Stop Beating Yourself Up over Past Mistakes and Awkward Moments

Stop Beating Yourself Up over Past Mistakes and Awkward Moments

Written by Emilie

Topics: Confidence

Do you ever stay up at night, replaying awkward or embarrassing moments in your head? Maybe you hear a certain person who laughed at you in high school or your own voice from a day, week, or even years earlier telling that story that nobody thought was funny.

Many of us beat ourselves up over insignificant events that truly went unnoticed by others or happened so long ago that nobody else even remembers. Still, these memories manage to stick around, stay alive in our heads, and torment us.

These pesky negative memories have a tendency of coming up over and over again and affecting the way we feel in the present. They are like a looped film or audio reel that plays over and over in our heads. They try to stop us from taking similar risks (or any risks at all). In a sense, embarrassing memories from the past are our body’s protection mechanism, trying to help us avoid similar unpleasant situations in the present.

But our mind has a hard time distinguishing between true mistakes that we can (and should) learn from, and little blunders or awkward moments that are really just a part of every day life.

Mistaking the awkward moments for serious mistakes can leave us worrying irrationally or feeling paralyzed and unable to embark on new opportunities in the present.

This paralysis can be a real issue for people who change directions often and pursue the paths that are right for them but may not conform to society’s expectations. It’s therefore hugely important that we learn to banish these pesky unproductive voices from our past so that we can freely pursue the things we care about now.

How to Let Go of Past Mistakes for Good: Forgive Yourself

The reason these memories keep coming up again and again is that you said or did something that didn’t go over so well. Reliving the memories is really a way of punishing yourself for doing something embarrassing or making a mistake you feel you shouldn’t have made.
In order to let the past go, you must forgive yourself officially.

Feel the embarrassment or shame one final time. Really feel it throughout your body. Next, tell yourself that everyone makes mistakes and you know you that that outcome was not your intention. It was an accident. Finally, make the decision to forgive yourself and do it. It helps to even say it out loud.

From now on, it’s okay. You are forgiven.

Every time the thought comes back, simply remind yourself that you have already been forgiven, so there’s no reason to feel bad anymore. Then push the thought away.

Applying This To My Life

This technique has worked wonders for me. As I go through my life now, I even try to forgive myself sooner. I try to do it almost immediately after something awkward or embarrassing happens, or at least within a few hours.

For example, one day last semester one of my law professors rescheduled a class and I got the time wrong. I ended up walking in just as the small seminar was ending. Everyone looked at me. I laughed nervously and one of my classmates informed me that I was about 3 hours late. I turned and walked out.

I could have reacted to this by going home and curling up in the fetal position. It could have haunted me for years to come. But instead I allowed myself to feel embarrassed for a few minutes and then I forgave myself and let it go. I knew nothing would be gained by dwelling on it. It was over.

Once I had chosen to forgive myself, I was able to make light of the situation by telling friends about it and allowing them to laugh and sympathize with me.

In the end, I was pretty proud of myself for the way I handled it. Nothing horrible happened. Nobody thought I was an idiot. It was just a silly mistake- the kind of thing that happens to us all at one time or another. People understood.

It even, dare-I-say, made people feel closer to me because they saw that I was someone who made mistakes just like them, and didn’t take herself too seriously. Honestly, I think these things can work in your favour if you handle them properly. The worst thing I could have done was obsess over that moment.

See, the more we focus on something, the more significance it begins to have. When we relive small moments over and over, we give it power over our lives- power to impede our growth and paralyze us with fear. But the faster we can learn to forgive ourselves, the less those things end up mattering and the faster we can move on to more important things… like our goals.

23 Comments

  1. Rob says:

    As someone who is almost the epitome of awkward, I can truly relate. Coupled with an over-analytical personality, it can create some truly harrowing nights of replaying of events in my mind. Waking up tired the next day definitely keeps me in a cycle of lowered confidence.

    Thanks for the post, Emilie. Letting go on past embarrassments is the best way of overcoming them. Moreover, it will allow you to not feel awkward in situations given that you won’t end up overthinking. With that in mind, I feel as if it will be easier to roll with whatever situation, be it experiencing something new or striving to attain the goal.

    • Emilie says:

      Yeah, for sure. They have this saying in some of the entrepreneurial literature I’ve read that it’s best to fail fast and forget about it so that you can move on to the next thing. Dwelling on our mistakes can totally paralyze us going forward. I think the faster you can forgive yourself and let things go, the faster you’ll be able to get on with your life. And you’re absolutely right. We don’t want to let these little awkward mishaps derail our growing self-confidence either.

  2. Colleen says:

    I spend 75% of my life beating myself up for just about anything. It’s addictive. And, punishing yourself feels good. Maybe better than forgiving yourself?
    I can see how forgiving yourself is helpful/healthy, but it’s so hard to do.

    • Emilie says:

      It’s definitely addictive. By focusing on it, we are essentially ascribing great meaning to something that really doesn’t matter at all. This makes us feel more significant, like the world is revolving around us or something. And we all crave that kind of significance.

      It is hard, but I’ve found that the more you practice forgiving yourself, the easier it gets and the faster the whole process becomes.

