How to forgive yourself for being toxic: 10 tips to practice self-love

Do you have moments when you beat yourself up for being a toxic person?

Maybe you wish you behaved differently. Maybe you’re weighed down by guilt and shame for tearing other people down with insults. 

Maybe you’re blaming yourself for being too negative, controlling, or even manipulative. And the list goes on. 

I know how you feel. I haven’t always liked who I am. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I’ve been to a point when I even loathed myself for them. 

But if there’s one thing I learned the hard way, it’s this: you need to make peace with your past to move forward. 

In other words: you need to forgive yourself.

Now, this is easier said than done, but you don’t have to rush through it.

Here are 10 tips to help you practice self-forgiveness and learn to love yourself a little more. 

1) Own up to your mistakes and accept what happened

The thing is, it can be very painful to admit that you have toxic tendencies.

But healing can only happen if you actually look at where you went wrong, rather than shifting the blame onto other people.

Be honest about how you messed up and reflect on the consequences of your actions or decisions.

Don’t seek to justify your toxic behavior because it will only make things worse. 

Instead, try to simply let things be. It’s okay to be sad and heartbroken because you let others down and you let yourself down, too. 

Give yourself time to figure out why you did what you did and why you feel guilty. 

Ask yourself: 

  • How did my behavior cause harm?
  • How do I feel about the impact of my mistakes?
  • How can I make things right?

2) Release your emotional baggage

There are different ways to “feel your feelings” and deal with your grief and sorrow. 

For me, journaling helps me put things into perspective. It’s a way for me to take hold of life and reflect on it as a whole. 

When I write my thoughts, feelings, and frustrations on paper, I can process the series of events in my life and deal with them simultaneously.

And the best part is: when I get my frustrations out on a page, they no longer take up room in my head. 

You see, many studies have shown that journaling is a powerful tool for psychological healing because it helps us label emotions and understand our negative and traumatic experiences.

A New York Times article also described journaling as one of the more effective acts of self-care that can improve mood disorders and boost overall health and well-being. 

Ok, I know what you’re thinking: what if you’re not a fan of writing? 

No need to fret. You can also try sharing your thoughts and feelings with a family member or friend — someone you can trust.

The key is to find a way to disclose your emotions, rather than repress them, so you can recognize what went wrong and accept responsibility for your part in it. 

3) Show yourself some compassion and kindness

Have you ever wondered why you can forgive other people quickly but can’t seem to extend the same compassion to yourself?

The thing is, many of us can be too hard on ourselves, especially when we disappoint someone and do something terrible.

It gets worse: when we can’t stop dwelling on the repercussions of our toxic behavior, we tend to be too critical of everything we do.

You see, self-compassion takes a lot of work. But without it, you won’t be able to break free from this destructive cycle of obsessing over what went wrong. 

Here’s the deal: to practice self-compassion, you need to treat yourself like someone you love. 

And how does that work?

You can start by asking yourself: if something painful like this happens to a family member or a close friend, how will I talk to him or her?

Will I use harsh or kind words?

Little by little, you will realize that you would want to respond to your thoughts and look at your actions in a more accepting, understanding, and unbiased way. 

Simply put: you’re learning the art of positive self-talk

Think about this: how can you be more conscious of your mental chatter whenever you’re making yourself miserable with self-criticism?

Try these mantras every time negative thoughts creep in. These may help you accept your flaws and be more compassionate to yourself:

  • I am worthy of forgiveness.
  • I can forgive myself one day at a time.
  • I can learn from my mistakes and be better.
  • I can recover from the harm and pain I’ve caused.
  • I can choose to let go of my anger, guilt, and shame. 
  • I can make better choices in the future.
  • I can heal at my own pace. 

4) Separate who you are from what you do 

One of the most painful things that happen when we choose not to forgive ourselves is that it sabotages our self-esteem.

It keeps us trapped in a shame spiral, and we start to believe that the wrong we’ve done is part of our identity. 

Trust me, I’ve been there. It’s hard when we let our mistakes torture us for what seems like an eternity.

Whenever you find yourself stuck in a guilt-shame cycle, consider this: we are all human, and we are all imperfect.

You have to make peace with the idea that despite our best efforts, we are all going to make mistakes. 

But it doesn’t stop there: every mistake provides us with opportunities to learn and be better.

Ask yourself: will I see my toxic behavior as a reason to put myself down or will I learn from my mistakes? Will I become a better person if I keep beating myself up because of this?

You have to decide and tell yourself: “I am more than the worst thing I’ve ever done. I made a mistake, but that doesn’t mean I am a bad person. I will take responsibility for my healing.”

5) Ask for forgiveness

Saying sorry to someone you’ve hurt can be very scary, but it’s the right thing to do.

It’s also a crucial step in your journey toward self-forgiveness. Research shows that apologizing to people we’ve hurt makes it easier to move on and forgive ourselves. 

By offering an apology, you show the other person that you’re taking ownership of your role in what happened and that you want to make things right. 

