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How to Forgive Yourself and Let Go of Past Mistakes

Updated on October 10, 2016
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Sadie Holloway is a workshop facilitator who teaches interpersonal communication skills to help people strengthen their relationships.

Mistakes from the past can haunt you from within, for years and years if you can't find a way to forgive yourself. Release yourself from the pain and guilt of past mistakes and start moving forward.

Sometimes it's not your mistakes holding you back. It's you.

Mistakes from your past don't have to follow you around like a shadow.
Mistakes from your past don't have to follow you around like a shadow.
Forgiving yourself may take time, but starting out of a path of self-forgiveness is the only way to move forward so that you can continue bringing love, light, and happiness to others.
Forgiving yourself may take time, but starting out of a path of self-forgiveness is the only way to move forward so that you can continue bringing love, light, and happiness to others.
When you dwell on the past and the mistakes you've made, you hold yourself back from sharing your true gifts and talents with the world.
When you dwell on the past and the mistakes you've made, you hold yourself back from sharing your true gifts and talents with the world.

Are you tired of beating yourself up for the mistakes you made in the past? Perhaps you made a bad career decision or took on a project that was bigger than you imagined. Maybe you hurt someone who was close to you. We’ve all made these kinds of mistakes at one time or other. It’s what makes us human. What really matters when you regret a choice from the past is how you handle yourself in the future.

It's normal to sometimes wish that you had done things differently. If your way of handling a mistake is to feel guilty about it, you’ll never move forward and find inner peace. On the other hand, if you can find the courage to forgive yourself and grant yourself a second chance, you’ll open the door to a wonderful array of new opportunities and new relationships. Here are some of the other reasons that it's important to forgive yourself for past failures, especially if you want to make a fresh start and take your life in a whole new direction.

Here are seven good reasons to forgive yourself for a mistake you made:

1. Forgiving yourself for the mistakes you’ve made increases your humility. Many people find it hard to relate to people who are always right, who never make mistakes and who always act as if everything in their world is perfect. The more people you can relate to and who can relate to you, the bigger your community will be. Having a strong community of friends and allies who believe in you boosts your self-esteem.

2. Fully naming your mistakes and taking responsibility for them encourages you to make wiser decisions in the future. After all, if you're fully aware of where things went off the rails, so to speak, you’ll have a better chance of staying on track as you move forward. Ignoring your mistakes simply increases the likelihood that you’ll make those same mistakes again.

3. Having empathy for yourself makes you more empathetic towards others. The things we dislike about ourselves are the things we dislike about others. And the things that we dislike about others are really just the things we secretly dislike about ourselves. When you let go of the need to criticize yourself, you're less likely to believe that others are criticizing you too. Moving forward in life means taking risks and trying new things. So kick your inner critic to the curb and adopt a positive attitude!

4. Letting go of guilt means that you'll be less judgmental of others. People who live in a perpetual state of shame and remorse often project those feelings onto other people. And that impacts their ability to initiate and remain in healthy relationships with others.

5. Life can only be found in the here and now. Dwelling on things that you can’t change holds you back from moving forward and enjoying the rich, rewarding life that you deserve, in the present moment, in the here and now. .

If you choose (and it is always a choice) to live in a perpetual state of guilt and anxiety about a mistake from the past, you'll drain yourself of the energy you need to learn from that mistake. Obsessing over a past mistake is a self-imposed emotional prison that keeps you stuck in one place. If you're spending all your mental energy on coping with your feelings of guilt, it's easy to unconsciously excuse yourself from learning from moving forward..

No matter how big or small the mistake you made in the past was, not forgiving yourself can be a barrier to moving on and making a fresh start in life. Admitting a past error that you have been holding in can be hard, especially if you're afraid you will lose the support of those around you. If you're having a hard time letting go of your guilty feelings for something that you did, seeking the guidance and support of a qualified counselor.

Working with a counselor can help you work through your worries about the past in a safe, confidential environment. Guidance from a spiritual leader of your particular faith or church group can also be helpful. A counselor can also help you explore alternative perspectives and help you reframe the experience in a way that you might not have thought of. Perhaps you didn't make the disastrous mistake that you believe you did. Perhaps your so-called error led to some unexpected positive outcomes that you just haven't been able to see yet. Feelings of unfounded shame can sometimes stand in the way of being able to see the bigger picture.

6. People who are able to forgive themselves are more likely to have a better sense of humor. When you are able to let go of your guilt and transform your mistake into a learning opportunity, you can boost your sense of humor at the same time. People who are able to laugh at themselves are incredibly down-to-earth and approachable. They often have funny stories to tell at parties, social gatherings and presentations at work. If you listen to the best storytellers, you'll find that some of the funniest, most enjoyable stories they tell are the ones about mistakes and goofs from the past. Cultivate a habit of letting go of guilt and your sense of humor and ability to laugh often will expand tremendously.

7. You can help others to avoid making the same mistakes that you did. Feelings of guilt often lead to feelings of denial. But if you can be honest with yourself and acknowledge your mistakes it will be easier for you to talk about your experiences and help others avoid hose same bad decisions. Many of the most successful inspirational speakers often have shady pasts. Perhaps they were involved with a gang. Perhaps they committed a serious crime. In an effort to come clean and make things right, they commit themselves to sharing their personal stories and offering them up as life lessons for younger generations. Even if you haven't committed a serious crime, your story of regret and self-forgiveness could be just the thing that someone else needs to hear before they make the same mistake. People who make mistakes and can forgive themselves have valuable wisdom and insight to share.

Here's one more good reason to forgive yourself if you want to move on in life: The Universe may have a surprise in store for you. From a spiritual perspective, everything happens for a reason. The Universe (or God or the Creator) doesn't make mistakes. If something bad happened to you in the past, whether it was because of something you did, or something that was done to you, having faith that every experience in life is meant to teach us something makes it easier to look at a mistake as something that had to happen before you could follow your true life path.

Many people who are recovering from substance abuse arrive at a place where they actually feel grateful for finally hitting rock bottom. They often look at their past bad behavior and their subsequent growth as a blessing that has made them stronger, kinder, more compassionate people.

Meditation, prayer, group support, and counseling are some of the ways you can learn to forgive yourself and let go of the past. The sooner you are able to forgive yourself for something you did, the sooner you can get back to making the world a better place.

The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.

— Mahatma Gandhi
Are you walking around with a cloud of guilt and shame hanging over your head? It's time to let go of the past. learn from your mistakes, and start being true to who you really are; a kind, gentle, self-aware person with so much to offer the world.
Are you walking around with a cloud of guilt and shame hanging over your head? It's time to let go of the past. learn from your mistakes, and start being true to who you really are; a kind, gentle, self-aware person with so much to offer the world.

Humanity is never so beautiful as when praying for forgiveness, or else forgiving another.

— Jean Paul Richter

© 2014 Sadie Holloway

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