else but I belive the Lord had you pen this article especially for me. To that, I say thank you Jesus for using Laurie to write something that is so helpful and meaningful to me. I have been healing since this mishap in life happened and I feel so much better today. I do forgive myself and I am not going to be mean to myself any more by calling myself every nasty name in the book. I am a child of the King who loves me very much. Thank you Jesus. Thank you Laurie