7 Steps To Forgiving Yourself For Past Mistakes + Why It's The Secret To Lasting Relationships
I failed in my marriage. I wasn't the best husband. I took my relationship for granted; I didn't put much effort into it.
I never thought we needed to put time into building the relationship; I regularly threatened to end the relationship and I didn't believe in compromises.
As you can imagine, when our marriage came to an end, I had a lot of reflection and self-discovery to do.
Only when our relationship ended could I get really put the necessary time and energy into getting to know myself. As my life fell apart and the tsunami of divorce shook me to the core, I reflected upon and noticed many of my immature tendencies and behaviors during the marriage.
As time passed, I got more clarity. Without a relationship serving as a distraction or a red herring in my quest for self-understanding and awareness, it all became obvious.
Of course, once I realized I had been the impediment and destructive force in my own marriage, a slew of other feelings swept in: guilt, regret and failure.
How had I let this happen? What was I thinking?
Feelings of inadequacy and failure consumed my life. My immaturity and misbehavior in my marriage caused me to become angry and frustrated with myself. I thought about all the things I had done wrong and how misguided I had been.
These feelings of failure and disappointment became a heavy burden. How long would I hold on to these feelings of regret and disappointment? When would I be able to let go of them so I could move on with my life?
I realized that moving on meant I had to forgive myself. Yes, I had screwed up. No, I didn't know what I was doing but that didn't mean I had to carry around this disappointment and guilt forever.
If you've failed in any part of your life and must start over, start by forgiving yourself for your past mistakes. Here's how to get there.
1. Acknowledge you made mistakes.
Take note of where you messed up. Take note of the bad decisions you made and where you went wrong. Reflect on what you could have done differently or wiser decisions you could have made.
Instead of blaming someone else or playing the victim, take responsibility for the areas of your life where you went astray.
2. Honor your feelings, whatever they are.
How do these mistakes make you feel today? Acknowledge the feelings of guilt, anger or sadness. Feel these challenging feeling identify them and sit with them.
Feel the intensity of these feelings so you can process them. Process your feelings by talking to someone about them. Write an email to yourself about what you're feeling. Write a journal entry about how you're feeling.
Become familiar with and aware of your feelings towards your past mistakes so you can do something about them.
3. Extend compassion and empathy towards yourself.
You grew up and developed certain characteristics because of the way your parents raised you. You inherited certain behaviors from them. You are human and you err but you can also learn from those mistakes. Learn to give yourself a break and extend compassion and empathy to yourself.
No, you didn't know what you were doing but yes, you can do better and become a better person because of it.
4. Remind yourself you were doing the best you could.
If you knew better, you would have done better. No one goes out there wanting to intentionally hurt people or screw up in life. You weren't aware at the time. You weren't mature enough or at the place you wanted to be in life.
Life doesn't demand perfection from you. Life only wants you to get better at being you.
5. Remind yourself you are not your mistakes.
Yes, you made mistakes but your life is not a mistake. Yes, you failed but you're not a failure. It's important to distinguish between your decisions/behavior and your inherent self-worth.
You are not an inherently bad or evil person. Misguided at one time, maybe. But that doesn't mean you should label yourself with self-flagellating labels.
6. Separate your past actions and decisions from your inherent self-worth as a person.
You are not what you did in your past. Sometimes we label ourselves in terms of what happened in our pasts. We can base our entire identities on the past. We walk through the world carrying our pasts like badges of shame. Instead, why not carry your past mistakes and transgressions like badges of experience?
Today, you are not the person who screwed up in the past. Hopefully, you learned from it and grew from it. You have this experience under your belt.
Bring yourself to the moment at hand. If you want to do something different or try something new, do it today. Don't replay in your mind how you could have done it. The best way to honor the past is to be fully present today. The best way to honor the past is to make the best decisions you can make today.
7. Tell yourself a new story.
You can hold onto that old victim story and continue to replay it in your mind. Or you can blame yourself and continue to feel guilty for what you did. Allow anger to burn you or let your pain fully consume you.
I could be stuck on how I ruined my marriage and both our lives. I could blame my parents for my dysfunctional relationship skills. I could blame my ex for the things she did wrong.
Or I could let it all go and tell myself a new story about how this relationship helped me become a better man and partner.
How you view the past and what happened is much more important that what actually happened in the past. If you believe the story of failure and disappointment, you'll continue to relive it.
If you tell yourself a new story, one in which you discovered yourself, learned from past lessons and overcame challenges, you'll be the hero of your own story.
You have the power to tell the best story you can about the past. You can tell a story of mistakes and failures or you can tell a story of growth.
Your story is your past. The more empowering the story you tell, the more quickly and fully you'll be able to move on.