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Let Go of Past Mistakes: 6 Steps To Forgiving Yourself

“At any given moment, you have the power to say: This is not how the story is going to end.” ~ Christine Mason Miller 

Sometimes you do or say things you regret. If you’ve experienced this recently, you might be struggling to forgive yourself, especially if your actions hurt someone you love.

A few months ago, I had a falling out with a friend. It happened like most misunderstandings do: swiftly and unexpectedly. I barely had time to comprehend what was happening.

My friend was trying to convince me to join him in a business venture, which I politely tried to decline. After a while of us going back and forth, my patience was wearing thin, and he began to appear less like a friend and more like a pushy salesman.

He then made a comment that I interpreted as a personal insult. I immediately became angry and lashed out. I thought I was justified in my reaction, but upon reflection, I realized that I had misunderstood his words and rushed to judgment.

Even after a follow-up conversation, with my apologies and all, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had made a terrible mistake. I feared that our relationship would never be the same.

That episode in my life led me to think about the ways we get hung up on our personal failures. They can threaten to keep us stuck in the past and define who we are going forward.

My personal reflection and experience yielded the following seven steps to forgiving yourself:

1. Name what you have done.

Before you can forgive yourself, you must gain some clarity about what happened. Begin by writing down the details of the events and your own actions that contributed to the situation.

Resist the need to blame any other people or external circumstances, and focus only on yourself. You may experience intense vulnerability when you do this exercise. Engage this vulnerability by compassionately owning it rather than suppressing it.

In my own situation, I justified my actions by focusing on my friend’s uncharacteristically aggressive behavior. Once I was willing to focus on my own behavior, I could see more clearly that I had judged his words too quickly.

2. Ask for forgiveness.

Asking for forgiveness is not easy. Your willingness to approach a person you have hurt means you’re admitting you have done wrong and are sorry for it.

Avoid minimizing your responsibility by using phrases like, “I’m sorry if…” or, “I’m sorry but…” I knew that I needed to apologize to my friend and take full responsibility for my actions. I simply named the wrong I had done to him and asked for forgiveness.

3. Forgive yourself every time negative thoughts intrude.

Sometimes we struggle to forgive ourselves, even when we have been forgiven.

After my friend and I had resolved our situation, I continued to experience guilt and negative thoughts about my actions.

I eventually learned that self-forgiveness is not a one-time deal—it’s a gradual process. Every time self-loathing thoughts surfaced, I would take a deep breath and exhale all the negativity I was feeling. You can do some similar act of kindness toward yourself when negative thoughts emerge.

4. Show up and let yourself be seen.

This idea comes from Dr. Brené Brown, whose research on vulnerability and shame has helped many people gain the courage to show up for their lives rather than sit on the sidelines—or worse, hide in shame.

When facing painful personal mistakes, the temptation to shut down and disengage is strong.

I found myself avoiding interactions with my friend because I was afraid he would judge me or remind me of what happened in the past. Once I had the courage to show up, I quickly discovered that my fears were unfounded.

If you struggle with showing up, know that you have gained much wisdom that can help your future relationships thrive if you have the strength to show up and try again.

5. Be grateful for your mistakes.

It might seem strange to express gratitude for our mistakes, especially the embarrassing and painful ones. But think back to a time when you exercised poor judgment or did something you regretted. How has the experience changed you? Did it make you wiser, stronger, or more discerning?

I learned the dangers of having a quick temper and rushing to judgment. Now when I am upset, I try to give myself some time and space to reflect rather than react. I am thankful for the opportunity to grow in these ways.

And if you can learn to see your mistakes in such a light—as opportunities to grow—you can be grateful for them too.

 6. Radically love all of who you are.

Joseph Campbell once said, “The privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” So be who you are, not who you used to be. Celebrate who you have become in spite of, or even because of, your past mistakes.

My own mistakes and flaws have helped me become a better person to my friend, and that will ultimately strengthen my friendships going forward.

So love all of who you are, including your past mistakes, and you’ll only grow stronger from them.

You Are Worthy of Forgiveness

These steps are not always easy to follow—especially during times when we have truly messed up. But we can recover from our mistakes, learn from them, forgive ourselves, and move on with our lives.

You are worthy of your own love and forgiveness. Believe it with every fiber of your being.

Commit to practicing these steps daily, even on those days when you’d rather not.

Resolve to forgive yourself. Resolve to free yourself of the past. Resolve to live in the present. And look toward the future with hope and optimism.

About Cylon George

Cylon is a spiritual chaplain, musician, devoted husband, busy dad of six, and author of Self-Love: How to Love Yourself Unconditionally. He blogs about practical spiritual tips for living well at Spiritual Living For Busy People. Sign up and get his free guide 20 Little Tricks To Instantly Improve Your Mood Even If You Feel Like Punching Something (or Someone).

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  • I’m still here

    Forgiveness ultimately belongs to God.

  • I love #4 most of all.

    Why?

    The times I’ve admitted my mistakes, shortcomings and vulnerabilities to people that visit my site, want to hire me or are on my email list …. I’ve broken through to another level of success.

    Because trust. People want to believe in something. In your mission. They also want to know you’re human, just like them. If you’ve managed to accomplish something they want, and they can relate to you, they’ll be 100x more likely to believe in you. To trust you. To want to support your mission.

    And, dear reader, when they do that…it’s only a matter of time before they buy.