  3. Rebecca says:

    thanks for this one. i feel like i’m rounding up to that turning-25 existential crisis and focusing a lot on past errors and feeling like EVERYTHING i’ve ever done was a huge fucking mistake. i actually re-read this about four times, almost meditatively, to let it sink in.

    yesterday i was having a dream where i was eating shrimp cocktail with a fat, sassy inuit woman at keflavik airport and she asked me what i do. i told her “i don’t know, but right now i just want to stop focusing on past mistakes and just move forward.” then i woke up.

    POWERFUL.

  4. Lost says:

    Your article is fine for embarrassing moments but not for shameful ones, I feel there is a difference between the 2.

    Also, the perspectives from a guy or a girl can be quite different, the way they share problems is also different, and the groups that you are/were part of are different.

    People will always be there to remind you of your failures, that you don’t belong, that you are not good enough, that you don’t fit, that you’re not cool somewhat. These people can be your classmates, your friends, your cousins, your family.

    “See, the more we focus on something, the more significance it begins to have. When we relive small moments over and over, we give it power over our lives- power to impede our growth and paralyze us with fear. But the faster we can learn to forgive ourselves, the less those things end up mattering and the faster we can move on to more important things… like our goals.”

    By letting things go and not deal with the problem will make it worst, and make us the same as everybody else who do not want to deal with the problems.

    The biggest thing that everyone fights for is respect. If I’m suddenly rich you’ll change your perspective, if I’m suddenly famous you know me, if I’m in a high ranking position you’ll respect me.

    • Mute says:

      yea this is exactly what i feel because once i stated drinking at parties i became a different outgoing me (im really shy and people normally treat me like shit)… but back to the point when i became somebody in people eyes others wanted to get to know me .. now that im nobody in this guy i lost eyes others are starting to treat me like shit and also think im weird or just plain crazy.

      i dont know what to do.. i keep thinking about everything even my whole life and how i got up to this point

  5. DJ says:

    Thank you sooooo much. I have a melancholic personality, meaning I spend lots of time brooding about what I could change, but this blog really helped things for me. This has reminded me not to brood over things that I cannot change, and instead put the past behind me and look to the future.

    But just one question: what if someone continues to hold that mistake against you?

    And if you forgive yourself too much, what if you forget to work on your mistakes?

  6. Mute says:

    Im tired of being upset about things but im so complicated i have so much shit that fucks with me and it seems like im so alone… My past has been a rollercoaster and I wasnt even myself the whole situation cant be explained here because its a long story.I feel like somethings wrong with my mind like right now i should be studying but i keep googleing websites like this trying to get somewhere .. then i think all day about trying to fix me all in my head ..
    basically in my past everything was bad then it got good now its bad again but this time its worse: people are looking at me like im weird becaus they thought i was somethign and are now finding out im not. I lost one person that kinda made me fall all apart once he wanted nothign to do with me due to a move i made and im not as confident looking as i was then because im not drinking alchohol at a party (the way i met everybody) anymore anyway. I try to meet people sober and try to become who i was when i was drunk(when everybody liked me) when im sober

  7. Mona says:

    Gosh I so needed to read this right now. I’ve been beating myself up for the past two hours over a silly silly mistake I made.
    I took my baby daughter to this indoor play area for the very first time…and she was toddling and falling all over the place so I went to catch her and accidentally bumped my heat into another child’s head (and that child ended up crying gahhh!!) Of course i apologized profusely to her and her mom …but i still can’t stop feeling miserable about it.
    I guess i should forgive myself … it was an accident, my first time in a strange place and I was all over trying to keep my baby from tripping and falling over things. Thanks for this post, i feel a little better now. I’m forgiving myself and .. in the pursuit of some endorphins … going to go get a workout. cheers!!

  8. Mona says:

    sorry. that’s “bumped my HEAD” lol

  9. Stephanie says:

    You have no idea how much this article helped me today. Our company is in a situation where we will shortly be getting calls from many upset customers.
    I was preparing for tomorrow when I was completely blindsided by someone today. Needless to say, I didn’t handle it as well as I should have. Luckily, I had a boss who let me know that even though this person was cranky, I did a great job and that there was nothing more that I could have done.
    Despite this, I was still replaying it and worrying that she would actually come and visit us and yell at me (I’m a wee bit paranoid). Reading this article made me realize how insignificant this situation was when I have smiling people looking at me in person at this moment.
    As I was reading, I could literally feel the anxiety I normally feel in my core disappear. I felt like I could breathe.

    Thank you very, very much.

  10. Aimee says:

    Thank you so much for this post. I am really the type of person who dwells on my own mistakes. I realized that I not only have to learn to be more forgiving in general but more forgiving to myself! I guess that I am always so worried about what other people think, that I stop thinking about what I think….

  11. scottmac56 says:

    I stumbled across this post at exactly the right time in my life. Thanks a million.

