Memories of the past can be like old friends. This is why people like to keep photographs from the childhood and listen to the same music they enjoyed during their school years. Such memories can remind the individual of a time when life felt easier and when deceased loved ones were still alive. Life would be far less satisfying without these memories but if people overindulge in nostalgia it can be detrimental to them. If people are recovering from an addiction but they are nostalgic for those days when they were still engaged in substance abuse, it may be a warning that they are about to relapse. It can also occur that people are so focused on the past that they fail to appreciate what they have in the present.
Nostalgia can be defined as wistful or excessively sentimental, sometimes abnormal yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition – it is a type of emotion. It usually refers to some idealized form of the past that never really existed. When people are feeling nostalgic they will only tend to remember the good things and forget about the bad. So if an individual is feeling nostalgic for their childhood it will seem as if every day was perfect – even though that is highly unlikely to have been the case. Occasional feelings of nostalgia are normal, but if people are constantly romanticizing about the past it can prevent them from enjoying their current life. The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Herb Cain once referred to nostalgia as a memory with the pain removed.
The words nostalgia and homesickness can sometimes be confused. This is hardly surprising as nostalgia comes from a Latin word that means homecoming. In fact originally nostalgia was used to describe a sickness that a person experiences when they are not in their native land. In modern usage the word nostalgia is mostly used to describe a yearning for the past – a place that the individual can never return to. Homesickness differs from this because the individual will usually have the option to go home.
There can be a number of reasons for why people become nostalgic about the past:
* It can be a positive experience because the person is reminded of good things that happened to them in the past. It is perfectly normal to occasionally dwell on these nice memories.
* Hearing old songs or meeting old friends can trigger this emotion. School reunions are special social occasions where nostalgia is encouraged.
* Fear of death can mean that the individual feels safer looking to the past rather than thinking about the future.
* These memories may play an important role in the development of identity. The back story allows people to make sense of their current life.
* It can be an important element of social bonding. A group of friends can share their memories of the past and this reminds them of their closeness.
* If people are fearful about the future they are more likely to look upon the past as a safer place. For example, when there is a great deal of financial or social insecurity people tend to become more focused on the past.
* People experience dissatisfaction with their current life.
* When people are dealing with a great deal of stress they can yearn for a time when things seemed to be simpler.
* Bereavement can mean that the individual may yearn from a time when their loved ones were still alive.
* If people have low self esteem they may think back to a time when they seemed to be more in control of their life.
Nostalgia can be described as a disorder of the imagination where the mind is dwelling on past memories while losing interest in the present. The dangers associated with nostalgia include:
* It can become an emotional disorder that negatively impacts the individual’s life. The person dealing with this emotion may find it difficult to appreciate anything in their current life.
* Nostalgia may prevent the individual from making the most of their current circumstances. They will not have the motivation to work towards goals and get things done.
* It can lead to symptoms such as insomnia and heart palpitations. It can also lead to symptoms of depression.
* It may mean that the individual suffers from a great deal of anxiety and feelings of powerlessness.
* It can lead to a loss of interest in food and the person may become unwilling to take care of their physical health.
* It may lead to thoughts of suicide.
Nostalgia can be dangerous for people who are recovering from an addiction. This is particularly true if the individual is constantly thinking about the period of their life when they were using alcohol or drugs. This kind of nostalgia is sometimes referred to as romancing the drink or drug. When people first become sober they will have no problem remembering how bad they felt in the midst of addiction. Over time the memory of the pain can fade, and the individual can start to remember times when alcohol or drugs seemed to be their friend. If the individual allows such nostalgia to continue it may lead them to once again return to alcohol or drug abuse.
The actress Jeanne Moreau made an interesting claim that can help put nostalgia into perspective:
> My life is very exciting now. Nostalgia for what? It’s like climbing a staircase. I’m on the top of the staircase, I look behind and see the steps. That’s where I was. We’re here right now. Tomorrow, we’ll be someplace else. So why nostalgia?
Occasionally thinking about the past is not a bad thing, and it may even be necessary for mental health. It is only when people are overly nostalgic that it becomes problematic. It is vital that those who are recovering from an addiction, but are romanticizing that period of their life, take action to limit this thinking. People can escape excessive nostalgia by:
* If people are working hard to build a good life now they will be less likely to dwell too much on the past. This means that it is important to have goals in life and to work towards these.
* If a person in recovery is remembering the good times of drinking or drug using they need to tackle these memories head on. They need to remember how they really felt during the midst of addiction and why this drove them to yearn for escape.
* It is understandable that as people get older they prefer to enjoy music, movies, and other forms of entertainment from previous decades, but it can also be a good idea to stay interested in what is popular now.
* There is no time in history that was ever perfect. It is good that people remind themselves of this and avoid glorifying the past excessively.
* People are never too old to try new things and experiment. Such an open minded and adventurous attitude will help to keep the individual feeling young.
* If the individual is dealing with excessive stress in their life they will need to develop tools for dealing with this. Relaxation techniques can be a great help with this.
* If people are struggling to cope with bereavement they might benefit from some type of counseling.
* Many people who have a history of addictive behavior will have low self esteem and this can make them more prone to nostalgia. They can increase their own self worth by setting small goals and achieving these – as their confidence grows they will be able to achieve more and more.