5 Ways to Forgive Yourself After a Failure

Finding Peace After Mistakes

Failures never feel great, but do you ever feel like you’re in a tailspin after a failure? Maybe you struggle with feeling like you hate yourself for whatever you did wrong, like the person who sent me this message recently:

“I really messed up in some of my relationships recently, and I hate myself for it. My girlfriend is a wonderful person, but we seem to bump heads a lot lately, and I’m overreacting towards my family members, too. My friends have noticed how my mistakes have affected me, and it seems like they’ve started distancing themselves. I really want to make things better in my life, but I don’t know where to start when my mistakes are overwhelming me. 

I’m really sorry if your failures, mistakes, or shortcomings have left you feeling such pain. I know it is not easy to come to terms with the fact that we’ve failed, especially if that failure happened in a relationship or friendship. There’s something about knowing we’ve let someone down that feels particularly hard to bounce back from, especially if they’re someone very close to us. 

But I also know that we can recover from failures, and so can our close relationships. I hope these suggestions help you open your mind to the possibility of things getting better so you can start finding the healing your heart needs.  

1. Turn “I Messed Up” Into “I Can Do Better”

It’s natural to feel frustrated and upset about our mistakes but think about why you’re so upset. Do you realize, deep down, that you can do better? 

If so, that’s a powerful truth that can help you move forward. Instead of getting stuck in an endless loop of guilt and shame with questions like “why on earth did I do that?”, or “what was I thinking?”, try asking yourself new questions that help you dig deeper:

  • What will my friendship or relationships look like if I do things differently next time?
  • Is there anything I can learn about how to be a better friend from this situation?
  • What have others learned from making similar mistakes?
  • How can I avoid making the same mistakes again?

2. Remember: No One is Perfect

One of the reasons we can feel so down on ourselves when we make mistakes is that it can sometimes seem like no one messes up as badly as we have. But let me reassure you: everyone makes mistakes. Every human messes up. That lack of perfection is one of the things that makes us human. And while that can seem discouraging on the surface, there are ways to think about it that might help you forgive yourself:

Everyone you know has made mistakes, including people you greatly admire. Yet, you’ve also seen those same people do many kind and wonderful things. Their mistakes and failures don’t define them or run their lives. You are so much more than your mistakes. Your strengths and your uniqueness don’t go away when you make mistakes, and plenty of people in your life will still be able to see that.

3. Don’t Forget the Good

There is good in every “mistake” if you learn from it. To find it, we often have to do some digging. But it’s very worthwhile. Because when you understand why you haven’t been able to forgive yourself up to this point, you can make a plan for finding a way through it to the other side. I may not know you personally, but I can make suggestions based on some of the most common reasons people struggle to forgive themselves:

  • Did you not try your best and you’re kicking yourself for missing a chance? Giving it your all-next time will very likely give you a way forward.
  • Did you try your best? If so, you don’t have to kick yourself. You can acknowledge your frustration, and let your energy fuel you towards growing even more.

It’s not wrong to be angry about mistakes. But it’s not sustainable to feel that way, and only that way, without any growth or forward movement.

  • Will you be upset about this in 5-10 years? Even a year from now? If not, then why waste the energy today? It’s acceptable to take the time to understand your anger or guilt, but keep in mind it’s important for your mental health and relationship with yourself to move on after acknowledging that next time, it will be different. 
  • Are there deeper reasons you’re upset? Is a parent or friend more disappointed than you are in yourself even after you tried your best? If so, they are the only ones responsible for those feelings and that is not a reflection on you.

You can’t change the person you disappointed. And you can’t rush their healing. But if you focus your energy and time on your healing and growth, the relationships and friendships you’re in will still grow, get stronger, and go deeper.

4. Be a Friend to Yourself

I think a “silver lining” to the frustration we feel with ourselves after making a mistake can be chalked up to the fact that we hold ourselves to very high standards. And wanting to do your best, and to always do right by other people, is certainly a good thing.

But there comes a point when we are so overly focused on doing better and being better that we start beating ourselves up. 
In those moments, it can really help to be a friend to yourself. In other words, show care for yourself by holding yourself to the kind, generous standards you hold people you care about:

  • Are you holding yourself to higher standards than you would a friend in a similar situation who may have made similar mistakes?
  • If you had a very close friend or family member who couldn’t seem to forgive themselves for a mistake, what would you say? How would you be kind and gentle with them? How might you show that same kindness and gentleness to yourself in this situation?

Being a friend to yourself starts simply, but it makes a big difference. You can start by reminding yourself how you’ve bounced back from mistakes and upsets in the past. Giving yourself reminders of what you’ve overcome in the past might help your current struggles feel more manageable. 

5. Turn to Your Encouragers

When I’m feeling down after a failure, I turn to the encouragers in my life. There are people who always make me feel like I can be better, and that things can get better. Of course, just because someone is a family member doesn’t mean they are always encouraging, or that they have to be the person you go to after a tough upset. 
If you’re trying to decide who to go to for encouragement, ask yourself: 

  • Have I gone to this person before during a hard time? Did they lift my spirits?
  • Can I trust this person to be caring and considerate?
  • Will this person say helpful things? Will they give me practical suggestions for how to get out of a funk?

Sometimes, it’s hard to know who to turn to because you feel self-conscious about the mistakes you’ve made. In those moments, if you’re open to thinking about God, I hope it helps to remember that He always forgives us. He sees us as a whole person with strength and potential. 

If you’re still struggling after a recent failure and not sure who to talk to, this is a safe place to start. Talk to a HopeCoach today about what’s getting you down and steps you can take to recover from mistakes. 

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