Declinism: when you give too much importance to your past, you make it present

The more we look to the past, the more we neglect the present. The past exists only in our mind. Our mind, however, constantly reactivates it. We go back to the past again and again, to the point where there are those who get trapped in their memories. They can't move forward because the past holds them back. So they end up living in a lost time, where only nostalgia lives and there is no room for change.

The trap of the "perfect" past

Of all the memories you can evoke, how many are positive and how many are negative?

Chances are you have far more positive memories than negative ones.

Psychologists at Winston-Salem State University have come to this conclusion, also discovering that our memories are quite partial. Over time, our unpleasant emotions tend to fade or their impact is mitigated, a phenomenon known as "minimization".

Minimization involves mitigating the emotional impact of negative experiences to allow us to regain some basic level of happiness. Therefore, most of us have a tendency to soften the negative events that we have experienced in the past, letting positive emotions prevail.

This is not a retrospective "mistake" of memory. In reality, minimization is part of a healthy coping mechanism that operates in memory and allows us to move forward without having to carry too heavy an emotional load. Indeed, those same psychologists have seen that people who do not have efficient minimization mechanisms are more likely to suffer from depression.

Rosy decline or retrospective

“Looking back is one thing, but going back is another,” said poet Charles Caleb Colton. The "trap" that our memory sets us, making us think that the past was always better, leads us to develop a softened image of what has been. We can get the feeling that everything has been perfect. So, we look to the present and are disappointed as the future unfolds as disastrous, because we are convinced that we will never be so happy and fully satisfied again.

The rosy declinism or retrospective is the belief that something, be it a country, a culture or our lives, is experiencing a significant and perhaps irreversible decline. Although declinism exploits the positive bias of our memory, it goes far beyond mere nostalgia because it implies a negative evaluation of the present and includes the worst predictions for the future.

It does not just mean looking back with nostalgia, but thinking that we were fine and that now we are bad and in the future we will be even worse. It is as if the past blindfolded us to avoid being here and now. When we flee from the present, we also leave behind the strain that comes from dealing with reality, while we get rid of the uncertainty that the future brings.

Since declinism feeds a negative image of the present and the future, it pushes us to live in the past. That past is presented as a sure rock and even offers us the ability to manipulate it as we please to imagine that we were much happier, luckier, or happier than we really were. As Harold Pinter said, "the past is what you remember, what you imagine you remember, what you convince or pretend to remember."

But let's not be fooled, it's a trick of the mind. It is a circumvention strategy that we will end up footing the bill. "The problem with looking too far into the past is that when we look to the future, it will be gone," as Michael Cibenko wisely said.

How to use the past well?

The past can be a source of wisdom, a reservoir of happiness. And a refuge in troubled times. We can go back to it anytime we want as long as we make sure we don't get trapped in nonexistent time. We cannot evade or forget our past, but neither is it smart to be trapped in nostalgia for an illusory time.

The past is our memory, we must use it as the guiding thread of our biographical history, not as a dwelling in which to stay. If lately we find ourselves over-reliving in the past, nostalgia is likely telling us that we have a problem in the present that we want to escape from. Therefore, decline is always a warning sign that we must not ignore.

Instead, we must learn to let go. Open up to uncertainty. Confident that even these difficult days will pass and become memories. Because as Daphne Rose Kingma said: "to hold back is to believe that there is only the past, to let go is to know that there is a future". We need to make sure that we give each day its place, the attention and the time it deserves in our life.

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