How to forgive yourself: 13 steps to move on from regrets

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

We all carry burdens in our lives; some of us more than others.

We wear our life’s choices like ugly sweaters and forget that we can take those ugly sweaters off at any moment.

We get to decide how we show up in our lives and we often forget that it was our choices that brought us to this state in the first place.

But when we do remember that our decisions caused this situation, we often feel bad about ourselves and find it hard to move on.

Wondering how you can get over your past and move on? You need to forgive yourself.

Here are thirteen ways to do that so you can move forward.

1) Realize your place in the universe.

If you want to truly release yourself of any wrong-doing and move on with your life in a guilt-free way, you need to release trust to the universe and realize that what has happened is not as bad as you think it is.

Acknowledge what you did or what was done to you and let it out into the universe. You don’t have to carry it with you everywhere you go. Say it so you can forgive it.

According to psychologist Fred Luskin, PhD, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, it’s important to categorize what you’ve done so you can begin the forgiveness process.

“Categorizing the offense begins the forgiveness process,” he says. “It allows you to break down what you did, look at it, get a little distance, and begin healing.”

When we put some perspective into our lives we recognize that the world isn’t as big and scary as we once thought.

Getting perspective helps you see your place in the world and provides you with some solace that you are not alone.

Everyone makes mistakes and everyone is looking for forgiveness for one thing or another.

2) Do your best to repair what is broken.

If you have hurt someone, you need to try to repair that relationship.

If you cannot repair it, you need to at least say your peace and give the person a chance to know that you are working to make things better.

“Offer a heartfelt apology and do your best to right any outstanding wrongs,” says Dr. Ellen Hendriksen, a clinical psychologist, in Oprah Magazine.

While this might not help them right now, you can rest easy knowing that you have closed the circle of regret and allow yourself to move on.

If they yell and scream at you and say bad things, well, you did the best you could from a place of love.

They might not forgive you, but you can forgive yourself.

3) Don’t keep spinning your wheels.

Even if the worst has happened and you don’t see how things are going to get better, make yourself a promise that you won’t keep living in that situation over and over again.

Don’t let your emotions get the best of you.

Our emotions wreak havoc on us. Get yours in check. Consider what thoughts are causing you to feel the way you do and then get to work on managing those thoughts.

Dr. Ellen Hendriksen says that we tend to feel negative emotions when we feel we’ve done something wrong because we’re social beings and we want to be accepted back into the group.

However, sometimes we can overshoot and flog ourselves too much.

“When we transgress, we acknowledge our mistake by feeling guilty. It’s a way of demonstrating empathy, regret, and understanding, and ensuring we will be accepted back into the group. But sometimes we overshoot and flog ourselves to a point that’s out of proportion with our transgression.”

If a thought is sending you into a tailspin, make sure you are not letting the thought take hold of your life.

We can get bogged down really easily with these thoughts and they can rule your life.

Do yourself a favor and make sure you set an end date on your spinning.

Let it happen: it’s part of the healing process for many people. But then cut it off. You’ll move on because it’s time to move on.

4) Wash it away.

Now is the time to accept what happened. It’s only through acceptance that you’ll be able to move on.

Noam Schpancer in Psychology Today says that emotional acceptance is a better strategy than avoidance for four reasons:

1) By accepting the situation and your emotions, you are “accepting the truth of your situation. This means you don’t have to spend your energy pushing the emotion away.
2) Learning to accept an emotion or situation gives you an opportunity to learn about it, become familiar with it and get better skilled at its management.
3) Experiencing negative emotions is annoying, but not dangerous – and eventually much less of a drag than continually avoiding them.
4) Accepting a negative emotion causes it to lose its destructive power. Accepting an emotion allows it to run its course while you run yours.

If you need something a little more symbolic to represent your forgiveness of yourself, do a cleansing ceremony.

You don’t need to make a big deal about it. You might decide to do it in the shower one morning while getting ready for work.

Some people like the idea that water washes away sin, so if you feel like you need to “wash away” the hate or anger, do it with water.

You can also brush it away by running your hands up and down your arms and closing your eyes. Imagine wiping away the regret and freeing your body from it physically.

Sometimes we carry these feelings with us in our bodies and it causes stress and anxiety.

If you release that negative energy into the world, you’ll find that you feel much better and you can focus on helping to ease your mind once your body has been freed of the burden.

5) Love yourself.

If there’s one thing you must do to forgive yourself, it’s loving yourself.

However, you show yourself, love, do it. Again and again. Let yourself feel the gratitude you have for your own life and the life you have created.

Matt James Ph.D. in Psychology Today says that you must simply love yourself because “you don’t get to quit, divorce or walk away from yourself.”

Even if it all feels like a hot mess, make sure you are being patient with yourself and providing space to figure things out.

When you feel the love and kindness you have for yourself, you’ll be in a better position to forgive yourself. When you try to forgive from a place of shame or hate, it doesn’t work.

6) Make better choices next time.

