We all make mistakes in life, from small slip-ups to bad decisions that have major consequences. Feeling guilty about these things is perfectly natural, but it’s not healthy to hold on to this guilt for long.
In order to move on, you must learn to deal with these feelings of guilt, and we’re here to help you…
Accept What Has Happened
Sometimes, just accepting what has happened can make a huge difference to how you feel about it.
Write down what happened and include as much detail as you can. This is better for bigger ‘mistakes,’ but you can use it any time you’re worried you’ve done something wrong or made a poor choice.
Reread what you’ve written and say it aloud somewhere safe and quiet. Imagine a friend saying it to you and worrying that their life is going to fall apart because of it. Think of how you would react and help them accept what’s happened.
The more you read over what has happened, the more familiar it will feel, and that horrible shock-guilt-shame cycle you’ve been stuck in will start to ease.
Rationalize The Situation
Again, imagine if a friend or loved one was telling you about something they’d done and felt guilty about. You’d tell them that it was okay; that they should stop feeling guilty and move on.
Rationalize the situation by spinning it around – anyone affected by your mistake or poor decision is likely to have forgiven you or moved on already.
While some things may have changed in some ways, the important things will probably have stayed roughly the same.
Try to be rational and take a step back from it all to reassess what has actually happened.
Think about how you’d feel if someone did something that affected you – would you hold a grudge or would you accept that everyone is human and makes mistakes sometimes?
Acknowledge Where You Are Now
Rather than wallowing in guilt, get proactive and reflect on what happened and what led you to make the bad decision.
Try to turn your feelings of embarrassment or shame into something positive that will help you avoid doing the same thing again.
Give yourself some time to work out what the current situation is before moving on to the next steps.
Reflect On What You’ve Learnt
We all make mistakes; we’re only human after all. The worst kind of mistake to make is one that you’ve made before. Most people can generally forgive once, but they find it harder to forgive a repeated mistake.
Reflect on what has happened and why. There might be a simple explanation for your mistake – maybe you were behind with work, maybe you didn’t pay enough attention to what you were meant to be doing, or maybe you just didn’t plan well.
Learn from what happened and find ways to adjust your behavior so that it doesn’t happen again.
Don’t feel guilty and beat yourself up, but do take responsibility for what happened and own up to it.
Find ways to better handle situations that you’ve struggled with in the past so that you can avoid feeling bad about your future actions.
Remember that most other people have either forgiven you by now, are still in the forgiving process, or have removed themselves from your life.
As such, there’s not really much you can do to control how they feel about you at this point. So, instead, focus on yourself.
In order to really move on and stop feeling guilty all the time, do your best to forgive yourself.
Most things aren’t as bad as they seem (unless we’re talking about serious crime!) so try to give yourself a break from it all and realize that you are a human being who is bound to make some bad choices.
The only thing worse than making a big mistake is to allow it to control the rest of your life.
You need to find some closure on what happened in order to move on from it – this can be by keeping a thought journal and letting out some emotion, chatting to a loved one or professional counselor, or channelling your feelings into something proactive and healthy.
The reason that mistakes feel so awful is because they tend to be quite rare. If they happened all the time, you wouldn’t feel so guilty, so remind yourself that you normally make good, sensible decisions and that your mistake was a slip-up.
This will help you move on from the guilt. Make a list of things you’ve done well each day – commitments you’ve stuck to, deadlines you’ve met, and ways that you’ve helped other people.
This list will grow so quickly and will serve as a reminder that you are not your mistake. You are allowed to get things wrong, especially when you get so many things right, too.
Guilt shows that you care about other people’s feelings and that you are compassionate. Value that, learn from that, and remember that as you move forward.
Lucy is a travel and wellness writer currently based in Gili Air, a tiny Indonesian island. After over a year of traveling, she’s settled in paradise and spends her days wandering around barefoot, practicing yoga and exploring new ways to work on her wellbeing.