How to Stop Beating Yourself Up: 5 Ways to Forgive Yourself

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Are you too hard on yourself? How can you stop beating yourself up over little mistakes?

Making mistakes is part of being human, but many of us chronically beat ourselves up for not being perfect. Over time, that critical self-talk can evolve into debilitating shame that prevents us from pursuing opportunities in life and showing up authentically for ourselves. 

With this in mind, here’s how to stop beating yourself up and begin showing up for yourself with the care and compassion that you deserve. 

1. Practice Self-Compassion

Guilt and shame can sometimes motivate us to change our behavior. We may even see it as simply “tough love.” But even the worst type of shame can be a nuisance in your life. When you feel like you’ve failed again and again, you begin to wonder if there’s nothing to be done to fix the issues you might be causing. But Nonviolent Communication by Marshall B. Rosenberg reassures you that this shame isn’t permanent, nor are you incapable of growing beyond your mistakes.

Creating an internal dialogue with more compassion for yourself begins with withholding judgment. Self-judgment is easiest to catch when it takes the form of criticism (like “I can’t believe I did that, I’m so stupid!”). The more insidious form of moralistic self-judgment comes in the form of “should”—as in, “I should have known better” or “I really should exercise more.” These statements are demands, not true requests, because we know we’ll punish ourselves severely if we don’t comply. 

To express compassion for yourself, treat it just like any other relationship by focusing on feelings and needs. Instead of thinking, “I’m so stupid,” practice thinking, “What unmet need prompted me to act that way?” 

Bringing awareness to your unmet needs gives you a healthy, compassionate way to grow from the experience rather than getting mired in self-hatred. Allow yourself to feel all those emotions about what happened without raking yourself over the coals for it. 

2. Scrutinize Your Failures

In his book Psycho-Cybernetics, author Maxwell Maltz suggests asking yourself logical questions about the facts of the situation as a way to force yourself to focus on figuring out the real cause of your mistake and your goals instead of focusing on identifying with the mistake. Further, questioning yourself rationally helps you to immediately seek solutions to the mistake so you can bolster your potential for success in the future. This process will turn every mistake and failure into an opportunity to learn and break your pattern of responding negatively to situations.

For example, you failed an exam. You could either mope around and identify with the failure: “I failed my exam (fact), therefore I am a failure (cause).” Or you could just state the fact: “I failed the exam,” and seek the real cause by asking yourself logical questions:

  • Why did you fail the exam?
  • Were you prepared for the exam?
  • How can you better prepare yourself for the next exam?
Ask Yourself “What” Instead of “Why”

Sometimes, when you’re feeling emotional, it’s difficult to think rationally about a mistake you’ve made. You may inadvertently ask yourself questions that reinforce your errors and the negative emotions you feel. According to Tasha Eurich, author of Insight, you’re more likely to discover effective solutions to your problems, and train yourself away from identifying with your mistakes, when you ask yourself “what” instead of “why” questions in response to mistakes.

Asking “why” questions about your past mistakes will only lead you to focus on your failures and errors. You may end up engaging emotionally with your mistakes instead of switching your focus to the success you want to achieve. For example, you failed an exam because you didn’t study, you weren’t prepared enough, or you just didn’t know the right answers. In other words, your responses emphasize that you didn’t do enough and your failure is due to an error on your part. 

On the other hand, asking “what” questions will allow you to bypass the act of focusing on your errors and lead you directly to the solutions you seek to make. This process will allow you to take a step back from your mistakes and focus objectively on the solutions that will help you learn how to stop beating yourself up. For example, asking yourself “What do you need to do to pass the exam?” instead of “Why did you fail the exam?” will lead you directly to the actions you need to take to improve your chances of success in the future. 

3. Celebrate Your Successes 

It’s common to focus more on our failures than our successes. You may be doing very well in life, but you keep beating yourself up because you focus on failure. According to Jack Canfield, the author of The Success Principles, there are three main reasons we tend to focus on failure rather than success: 

  1. As we grew up, our family and teachers emphasized our failures. For example, your parents may have reacted to a good grade by saying, “Nice work,” but to a C or less by giving you a lecture. Or maybe your teachers marked wrong answers with a red pen rather than marking correct answers with a check mark. As adults, we may continue to emphasize our failures rather than our successes.
  2. We remember events associated with negative emotions better than those associated with positive ones. Failure produces strong negative emotions. As a result, many people think they have many fewer successes than they actually do because their memory emphasizes failures.
  3. We define success in a specific way. People tend to define success as an important life event, like graduating from college. But this definition undermines everyday successes like skipping dessert, doing laundry, or making an important phone call at work.