The last thing you need to do to forgive yourself and move forward in your life is to commit to making better choices next time.

Be willing to learn.

Mistakes are just learning opportunities in disguise. Don’t let your mistakes rule your life. We all mess up from time to time. Nothing is undoable.

We would all like to go back and change the past, but the truth is that if you focus on the future instead of worrying about the past, you’ll be in better shape for next time.

According to psychologist Fred Luskin, PhD, director of the Stanford University Forgiveness Project, it’s important to realize that you can’t change the past, but you can act now.

“Think you were a bad parent? OK, you can’t go back and change things now, but can you go out of your way to be an outstanding grandparent? Can you join a Big Brothers or Big Sisters organization and provide some guidance and companionship to somebody else’s child? Do good rather than feel bad.”

Be conscious of the decisions you make and how you show up and ask yourself if these are the kinds of choices you want to make.

You’ll approach things in a new way and be able to let the regret go so you can move on.

7) See the situation as neutral instead of right or wrong.

If you need a minute to catch your breath or process what has happened before you start trying to manage it, take that minute.

Take ten minutes or ten years – whatever you need. But don’t overdo it. Acknowledge it and start working toward moving on.

Try seeing your circumstance without all of the drama and emotion tied to it.

If you can tell the story without adding adjectives or adverbs or without saying how you feel about something, you might find that what has happened is actually neutral.

The situation has no meaning until you apply meaning to it. So if you want to move on in your life, take the meaning away or apply a new meaning to it.

Pick a meaning that serves you and helps you move forward. If you cheated on your spouse and the relationship ended, the guilt might be overwhelming.

Or you could look at it like you weren’t happy in the marriage and now you are free to decide how you want to live your life.

The stories we tell matter. Pay attention to them.

8) Think of your past as done and over and not part of your overall being now.

We often say that the human experience is linear, but that is just a saying.

You get to decide what your past means to you now and it’s not a straight line back and forth between what happened and what is now.

Your tendency might be to blame yourself, but all you have to do is be aware of your role in the situation. There is no need to take on more than you have to. You carry enough as it is.

You have evolved and become a different person in many ways since you did the thing you regret now.

Allow yourself to imagine that you are a different person and not the same person who made those mistakes.

And yet again, tomorrow you will be a different person from who you are right now. You are always changing and moving.

9) Don’t hide from your mistakes.

We might feel shame about the things we’ve done wrong or how we have been wronged by other people.

If you choose to carry around that shame, it will haunt you in ways you can’t imagine.

If you choose to let it go and to allow your mistakes to be known in the world, even just to yourself, you can move on in a more productive and loving way.

If you try to hide from people and keep up the rouse that everything is alright, not only will you be overcome with exhaustion, but you’ll really start to feel like you are lying to yourself and other people.

10) Show yourself some love.

Moving on from your past requires that you love yourself throughout the process.

You might not like what you find or who you have found yourself becoming but you can also move on from that. It’s important that you are being honest with yourself as you try to heal and you allow yourself room to grow and change.

There’s no need to be hard on yourself about being hard on yourself. Trying to find the space to forgive yourself is hard enough. Don’t be the reason you can’t move on.

Show yourself love by being honest and asking questions about yourself so you can learn what is really going on. The more you know, the more you grow.

Tune into what your body and mind is telling you and pay attention to that. In order to forgive yourself, you need to release your hold physically and mentally.

11) Ask yourself what you want.

Don’t try to guess what you should do in a given situation: ask yourself how you want this to turn out and start working toward making that happen. Don’t leave things up to fate.

What would you tell a friend?

Take your advice. If you would tell a friend to act a certain way, see how that fits on you.

Don’t assume that you don’t know the answer or that you can’t move on. Look inside for your own insight.

12) Don’t repeat yourself.

There’s no need to keep this situation on replay. Once it’s done, let it be done and start the work of moving on. If you wade in it, the sense of dread and doom will last forever.

Be kind to yourself. Throughout this process you need to be able to give yourself space to figure things out. Let yourself go at a pace that suits you and don’t force forgiveness. It will come.

13) Ask for help.

If you have been struggling to let the past go, ask a friend or professional for some help. It can be very rewarding to open up to someone and get a different perspective on where you are at right now.

There’s no shame in extending a hand hoping someone will hold it and help you. Forgiveness is a tricky thing because you might find that you’ve done the work and you feel the same.

Give yourself permission to move on and try again.

Did you like my article? Like me on Facebook to see more articles like this in your feed.

Lachlan Brown

I’m Lachlan Brown, the founder, and editor of Hack Spirit. I love writing practical articles that help others live a mindful and better life. I have a graduate degree in Psychology and I’ve spent the last 15 years reading and studying all I can about human psychology and practical ways to hack our mindsets. Check out my latest book on the Hidden Secrets of Buddhism and How it Saved My Life. If you want to get in touch with me, hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

11 powerful ways to overcome self-doubt and believe in yourself again

How to deal with negative emotions: 10 things you need to remember