Help! I Can’t Seem to Forgive Myself for How I Treated My Ex

Ever since my relationship ended last year, I have been ravaged and consumed by guilt. He broke up with me in part because I was unwilling to go to therapy with him. I have long dealt with depression and anxiety that meds have never helped, my issues put a strain on our relationship, and I basically wasn't the partner he needed me to be. I had very little energy toward the end of our relationship. I resisted everything, didn't want to do anything, didn't do my part around the house, put my needs first, and even lied at times to manipulate situations so they were more comfortable for me. I have since been in therapy and come to understand and even empathize with his decision to break up with me, but at the time, it felt like my world came crashing down. I felt abandoned when I needed him most, and I was angry. I said and did things I am deeply ashamed of, things that aren't consistent with my true character—nothing violent, but I scared him, without really even meaning to. He cut me out of his life completely at that point. I feel like I ruined any positive memories he may have carried with him of our time together. It almost feels like those four years were a complete waste, for both of us, because of how poorly I handled things at the end. I can't fix any of it. I can't make him love, like, or even appreciate the good times we had again. I could have left the relationship on much more dignified terms, but I didn't. I am solely responsible for the fact he's gone from my life forever. I am extremely saddened and guilt-ridden about it. My therapist has been encouraging me to recognize the lessons and to forgive myself—she says forgiving myself is essential—but I just can't seem to do it. All I want to do is go back in time and change things, make things right. I know I can't, but nothing I have the power to do seems sufficient to take this pain away. Please help. —Broken Up
Dear Broken Up,

Your very sad story is touching. You’re worried that you’ve wasted four years of your life and clearly miss the man who was your partner, and you long for the good times you spent together. Nevertheless, your memories of the good are almost buried in your regret. I’m glad you’re seeing a therapist to help yourself grow and develop and learn how to hold onto the good, so you can learn to care for yourself and how to take care of yourself, too, and become a better partner. It’s apparent to me that you have accepted responsibility for your role in the way things ended, and that shows growth.

Part of human development is learning to accept yourself and your actions, your history, and use it as a springboard to move forward in your life. As your therapist says, forgiving yourself is essential. Once you do that, it’s time to shut the door on it. You cannot return to your past.

Clinging to the past and especially to regrets about your behavior may feel unconsciously like a way to cling to the person who was once your partner, but in fact it’s only a memory you’re attached to.

You seem preoccupied with thoughts about how your partner thinks of you now. You’re worried that the bad times will outweigh the good ones, and the good will be forgotten. This may or not be so for him—we don’t really know that—but what we can be sure about is what your feelings are. You can remember the good and the bad that you both experienced, forgive yourself, forgive your partner, and move on. The best testament to the good times you enjoyed in your relationship is the ability to hold onto the good and go forward with your life. The past has a vote, not a veto. It can vote to show you better paths in the future, but it cannot have veto power over the rest of your life.

After some time of healing and mourning, I hope you will be ready to move on and use all you have learned to forge a new relationship filled with compassion and love for yourself and the person who becomes your next partner, if and when you choose to pursue another relationship.

Clinging to the past and especially to regrets about your behavior may feel unconsciously like a way to cling to the person who was once your partner, but in fact it’s only a memory you’re attached to. The person has gone away, and you deserve something real, solid, and present.

I wish you patience and success as you continue your journey with your therapist.

Take care,

Lynn Somerstein
Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT is a Manhattan-based, licensed psychotherapist with more than 30 years in private practice. She is also a yoga teacher and student of Ayuveda—the Indian science of wellness. Her main interest is in helping people find healthy ways of living, loving, and working in the particular combination that works best for them, connecting to their deepest energic source so their full range of abilities can be expressed. Lynn's specialty is understanding and alleviating anxiety and depression.
  • Leave a Comment
  • Xavier


    January 22nd, 2016 at 8:32 AM

    u can’t beat urself up forever

  • Breanna


    January 23rd, 2016 at 12:50 PM

    I know exactly how u feel. I have been in that same spot before and even though u know it is a solution for the best that still doesn’t make it easy. Best of luck as u work through this!

  • Alec


    January 25th, 2016 at 8:54 AM

    This was not a waste of time for either of you if you both have learned and have something that you can take away from it that was helpful. Never think of it as a waste, just as a chance that you then used to learn something new.

  • Tami


    January 26th, 2016 at 3:46 PM

    Honey you will never be able to have a future if you continue to live in the past.

  • brad


    January 28th, 2016 at 8:08 AM

    It wasn’t that you were not the woman he needed you to be, you either are something or you are not, so look at it like this. The two of you were not meant to be together and there is nothing wrong with that./ You shouldn’t feel guilty about the fact that the two of you were not the right fit for each other. You would rather find that out now than you would later, and so would he.

  • Alyssa H

    Alyssa H

    January 29th, 2016 at 10:49 AM

    We can all sit here all day long and tell you that you need to let it go and forgive yourself but until you are ready to do this then nothing that we say is going to change how you feel. I would start the process by looking at whether you actually did something wrong or if what you are feeling is simply guilt or another feeling like that. If you did something wrong then of course own up to it and apologize. That is the best that you can do and if he accepts fine, and if not, then that is something that he will need to work on for himself. But you shouldn’t punish yourself for the rest of your life over something that is bet left in the past.

  • taylor


    January 30th, 2016 at 2:30 PM

    It could be that he keeps bringing things up just to make you continue feeling bad?

  • R Jones

    R Jones

    February 18th, 2016 at 2:15 PM

    I would not dwell in the past. It never gets you anywhere except filled with regret.

  • Mitzi


    February 21st, 2016 at 4:16 PM

    It sounds like you need to talk with him in order to get closure and move on, even if you make contact in a letter or email. It sounds like you are drowning in guilt that is driving your feelings, and is of the chemical imbalance nature. I pray that you will be able to resolve it soon. Don’t let anybody tell you to NOT contact him, because the pain that comes from having to work through your unresolved feelings alone, with no contact with him, will take a lot of time and be a miserable process. I’ve grieved like that two times in my life, wasting 2 years of my precious life, twice, over 2 different guys—all because it wasn’t resolved with him at the time. God bless you in finding your peace. Remember, “This, too, shall pass.” Turn to the scriptures for incredible words that will help explain your situation and feelings, as well as give you the advice and peace on how to get through this. BEST of luck to you, sweet lady.

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