Because it’s more natural for people to dwell on their failures, you have to make a conscious effort to reorient your focus so you can stop beating yourself up. Canfield recommends several activities to celebrate your successes:

  1. Identify nine major successes you’ve had. Divide your life into three equally sized chunks. For example, if you’re 30 years old, your chunks would be from 0 to 10, 11 to 20, and 21 to 30. Then, write three successes for each stage. For example, a success in the 0 to 10 group might be that you participated in your first piano recital.
  2. Write 100 ways you’ve succeeded. People usually find it easy to come up with about 30, but identifying more can be difficult. To get to 100, include small successes. Examples include saving $50 to buy your first video game, learning to ride a bike, and starting a family.
  3. Surround yourself with symbols of your success. Create a victory wall where you display symbols of your accomplishments. These might include trophies, diplomas, or thank-you cards you’ve received. You can also create a written record of your successes. Every time you succeed, log it in a notebook or on your computer. If you’re preparing for something important and feel anxious, read your log.
  4. Recount your successes in front of the mirror every day. At the end of each day, stand in front of your mirror, look yourself in the eye, and recount your successes aloud. Work through your whole day, citing successes large and small. Finally, tell yourself, “I love you.” At first, you may experience adverse reactions such as anxiety, wanting to cry, or crying. These are normal reactions when you’re not used to acknowledging yourself. They’ll diminish after a few days. Commit to doing the exercise for three months; many people do it longer.

4. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Comparing yourself to others is pointless and often makes you feel that you’re lacking in some way. In reality, everyone’s at a different point in life at different times based on our priorities, values, and other external factors that are out of our control. So there’s no point shaming yourself because of another person’s success.

Consequently, another person’s life position is irrelevant to you because you’re a different person—you have different values, a different family and upbringing, and different life circumstances. While they might be in their prime now, you might be on the rise and reaching your prime while they’re on their decline.

Many aspects of our society thrive by making us compare ourselves to others like social media and marketing campaigns for clothes, makeup, and other material goods—if we don’t have this thing, this life, or look this way, then we aren’t good enough. Mind coach Vex King (Good Vibes, Good Life) recommends distancing yourself from social media and other pressures if you’re falling trapped in the self-comparison complex and want to stop beating yourself up.

5. Heal Your Inner Child

To stop beating yourself up, you need to reconnect to your childhood. Oftentimes, self-criticism comes from deep-rooted insecurities that began in childhood and never healed. Children, from a survival standpoint, are deeply vulnerable. They are dependent on those caring for them. 

As Brené Brown describes in Daring Greatly, shame causes children to feel unlovable, which threatens their sense of emotional safety. Under these conditions, for children, shame is trauma. One of the most common ways parents can fall short is by failing to distinguish for their children the difference between “you are bad” and “you did something bad.” 

This distinction is important because you are not your behavior. Children are even more vulnerable than adults to internalizing negative self-talk, which makes it crucial to help them understand that how they behave is not a reflection of who they are, but rather a tool for understanding how they feel. Example:

  • “You lied” versus “You’re a liar”: Lying is not a characteristic, it’s a changeable behavior. Labeling someone a liar facilitates an attitude of defeat, and limits their ability to demonstrate better behavior in the future. When parents do this with their children, they corrode their sense of worthiness which rarely gets fixed in adulthood.

Lost Connections by Johann Hari and The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff both describe ways to heal your inner child so you can stop beating yourself up. Hari suggests reconnecting to your childhood self by talking about your past. Talking openly about childhood wounds is painful, and it’s understandable to want to avoid that pain. However, it’s not just trauma itself that causes low self-worth—it’s the experience of keeping that trauma buried inside for years, too. In a way, opening up about past childhood wounds is like disinfecting a wound: It’s painful in the short term, but it saves you from an infection that would continue to cause self-criticism down the road.

On the other hand, Hoff suggests embracing your inner child by having a childlike mind. The goal of the childlike mind is to allow the brain to achieve the same freedom it had when you were curious and observant. In this state, the mind is filled with light and joy because it is in line with the natural powers of the world. Letting your inner child out allows you to give yourself a break every once in a while, and reminds you to not be so hard on yourself because there are other things to be happy about

Final Words

Many people constantly beat themselves up for falling short in life in some way. But this attitude—whether it’s true or not—actually prevents you from succeeding. If you often feel guilty about not living up to some self-imposed standard, the first step is to understand why you feel that way. Are you judging yourself against an unfairly harsh standard? Do you set unreasonably high expectations for yourself? Or perhaps you let negative thinking get the better of you? Whatever the reason, know that it’s within your power to transcend these feelings and feel proud of yourself—it’s just a matter of reorienting your focus.

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How to Stop Beating Yourself Up: 5 Ways to Forgive Yourself

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Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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