Here are some things to consider when you’re ready to say sorry:

  • As much as possible, do it face to face. This will take a lot of courage but it’s worth it.
  • If you can’t give a verbal apology, you can also write a letter, send an email, or send a message.
  • Keep your apology simple, straightforward, and specific. Don’t forget to identify what you did wrong and acknowledge the pain you’ve caused.
  • Try to ask the other person if there’s anything you can do to make amends and rebuild the relationship. 

But here’s the catch: not all apologies lead to happy endings.

In other words: the person you’ve hurt may not forgive you, and that’s okay. 

Keep in mind that everyone’s entitled to their feelings, and you can’t control how the other person will react to your apology.

The important thing is that you’ve let them know how you feel about what you did. How the other person responds — good or bad — shouldn’t stop you from forgiving yourself. 

6) Choose to not dwell on the past

Have you ever found yourself thinking about past mistakes over and over and wishing you could change them?

If this is you, it’s okay. I know what it feels like. There are days when I still remember the faces of people I’ve hurt. I wish that I hadn’t been cruel and rude. 

The reality is: you cannot change the past. You can’t go back in time to undo the damage your mistakes have caused. 

At some point, you have to decide not to wallow in feelings of guilt, shame, regret, and self-condemnation. 

If you’ve done everything you can to make amends, then the next step is to let go of the past and be more open to acceptance and healing. 

Forgiveness is both a choice and a process. And it requires letting go of what’s happened so that you can move on.

7) Learn from your mistakes

Okay, so you’ve given yourself time to own up to your toxic behavior, apologize for your mistakes, and let go of the past. What’s next?

Now’s the time to break the cycle of hurt by committing to change for the better.

But how does that work?

You can start by asking yourself the following:

  • Why did I engage in toxic behavior in the first place?
  • How can I do things differently the next time around?
  • How can I prevent this from happening again? 
  • How can I use this experience to my benefit?

When you reframe your thoughts and view your experience as an opportunity for growth, you can avoid making similar mistakes in the future

 

8) Look to the future with hope 

This is connected to tips #6 and #7.

You see, the path to overcoming guilt and shame starts with letting go of your past mistakes and failures.

You accept that while you can’t go back in time and change how you behaved toward the person you’ve hurt, you can still do things that can make you a better person.

As you learn and grow, you realize the kind of person you want to be.

Simply put: you can plan for how you’ll incorporate what you’ve learned from your mistake into your future.  

Picture this: what would it feel like to be free from guilt, shame, regret, and self-condemnation?

Tell yourself: “Okay, I was the toxic person. I’ve learned from my mistakes, and I’m choosing to focus on the path ahead. 

Where do I go from here? I can start by setting goals for my healing process.”

When you start to visualize your future, you’ll find it easier to have something to look forward to. You’ll turn from hopeless to hopeful. 

9) Take better care of yourself

When you’re upset with yourself, you’re dealing with very complicated feelings —  anger, distress, disappointment, guilt, and shame. 

All of these can take a toll on your mental, emotional, and physical health and well-being.

Here’s where self-care steps in to help you combat feelings of stress and cope with uncomfortable emotions.

Here are some tried and tested self-care practices you can incorporate into your life as you learn to forgive yourself:

  • Get enough sleep.
  • Eat healthily and nourish your body.
  • Exercise regularly and have a fitness routine.
  • Do things that bring you joy — listening to music, reading, dancing, photography, etc. 
  • Spend more time with family and friends.
  • Try new hobbies.
  • Set check-ins with yourself and remind yourself of the progress you’ve made.
  • Engage in spiritual practices you find fulfilling.

The key is to find something that works for you so you can make self-care a priority.

10) Talk to a therapist or counselor

The road to self-forgiveness is long and hard. But remember this: you don’t have to go through this alone. 

If feelings of guilt are consuming you and you’re having trouble showing yourself compassion, it may be time to ask for professional help.

Turn to a counselor or therapist who can guide you as you work through your feelings and navigate the steps to forgiving yourself. 

A mental health professional can help you open up about your past mistakes and regrets, have a deeper understanding of what you did, and retrain your thought processes. 

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, you’re the only one who can forgive yourself.

Self-forgiveness is a skill that requires practice, courage, and determination.

It’s a commitment to love yourself no matter what.

It’s the understanding that no matter how toxic you have been in the past, you are still worthy of kindness. 

I hope that you give yourself all the time, grace, and patience you need. And that you never give up on yourself.

As you release your anger, resentment, and guilt, you’ll begin to treat yourself with all the compassion, empathy, and love that you deserve. 

Maria Fatima Reyes

Fat Niebres is a freelance writer who loves to chase stories that matter. She finds meaning and inspiration in the mundane. When she's not writing, she's probably reading, eating, traveling, or having deep conversations with her husband. She brings her experience in broadcast, print, and NGO communications, and has been published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Inquirer.net.

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