  12. Abhi says:

    wow a great article,much needed and that helped me a lot to overcome my grief,frustration,misery and sadness. now its time to move on. no more self-destruction attitude. its my promise friends that i will do my best to forgive myself and try to improve my situation everyday. i apologize for the mistakes i committed which i don’t want to. may god free me from all these stuff.
    thanks a lot for this blog
    respect :) :D

  13. Aasif says:

    Hi.. After reading this article I am feeling much better indeed. I had a huge embarrassing moment in high school when I peed myself in an exam. To cut a long story short, people eventually found out and made fun of me and this really ruined my self-esteem as well as self confidence to an extent that my whole schooling career was haunted by that thought every single day. It just wouldn’t leave my head. Still to this day(9 years later)it keeps popping up and makes me feel embarrassed. I never repeated that moment to anybody, it like I picked up a huge fear for it that makes me crumble when I think of it. However now I am realizing that at the time it happened I was kind of struggling with my bladder as I felt the need to pee, it was a psychological thing I suppose. But after that incident I never had that problem lol. I am finally talking of the moment and making it a big funny story until the point where I feel no more embarrassing sensations ever again:)

  14. michelle says:

    omg i dont know what to do..but somehow this article does not relate to my situation..i told a lie..i was confused at the time because i wasnt sure what i was feeling..i told my boyfriend that i hated his bestfriend..i went abit far with it and now i cant forgive myself because everything has been blown out of proportion and i feel awful!!…especially with the subsequent falling out..i feel awful and i cant take back my words coz the damage has been done..i feel soo guilty..how do u forgive yourself when youre morally wrong and hell has broken loose..im sorry im rambling but i have no friends i can talk to and i just had to write this somewhere..sigh..

    • Aquifer says:

      You need a big come clean with your boyfriend. He may not forgive you and the situation may not improve immediately but you will feel a lot better, then be able to start the process of forgiving yourself, making a resolution not to tell such lies and moving ahead with your life. I kind of understand what u are going through. I have been there.

  15. Anupam says:

    I do not know how I am going to ever forgive myself for the repeated, silly mistakes that I’ve made over and over in my life, including some really important ones, mostly due to extreme absent-mindedness or because of just being plain distracted. The previous day I was supposed to attend this concert with a new female acquaintance and after boarding the train I realized that I had forgotten to get our train tickets because of a last-moment rush in packing things up. I had to unnecessarily buy overpriced tickets on the train from the guy who checks tickets, while the original tickets were hanging around in my room somewhere. I’m sure the girl did not have a really good impression about me after that stupid careless incident, even though she didn’t appear very perturbed. I had actually started developing a huge crush on her but I fucked my chances up. Later in the day I realized that I had dropped a t-shirt which I had just bought sometime ago. I could have gone back and searched for it but I did not mention the fact as I thought she will be super pissed again, a decision which I have been regretting ever since because it was very stupid, really. I just don’t understand what comes into me at these times. The girl doesn’t seem much interested in me anyway now and I’d rather have my (freaking expensive) t-shirt back than those few useless moments with her. A few weeks ago I somehow misplaced my (non-replaceable) eurail pass with which I was supposed to travel around Europe, and I was so pissed with myself that I decided to give up on my travel plans. I always thought I was a normal guy with a slight harmless absent-mindedness but I now think I need to go see a psychiatrist. I fuck something up each and every time and my self-confidence is at an all time low and I live alone and have no one to help/comfort me. I feel completely lost.

    • lb says:

      You don’t need a psychiatrist. Don’t beat yourself up, there are others who make frequent mistakes as well. I am one of them. I think we basically need to learn how to slow down. If you’re like me, there is always some worry or anxiety going on in your mind. Just take some time to meditate. Go to bed 30 minutes early and just pray (if you’re religious) or just lay there and try to clear your mind or focus on good things. Get up early, leave early… just find ways to have more “me time”. It helps you to be more relaxed and focused. I usually get to work just in the nick of time, but I’ve noticed that on the days I’m there at least 15 minutes early, my day seems to flow better. I think that if we just learn to REGULARLY make time for ourselves we could do things more effectively and efficiently. Good luck Anupam, and please don’t be so hard on yourself.

  16. lb says:

    These posts make me feel better. It feels so awful to be a person who frequently makes mistakes. It feels good to see others utter the same sentiments because people in your daily life are not as understanding. It is addictive to punish one’s self, but in no way does it feel good. That old feeling comes back every time you make a mistake be it great or small, and it seems as though the people in your circle were just waiting for you to screw up again. I’m sure that we all make more of the issues than others do, but when they utter judgmental words to you once, you feel them with every mistake. It’s like you want to beat them to the punch and punish yourself before they get the chance to do it. Thank you all for your stories so that I don’t feel so alone in mind. My most recent mistake is that I was sent to the store and forgot my cell phone again and of course I bought the wrong thing. I couldn’t turn around and come back because I was on a one way street and it was quicker to get to the store than to come back home. It wasn’t a huge deal, but I was reminded that I bought the wrong thing because I didn’t read the package. Actually, it was because of another mistake… I didn’t have my phone to call and verify. It feels like hell. It does make you a more sympathetic person though. (Unfortunately, people don’t like that quality in us either…but that’s a different blog…) Why can’t we just stop pondering over what people may or may not think, forgive ourselves and try to do better next time?