If you’re like most people, then you likely experience guilt and sorrow over your past mistakes. You regret the unkind word said in a fit of anger or the unsaid good-bye to an old friend. Left unchecked, these experiences will gnaw away at you, preventing you from enjoying the moment and possibly even causing you to live in fear.
Fortunately, you can move on from your feelings of guilt and shame. If you struggle with guilt, you can try the following tips to help you stop feeling guilty about the past and eventually move on.
Look at the Situation Through Someone Else’s Eyes
Psychology Today offers some good advice for people who just can’t forgive themselves and move on. For example, say you have been falling behind at work. You can’t get your assignments done on time. You’ve missed some important deadlines, and you feel like a failure. What you’re not considering is that lately your daughter has been chronically sick. You’ve had to miss work to pick her up from school or take her to doctor’s appointments.
Ask yourself this. If this situation were happening to a friend, would you judge him or her as harshly as you judge yourself? If not, why wouldn’t you? Chances are you don’t judge your friends’ work troubles quite as harshly because you see the totality of everything they’re going through.
Would it make a difference then, to try to look at your situation through another person’s eyes?
Imagine What It’d Be Like If You Could Do Things Over
To really understand how powerful this exercise is, you must first acknowledge that you have always done the best you know how to do in any given situation.
Hindsight is always 20/20, but the guilt associated with that hindsight isn’t always helpful.
Mind Body Green suggests that you not dwell on that. Instead, it’s more empowering to think about how you’d do something differently if you were ever granted a redo. If you can imagine a different scenario playing out, then you’ve learned from the experience.
Realize That You Are Not Your Past
The issue that many people have when they have trouble forgiving themselves is that they feel like the past mistake is a part of them. Therefore, to forgive would be akin to cutting off a part of themselves. In other words, we’ve allowed our mistakes to become our identity.
The truth our identity is constantly changing. Think about it this way. Are you a different person now than you were at 10 or 20 or even 40? It’s more than likely that you are. That being the case, the big mistake you can’t forgive yourself for belongs along the continuum of your life. It’s not your whole life. It constitutes a moment.
Learn to Press the Pause Button
Obsessive thoughts often accompany guilt. These thoughts form a loop that constantly circles around your brain, reminding you of the mistakes you’ve made. Dwelling on them makes it impossible to stop feeling guilty and, therefore, nearly impossible to move on.
However, that doesn’t mean they have no recourse. Many people who struggle with obsessive thoughts about the past find that meditation works very well.
Meditation can help with many things, including:
- recovering from trauma
- easing anxiety
- releasing obsessive thoughts
- recovering from illness
Identity Your Regrets, Starting With the Biggest Ones
Often releasing giant regrets helps us tackle the smaller ones because these feelings are often connected. Past memories of a similar theme tend to reinforce our ideas of ourselves. By clearing up those regrets, we can often mitigate the effects of the secondary ones.
Perhaps, you may want to visit with a therapist or start a journaling project to address some of these issues. Often such activities help us externalize the feelings of regret and guilt that come with our mistakes.
Guilt and regret have a way of robbing you of the joy that’s present in today and causing you to worry about what will happen tomorrow. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Many techniques exist to help you overcome your feelings of guilt. These include practicing mindfulness techniques, imagining a do-over, and releasing your identification with past mistakes.
When you consistently practice these techniques, you’ll eventually gain new perspectives on your life and new freedom as you release the bonds of the past. Once you can do that, you have a bright future ahead.