Many of us like to write diaries, read autobiographies, or get together nostalgically about the past. Why is remembering the past important? Are there any disadvantages? And if thinking of the past even bothers us, what can we do?
Memories make us human
For decades, researchers have found that remembering the past is an important basis for human development. Here are four important roles in between.
1. Memories help us form identities
Personal memories give us a sense of continuity – that we exist are the same person (or who has a perception of ourselves) as time passes. Memories provide important details about who we are and what we want to be.
2. Memory helps us solve problems
Our memories offer potential solutions to the problems we are facing and guide us in solving them.
3. Memories help us socialize
Personal memories are important in social interactions. Memories of the past can be a source of reference when meeting new people and can build relationships and maintain relationships that have existed.
4. Memory helps us to regulate emotions
Our memories can give examples of similar situations that have been experienced before, allowing us to reflect on how we have managed those emotions before and what we can learn from those experiences.
The same thing can be applied to managing strong negative emotions. For example, when someone feels sad, they can remember positive things to improve their mood.
Memories help us live in a society
Remembering the past does not only help us as individuals. It also allows us to live in a socio-cultural context; society and culture influence the way we remember the past.
For example, in individualistic Western cultures, people tend to remember long, specific, detailed memories and focus on individuals.
Conversely, in East Asian culture, people tend to remember memories that are more general and focus on social interaction and those closest to them. Researchers see this difference in children and adults.
The way parents talk about past events with their children is also different in each culture.
Compared to East Asian parents, parents in Western culture focus more on the individual child, as well as the child’s thoughts and emotions. So, there is a role for culture in how to educate children to remember the past.
Westerners who are individualistic tend to recall certain unique memories that emphasize one’s uniqueness. Instead, in East Asian culture, memory serves to help social relations and relationships.
Poor memory and health
Since the past plays a very important role in how we live as humans, it is not surprising that disturbances in the way we remember things appear in some psychological disorders.
For example, people with depression tend to remember more negative personal memories than positive personal memories. For example, someone with a depressive disorder will remember the failure of an exam more than their academic success.
A depressed person also has great difficulty remembering something at a particular time and place. For example, instead of giving information like “I really enjoyed the party at Sam’s house last Thursday”, they will give memories of common experiences like “I like going to parties”.
We found that people with depression also tend to tell stories about themselves differently and tell more negative stories. They also tend to remember periods of their lives, such as college, very positively or very negatively (instead of a combination of the two).
Interference in remembering something is also a characteristic of post-traumatic stress. This is a condition when unwanted and disturbing personal memories related to past trauma suddenly appear in the mind.
Someone with an anxiety disorder also tends to have a bias when remembering their past. For example, we all make mistakes in public places from time to time, such as tripping while riding a bus or spilling drinks at a party. However, people with social phobias will be wrapped in shame when remembering these experiences.
Prolonging the past without producing a solution is detrimental. This can cause emotional distress and its worst, resulting in emotional disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
I don’t want to think too much about the past. what can I do?
If remembering the past is a problem that is bothering you, these methods can help.
Take time in the day for your memories. You can write in a diary or describe your worries. Writing emotionally important personal experiences for 15 minutes a day can improve your mental and physical health.
Practice remembering positive things from the past. This can allow you to experience different experiences in your memory so that you get a new perspective from your past.
Learn and practice attention strategies. Instead of thinking about painful memories, focusing on the current state (such as watching your breath, focusing on what you are seeing, kissing, or hearing right now) can help you break the negative cycle.
When thinking of the past, try to be proactive and creative ideas to solve problems rather than just being passive.
See your doctor or health practitioner if you feel you have a problem thinking about the past.