Forgiving yourself after you’ve made a big mistake can be hard. Read hard. In addition to the disappointment and hurt that you may have caused someone else, you also have to deal with the hurt and disappointment that you have caused yourself.
Often, it’s difficult for us to move on after we’ve made a mistake. This is especially true when we make a big mistake. We continue to beat ourselves up for the same mistake over and over, making it difficult for us to move forward positively and productively. We need to spend less time dwelling on the past and more time building the future.
Forgiveness takes intentionality. But knowing how to forgive yourself seems to be harder than forgiving someone else. Sometimes, the things we do seem unforgivable. So, let’s focus on how to forgive yourself for something terrible.
How to Forgive Yourself and Recover from a Big Mistake in Life
It’s hard to know what to do when you’ve made a mistake. Of course, you don’t want to act like the mistake didn’t happen, but you also don’t want that mistake to keep you from having healthy relationships with people or from accomplishing other goals that you may have for yourself. It is possible to move on after you’ve made a big mistake in life, but it’s a process that takes time and intentionality. Here are some suggestions for how to forgive yourself after a big mistake.
1. Acknowledge the Mistake to Those Involved
Before you can begin to forgive yourself for making a big mistake, you have to acknowledge the mistake to yourself and to everyone involved. If you hurt or wronged someone, you need to go to that person and fully apologize and admit your wrongdoings. Additionally, you need to make sure to accept full responsibility for your actions. You can’t move forward with forgiving yourself if you do not fully acknowledge what you’ve done wrong to yourself and to anyone else involved in the situation.
2. Focus on Your Emotions
When it comes to forgiveness, your emotions can be all over the place. Accept the fact that you’re going to experience lots of different emotions throughout the forgiveness process. Don’t dismiss your emotions. It’s perfectly normal to be experiencing several different emotions as you work to forgive yourself for something unforgivable.
3. Recognize You’re Not Perfect (& Free Yourself from Such Expectations)
We are humans. We are not and never will be perfect. You have to forgive yourself for mistakes. You will never live up to the expectations that people have of you. (Some people can be very unreasonable and unrealistic with their expectations.) The moment you accept that truth is the moment you gain freedom. Don’t be bound by your big mistake. Separate yourself from the mistake and understand that the mistake does not define you. You are so much more than one single moment in your life. The faster that you believe that the faster you can move forward after a big mistake.
4. Realize You Are Your Own Worst Critic
We can be so tough on ourselves and oftentimes, we are still beating ourselves up about a mistake that everyone else has long forgotten about. We are usually the ones still holding on to negative thoughts when everyone else has moved on with their lives. Practice replacing critical thoughts with positive ones (i.e. recognize when that little voice inside your head is being too hard on you and redirect those thoughts.
It is hard to forgive yourself for something terrible, but once you realize that you are your own worst critic, it will become much easier to let that big mistake go.
5. Examine Yourself & Make Progress in Areas That Need Improving
As you reflect on your big mistake, ask yourself why you did it, and if your words or actions came from a place of selfishness or something similar, and then work on that area of your life. It’s good for you to understand why you did or said something before you can take steps to keep that thing from happening again.
You will need to be very honest as you go through this step. You need to truly understand your errors before you can begin to move forward. The goal is to make progress in the areas where you need improvement and to keep you from making the same mistake in the future.
6. If You Need to Seek Forgiveness or Amends, Do So
If your big mistake involved you hurting someone else, you need to seek forgiveness from that person. After you’ve acknowledged and accepted that you’ve done something wrong, do your part to make amends.
The other person may or may not be ready to forgive you at the moment that you choose to ask for forgiveness and that’s okay. Don’t rush it and don’t try to force it. Forgiveness is a process and unfortunately, you don’t get to determine the outcome. Keep in mind that it is very likely that you may have damaged the relationship beyond repair. If that is the case, you must be prepared to deal with those consequences as well.
The important thing is that you do your part to seek forgiveness and that you continue working on being a better person. You will be able to move forward knowing that you did everything that you could do to restore the relationship. It might be difficult to accept a negative outcome, but again, you have to be prepared to deal with those consequences.
7. Think About What You Learned from the Mistake
If you look closely at every mistake, you can often find a lesson. Mistakes can be used as learning opportunities. Instead of beating yourself up for the mistake that you made, understand that you should forgive yourself, learn something new, and work hard to refrain from making that same mistake again in the future.
8. Seek Professional Counsel if You Need To
Sometimes, the mistake you made is so big that it’s just too much for you to handle alone. Know that it is perfectly okay for you to seek help from a professional if you have run out of options and don’t know what to do next. Seeking professional help does not mean that you are weak or that you are taking the easy way out. There are people trained to provide the guidance that you need to achieve healing. If you go through these steps and you are still not making progress, you may need to contact a professional.
9. Let Go and Move On
When you dwell on the past, it’s challenging to move forward. You have to let it go. I know that this is so much easier said than done, but it’s possible. When you feel those negative thoughts entering your mind, try to replace them with positive thoughts. Maybe you have some pictures that you can look at that evoke happy thoughts? Maybe there’s a song or two that bring a smile to your face when you hear them? Perhaps there’s a friend that you can call who’s guaranteed to make you laugh every time you talk to her? Find the thing that puts you in a good place and surround yourself with that whenever you begin to feel negative thoughts enter your mind. You cannot allow negative thoughts to reside in your mind if you truly want to move forward.
Psychology Today says, “It’s about remembering the good moments instead of allowing an unhappy ending to cloud the whole experience.”
What if It’s a Past Mistake and You Just Can’t Forgive Yourself for It?
Some mistakes may seem horrible, but remember to consider the lessons that you can learn from your mistakes. Learn to recognize the value (and really, the priceless benefit) of learning from your past mistakes.
And if you’re wondering how to forgive yourself for the unforgivable, realize this: It’s really not unforgivable. No matter how bad it seems, you can recover from your past mistake.
Q & A (For When You Still Struggle with Forgiving Yourself)
How do I stop punishing myself for past mistakes?
First, you must acknowledge that you’ve done something wrong. Then, realize that your mistake does not define you. Finally, make a decision to move forward!
How do I let go of regret and guilt?
So often, we continue to feel guilty about things that people have already forgiven us for. Repeat positive affirmations to yourself to help push out the guilt that you may be feeling from your mistake. When negative thoughts enter your mind, try to replace them with positive thoughts. Surround yourself with people and things that put you in a happy place.
Do past mistakes define you?
Your past mistakes do not define you. Do not let people continually throw your past mistakes in your face. You are not that person. Think of all the great things that you’ve done and keep those things in the front of your mind so that you can move forward positively!
How do you move on after a mistake?
You have to make a conscious effort to move on past your mistake. Acknowledge your mistake, attempt to make amends, dust yourself off, and move forward.
There is no denying that forgiving yourself after a big mistake is hard. It will take time. It will take intentional effort. Hopefully, this article has provided you with some guidance that will help you successfully move past your big mistake.