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February 19, 2024

How to Forgive Yourself for Past Mistakes: A Comprehensive Guide to Self-Forgiveness

Woman in contemplative prayer seeking self-forgiveness amidst a serene background.
Aya Rechenburg
Therapist & Personal Trainer

10 Steps to Forgive Yourself for the Past Mistakes

1. Accept and Acknowledge Your Mistake:

Face your actions and don’t make excuses or try to justify your errors. For instance, if you’ve made a judgment error at work, openly accept it, and use it as a learning opportunity.

2. Don’t Suppress Your Emotions:

Allow yourself to feel your emotions. Whether it's guilt or shame, speak about your feelings to a trusted friend or a counsellor, expressing your emotions can provide relief and a fresh perspective on the situation.

3. Learn and Evolve from Your Mistakes:

Understand that everyone makes mistakes, and they provide a chance for growth and learning. Transform your perspective on mistakes - see them not as failures but as opportunities to learn, to improve, to grow. Neuroscientifics studies reveal that making mistakes can be significantly beneficial.

4. Extend Kindness to Yourself:

Develop self-compassion, treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer to a loved one in a similar situation.

5. Repair and Make Amends:

Seek to rectify the harm done, offering sincere apologies and doing what is in your power to correct the wrongs committed.

6. Focus on the Present and Future:

Release the burdens of the past, directing your energy and thoughts to present actions and future goals, fostering personal development and positive change.

7. Set Realistic Goals:

Establish achievable objectives and break them into manageable tasks, celebrating each accomplishment to build confidence and momentum.

8. Interrupt Negative Thought Patterns:

Be mindful of recurring self-critical thoughts and consciously choose to replace them with positive affirmations and constructive reflections.

9. Recognise the Cost of Unforgiveness:

Understand that not forgiving yourself hinders your ability to give and receive love, adding burdens to your life. Realise the impact of holding onto past mistakes and choose to release such burdens to avoid bitterness and improve your capacity to love.

10. Make a Decision to Forgive:

Acknowledge your power over your thoughts and actions and consciously choose to forgive yourself. Vocalise your forgiveness, stating clearly, “I forgive myself for _______,” and use this acknowledgment as a step towards self-forgiveness.

Acknowledge & Take Responsibility for Past Mistakes

We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.”

- John Dewey

To begin the process of self-forgiveness, acknowledging and taking full responsibility for past mistakes is crucial. This step is essential in learning how to get over past mistakes.

  • Accepting your mistakes does not mean you agree with what happened.
  • Acknowledging is simply recognising that it did happen.

Why We Dwell on Past Mistakes

Many find themselves wondering, “Why do I keep thinking about my past mistakes?” This relentless reflection can often be traced back to feelings of guilt, shame, or regret, feelings that are deeply intertwined with our sense of self-worth and value.

Constant reflection on past mistakes is intricately related to an individual's levels of self-esteem and self-acceptance. Those with higher self-esteem are less likely to ruminate on past errors and more likely to perceive them as learning experiences rather than character flaws.

Understanding Guilt vs. Shame: Guilt is a natural, healthy response signalling a violation of one’s moral compass, whereas shame internalises the mistake affecting one’s identity.

Implementing Strategies to Forgive Yourself

  • Practice Self-Compassion:Remember, everyone makes mistakes. Speak to yourself as you would to a friend who is suffering, for instance, by reassuring yourself that the mistake does not define your worth.
  • Reframe Your Thoughts:Rather than seeing mistakes as failures, view them as opportunities to learn and grow. Consider each error as a stepping stone towards your personal development journey.
  • Learn and Apply:Learn how to derive lessons from your mistakes and apply them in your life. This can help address recurring thoughts like, why do I keep making the same mistakes, and facilitate progressive transformation.

How to Let Go of Past Mistakes

Learning how to let go is crucial. It involves focusing on present actions and thoughts, adopting healthier coping mechanisms, and setting realistic goals, which are crucial steps in forgiving oneself.

Learn how to say sorry not only to the others, but to yourself as well.

1. Focus on Present Actions and Thoughts:

  • Illustration: For instance, if you made a decision in the past that you regret, rather than dwelling on it, shift your focus to what you can do now to remedy the situation or to make better decisions moving forward.
  • Application: Engage in activities that promote mindfulness and conscious living, such as meditation or yoga, which can help in detaching from past regrets and in concentrating on the present moment.

2. Develop Healthier Coping Mechanisms:

  • Illustration: Suppose you used to cope with mistakes by ignoring them or indulging in unhealthy habits like overeating or excessive drinking. In contrast, now you could choose to cope by reflecting on the error, learning from it, and developing strategies to avoid repeating it.
  • Application: Learn stress-reduction techniques, like deep breathing, exercise, or engaging in a hobby, and practice positive affirmations to reinforce self-love and acceptance.

3. Establish Realistic and Attainable Goals:

  • Illustration: For example, if you’ve struggled with procrastination due to fear of failure, set smaller, more manageable tasks to gradually build your confidence and reduce the fear.
  • Application: Break your goals into smaller, actionable steps and celebrate each achievement, no matter how minor it seems. This approach not only makes your goals more attainable but also builds positive momentum.

The Importance of Learning from Mistakes

According to a study published in HBR, learning from our mistakes and failures is essential for human development and growth. It enables individuals to avoid repeated blunders, answering the query - why do I keep making the same mistakes?

True forgiveness begins with self-compassion and understanding.


  • Reflect on your mistakes, extract lessons from them, and ensure not to repeat them.
  • Make amends where possible and then let go, focusing on present growth and future improvements.
  • Forgive yourself, realising that everyone errs, but continual growth is possible through learning and adaptation.


In conclusion, self-forgiveness involves acknowledgment, learning, acceptance, and a forward-focused mindset. By practicing these steps regularly, we not only understand how to forgive ourselves for past mistakes but also create a healthy mental space to thrive and evolve positively.

Aya Rechenburg guides people to physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual growth. Welcome to a space dedicated to your self-discovery and transformation.

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