Past Mistakes Haunting Me (What to do)

In today’s article, we address a common statement, ‘Past Mistakes Haunting Me’. We take into consideration the different emotions that individuals usually associated with past mistakes, we also understand the various ways in which they may choose to react to those memories and take an account of the extent to which these reactions are adaptive or maladaptive in nature. Lastly, we also look into the ways in which the past mistakes and regrets can be taken in a positive stride and left behind.

Past Mistakes Haunting Me

The past often builds the person into what he or she is in the present moment. In several situations, the past haunts the person and serves as a constant reminder of the things that were done incorrectly,the people that may have been wronged or an opportunity that they may have missed. 

In several situations, the individual’s conscience plays a great role in compelling the person to dwell upon the past scenarios and re-experience the situation as if it were happening in the present. 

Emotions associated with the past mistakes:

People may experience a range of emotions when the past mistakes haunt them. The most common ones are:

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines guilt as ‘a sense of right or wrong within the person’. Guilt can be understood as a never ending remorse over the past mistakes and wrong doings, which does not serve any real purpose. There are several myths associated with this emotion, the two most common ones being; that guilt is valuable as it helps the person grow and secondly, a never ending sense of guilt actually helps a person to avoid making the same mistake again.

On the contrast, the facts state that guilt, in fact, is labelled as the biggest destroyer of self-esteem, individuality,creativity and personal development.  

  • Regret:

Regretting past mistakes is often related to a person looking at the past mistakes, decisions and behaviours and expecting that a better outcome would have been a result, had the person made different choices. Incorrect decisions about one’s career, education, children, relationships and self are seen as leading to most regret. This emotion is generally accompanied by feelings of disappointment, frustration and helplessness.
Some researchers believe that regret often occurs when the individual gets a chance to rectify their mistakes, while others tend to believe that it occurs when the opportunity to rectify the error no longer exists. 

When people remember their past mistakes, either consciously or when they get triggered due to an external factor, the immediate emotion can be anxiety. The person may feel as though they are re-experiencing the entire situation in the present moment. 

This is then followed by feelings of regret and guilt along with a disappointment with self. The anxiety may also push the person into a cycle of self-blame, self-pity, rumination and in extreme cases, even self-harm.

  • Disgust:

When a person is haunted by past mistakes, it is very commonly also accompanied by a sense of disgust about the self and one’s actions. The person feels ‘dirty’ and ‘sick’ about oneself and one’s action, although he/she may not be able to change it.

It becomes very important to note that these emotions cannot be compartmentalised when viewing in the context of the trauma of the past events. These emotions can be experienced simultaneously or they can also be experienced as a consequence of one predominant emotion related to the experience. 

Reactions of people when the past mistakes haunt them:

When the past makes a reappearance in the present situation, it often also takes away the individual’s self-esteem and makes the person question their self-worth. Here are certain common but maladaptive reactions to past mistakes. 

  • Self-Blame:

Most often than not, people get engulfed into a cycle of self-blame. Self-Blame can be understood as a form of emotional abuse towards the self, where the individual often magnifies the inadequacies within the self. With respect to the past mistakes and indecisions, people tend to engage in self-blame by disproportionately holding oneself accountable for the outcome of the past.

  • Self-Criticism:

Although closely related to self-blame, self-criticism is associated with attributing the failure, indecision, misstep or a set back to a fixed aspect of the personality and if often seen as unchangeable. Because the mistake is seen as a part of one’s personality, it is often perceived that one cannot learn from the mistake. Self-Criticism often stems from internalising the criticism that has been meted out by others and it prevents the person from moving ahead of the mistake. 

  • Seeing oneself as worthy of the trauma of the past:

This is often a form of punishment where the person believes that he/she deserves to experience the pain and trauma of the past experiences. This may be associated with taking no efforts to bring oneself out of the situation, rejecting help from others. The individual hence invalidates himself/ herself.

  • Isolation:

Because of the wide range of negative emotions experienced by the person due to the resurfacing of the past, the person may choose to isolate himself or herself. This can be manifested in the form of giving up on the activities that the person likes, breaking away from peers and other forms of social contact, losing sleep and appetite and depriving oneself from the things essential for survival.