    And buying puts food on the table, and warmth in your heart.

    Onward.

  • namia

    excellent!!

  • Nicely said, Cylon. Lots of empathy for others and oneself is so key!

  • Ilka Emig

    Hi Cylon!

    Thank you for sharing this personal story. I can relate, especially to the ‘avoiding the person’ point. We sometimes assume something and hide! But it is important to show up and be seen; and see the situation how it really is. Only that way we can react right.

    All the best to you, Ilka

  • Thank you for sharing this Mike. Our ability to be show up, even when we are vulnerable, can lead to amazing breakthroughs in our personal and professional relationships.

  • I agree llka. It’s amazing the assumptions we make and the stories we tell ourselves about what other people might be thinking of us. I’ve been proven wrong time and time again.

  • Hi Cylon. Thanks for sharing your story. Who hasn’t spoken rashly or harshly and regretted it? Your approach makes all the sense in the world – coming from kindness and love for yourself and others creates a world we can all be happy to inhabit. Thanks for this, look forward to reading more from you.

  • Thank you Elle for these very thoughtful words 🙂

  • Helen McCarthy

    Thanks for “showing up” Cylon. I really enjoyed your article.

  • Great post Cylon. Self-forgiveness can be a tough thing to do as we always seem to be hardest on ourselves, but it’s a critical part of self-compassion.

    I’d add that trying to remember that everyone else makes mistakes too is important for me – that I’m not alone, and that making mistakes is something I share in common with other human beings. That helps with self-compassion, connecting to the wider whole.

    Thanks for sharing!

  • andreastill

    Really great reminders Cylon! It’s so easy to convince yourself that you are right in an argument and not looking at the other person’s reasoning, it can lose friendships forever. I usually try and see why the other person’s acting in a certain way to get a more rounded picture of a situation. After all, it’s almost impossible to gain an overall understanding of events, so might as well give the benefit of the doubt. Thank you for sharing 🙂

  • Excellent addition Ellen! I completely agree.

  • “ask for forgiveness” is an important one…. thanks

  • Great post Cylon!

    I like your approach of being specific. It makes you face what happened and actually deal with it.

    And being grateful for your mistakes – is absolutely gold!

  • Thank you for your wise words Ceylon. I am reminded of a favorite quote by martial artist Bruce Lee: “Mistakes are always forgivable, if one has the courage to admit them.”

  • Great point on naming what you have done. A tough but critical step!

    Thanks for the great post! 🙂

  • Hi Cylon, great post.

    I especially like the point about being worthy of forgiveness. I think people hold themselves to unrealistic expectations simply because they ‘know’ better and can’t seem to get past that.
    It’s good to see you recognise this, beautiful point.

  • Talya Price

    I have made many mistakes in my life. I recently had a conflict with an actor who I worked with in the past. I personally do not like this person and one of my reasons for not liking him is because he is an energy vampire. The past few weeks he has been harassing me over a short film we did last year, he wants me to delete it from my YT profile. But I refuse because I am not ashamed of this film.

    I take full responsibility for contacted this guy first and letting him make me feel inferior. I am not perfect. And I believe that i am a good person. I love being around passionate and creative people, I thought he was one of them but I was mistaken. It has taken me a long time to forgive myself and realize that there are no victims and that we are all responsible for the things we do in our lives. This little conflict has taught me to always have a contract and to not trust everyone at the get go.

    This article really resonated with me.

  • Talya, this is a powerful example. It’s always difficult when a professional or personal relationship turns out to be something different than what you expected…and easy to place all the blame on the other person. Thanks for giving us a peek into how you turned this unfortunate situation into a wise lesson for the future.

  • You’re right Jake. Those of us who ‘know’ better, struggle the most with this. It’s humbling.

  • guyjones

    Nicely-written, Mr. George. Thank you for offering helpful insights gained from your own personal experience.

  • Coloradolibra

    A great article! Thank you for helping me to forgive myself. This is definitely a keeper to refer back to!

  • Shanker

    Hi Cylon,
    Very good points. Yes, as Elle has put it, everyone of us commits gross erroneous judgements and speak harshly. I’ve my own regrets too. Fortunately, I woke up to it. Sometimes, even if the other person is patently wrong, fighting back might be even more damaging. So, we have to discriminate here too.
    Yet nowadays, every time I feel someone has done me something bad/ ditched me, I recheck and verify, and most of the times that turns out to be that it is not as I’ve imagined it to be. Many had valid reasons for their failures/statements. Though, those suppressions of my anger and the background checks are painful, the results prove the verification process to be worth the pain.

  • Courtney

    I really needed to read this tonight. I recently wrote two letters to two different old friends I lost touch with and apologized for not being the friend I wish a could have been. I asked for forgiveness too. I have been worried that I put too much of myself out there to be rejected. Now it is clear I did the right thing for my soul, whether they respond or not.

  • Wayne

    Thank you so much for this. I am going through this at the moment and torturing myself that the person i love hurt me and i hurt them. This made me cry.Thank you so muhc, it really helped.Wayne

  • Chris

    Thank you Cylon, you just brought hope and light into my heart today. I’m facing some pretty dire consequences of a really unwise decision I made a few days ago…. which might cost me my drivers license (but hopefully the good Lord has other plans). Peace Bro!!!

  • Carey

    Very insightful. And helpful, to me personally. Thank you. Look forward to reading more from you!