Toxic nostalgia transfigures the past and conceals critical points in history. One remains mentally stuck in the seemingly „good“ old times.
What is „Toxic Nostalgia“? Explanation, meaning, definition
When we think of our own past, most of us think of both positive and unpleasant incidents. However, those who engage in toxic nostalgia glorify the past and report only positive events. He gives the impression that there were never any hurdles or obstacles in his life. It is natural to suppress unpleasant events, but those who transfigure their history in such a way that everything they have experienced can only be recorded on the plus side are deceiving themselves and those around them – even if not intentionally. At the same time, he deprives himself of the chance of a happy life in actuality.
Sometimes a beautiful melody or a certain photo is enough to make us revel in pleasant memories. To many, the world of their childhood in particular appears to be wholesome and rosy. This is completely natural and a behavior that everyone displays from time to time. It is only when positive events from the past are repeatedly brought up that relatives and friends ask themselves whether this is not a bit „too much of a good thing“. They suspect that this cannot be true.
Nostalgia and toxic nostalgia
Nostalgia is not bad per se. It only becomes critical when it reaches a certain level. Especially in the dark season, we tend to feel nostalgic, remembering the past when everything seemed much nicer, more carefree and easier. Nostalgia differs from longing in that it contains a high proportion of sentimentality. Unlike „normal“ memories, nostalgic memories are intense, emotional and vivid. One longs for certain people, places, objects, and events from the past. Longing means longing for someone or something unspecified. This emotion is also very intense and recurs, but is not fundamentally sad, but often joyful (being in love). Longing arises from emotional or spatial distance and is based on an insecurity. Those who have strong longings experience themselves as imperfect.
Are certain people more prone to nostalgia than others?
Psychological research has shown that nostalgia affects mainly people who are prone to sadness and are lonely. They take nostalgia very seriously. It seems that loneliness and sadness promote nostalgia. This is because people who are in a positive mood are much less likely to dwell on memories. Furthermore, the researchers found that the feeling followed a certain pattern:
Respondents always played the leading role in the memory, but were surrounded by other people. In many cases, the memory began with a negative incident that changed to a positive one in the course of engagement. The change always happened through interaction with other people. Much less frequently, respondents described coping scenes in the course of which a change to the negative occurred. The researchers assume that nostalgia is a form of autobiographical memory. It is biographical, positive, and takes place on a relational level. It is experienced very similarly in different cultures.
Researchers also found that nostalgia is harmful in severe depression because it reinforces it. Nostalgic memories are so multifaceted that medical experts nevertheless hope that nostalgia will help with milder depression.
Toxic nostalgia combines delusion and self-deception
When the attachment to a glorified past takes on extreme proportions, we speak of toxic nostalgia. For those affected, „the good old days“ play a disproportionately important role. But it also prevents those affected from living a happy life in the here and now. We all wear the famous rose-colored glasses when we think about the past. However, if one has exclusively positive memories, this is unrealistic.
After a certain age, everyone can probably look back on unpleasant, difficult and perhaps even traumatic experiences. Remembering only positive things is implausible and shows denial. At the same time, glorified memories become a benchmark for the future that simply cannot be met. One is bound to fail in one’s high expectations and thus increases one’s unhappiness.
Can people free themselves from toxic nostalgia?
To leave toxic nostalgia behind, a change of attitude is necessary. But this doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process that often takes months. The decisive factor is the will to change. Toxic nostalgia can be such a burden on those around you that friends and family turn their backs on you. If the pressure of suffering is great enough, a change of attitude happens more easily. It is a matter of looking at the past as something that has passed. It must no longer have the high status in life that it has had up to now. If you can accept the moment as it is, you are on the right path. Listening to one’s inner voice and sounds in the environment supports the desire to live in the here and now.
Living consciously in the here and now is also a matter of practice. It begins with awareness. The more aware you are of your behavior, the easier it is to change. Focusing on what you’re doing right now can be practiced just like a workout. Many repetitions are necessary for the muscles to strengthen and remain stable. However, it’s not about always living in the here and now. Sometimes digressing into the past, simply daydreaming, is helpful when you’re in a stressful phase. Besides, digressing into the past stimulates the imagination and helps to come up with new ideas.