Leaving the past behind:

We all have gone through certain not-so-pleasant experiences in the past. While the emotions to the resurfacing of the past experiences can be normal and obvious, experiencing these emotions and engaging in the reactions to the past mistakes can be extremely harmful to the person. In the worse situations, it increases the probability of suicidal behaviour and other forms of self-harm. 

However, there are certain ways in which the past can be seen in a positive stride:

  • Shifting the perspective:

A shift of perspective may take time, but certainly serves to release the person of the trauma of the past to a very great extent. This requires the person to ask themselves three questions. 

Firstly, what were the ways in which my decision was correct and logical, given the time and the information I had at my disposal? 

Secondly, at that moment, what were the positive outcomes of my decisions and what negative outcomes was I able to avoid?

Thirdly, Is there any way in which I can change the decisions I made at that given time?

 Answering these questions can help the person rationalise the decisions made in the past and can help in easing the emotional reactions that they may be experiencing in the present.

  • Being open to feedback and new experiences:

A way of integrating the past experiences into present in a fulfilling manner is having an  acceptance of the past. Once the past is accepted, the individual is less likely to try and fight the emotion that is experienced every time the past resurfaces and becomes more aware of the present situation. In this way, the individuals can increase their capacity to have a more healthy response to uncertainty, and are able to see the experience just as it occurs.

  • Making amends:

Although the past cannot be changed completely, in certain situations, there may be a fair chance to at least change or modify some aspects of the past. This can include apologizing to the person that the individual may have hurt or reconnecting to a lost contact. It can also include taking any corrective action immediately and avoiding procrastination. 

  • Distinguish responsibility from self-blame:

Even though it is necessary for a person to take responsibility for his or her actions, it is important to understand that taking responsibility is not equivalent to self-blame as self-blame involves scapegoating oneself. Taking responsibility involves analysing all the factors that led to the outcome.

  • Challenging the self-criticism:

One of the best ways to deal with self-criticism is to question the validity of those beliefs.

This can be done by making a list of all the good qualities one has or asking a friend to describe oneself as honestly as possible. Then, when the self-critical thought comes up, it can be challenged by putting across the good qualities that have been described as a counterargument. The person can either do this loudly or it can be done mentally.

  • Understanding that there is more to a person:

This is associated with the realisation that the past event was a part of the individual’s life and does not define who the person is. By getting bowed down by the trauma of the past, the person ends up seeing oneself as the past experience and not as a whole human being who has flaws and can make mistakes. By seeing oneself beyond the past experience and seeing the situation as a part of a natural and common human experience, the person is likely to view the situation in a better perspective.

  • Being self-compassionate:

Forgiving others is relatively easier than forgiving the self. Self-compassion involves being kind to oneself, being non-judgemental and viewing one’s experience as a part of a universal human experience. Although it is not easy to develop self-compassion, it can go a long way in helping a person free themselves from the past.

Frequently Asked Questions:

Why is self forgiveness important?

Self-forgiveness is important in order to make progress. If the person is not able to forgive oneself, he or she is likely to get engulfed into the cycle of blaming and judging oneself that will hamper their progress.

Do past mistakes define you?

The past does not define who you are as an individual.The past certainly influences a person, including influencing how they see their possibilities, how they see themselves and others and how they see the future, but some change in the perception and some control is possible.  

Why do I think about the past so much?

We sometimes mistake our rumination of the situation for problem solving. Thinking about the past to a great extent does not guarantee that we will reach a definitive solution. The truth actually is that ruminating just makes us go round in circles with no definitive solution.

Is it bad to regret things?

Regret can be seen as a reminder of our mistakes and our actions and also a reminder of the caution that needs to be maintained should we be in such a situation again. Regrets help us understand what we really wanted out of the situation. However, too much regret can be harmful.

How do we learn from mistakes?

Learning from a mistake involves understanding the situation completely and then putting that learning into practice. It also involves reviewing what went wrong without blaming oneself. Lastly, it includes identifying the skills and resources that will help to prevent the mistake in future.


In today’s article, we addressed a common statement, ‘Past Mistakes Haunting Me’. We took into consideration the different emotions that individuals usually associated with past mistakes, we also understood the various ways in which they may choose to react to those memories and take an account of the extent to which these reactions are adaptive or maladaptive in nature. Lastly, we also looked into the ways in which the past mistakes and regrets can be taken in a positive stride and left behind.

I hope this article was able to provide an insight and understanding about navigating through the past experiences. Kindly, let us know your opinions and questions in the section below.


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