The Risks Of Dwelling On The Past

March 1, 2019  |  
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always dwelling on the past

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There are few traits I find more obnoxious in someone than a tendency to dwell on the past. I have several friends I’ve had to keep my distance from, all because I couldn’t stand constantly listening to them lament about the way things could have been or how their lives would have shaken out if only they’d done this one thing differently. What do they want me to say? “Okay, let’s get in my time machine and go back and change things”? Or, perhaps, should I say, “You’re right. Your life sucks forever now because of that thing you couldn’t control or that one mistake.” The whole conversation is painfully broody, and last time I checked, brooding was for teenagers. I learn from my past. I’m grateful for my past. But I don’t dwell in my past. Here are the dangers of dwelling on the past.


Your current relations feel taken for granted

Let’s say you dwell, for example, on your marriage that didn’t work out, even though you’re already re-married. Even if you don’t want to be back with your ex, you still often obsess about the fact that it was so tragic to go through a divorce and poor you for experiencing it. How do you think that makes your current partner feel?


They’ll become the new past you dwell on

Your current partner would probably like to believe that you think, “Oh my gosh. I’m so grateful for the way things went or else I never would have found this new person with whom I am clearly more compatible.” If you don’t appreciate that the tragedy of your past cleared the path for the new, wonderful people in your life, then those people will go away, too. They’ll become your new past.


You feel guilty of old mistakes

Perhaps you cheated on someone. Perhaps you were verbally abusive in a past relationship. You aren’t those ways now. You understand that that is not okay. But, you still carry this chip on your shoulder, and believe that you are bad because of your past mistakes.


You accept mistreatment and punishment

When you believe you are bad because of your past mistakes, you wind up accepting abusive friends, mean partners, and generally sub-par relationships. You believe, in your subconscious, that you deserve those as punishment. Hey, if you learned from your mistakes and don’t do those things anymore then you deserve good relationships.


You miss the joy that’s in front of you

So, you didn’t make it in that career. Or, that marriage didn’t work out. You missed that one investment opportunity that could have made you a millionaire. You obsess on these things, rather than looking at what’s in front of you.


So you believe your present is joyless

If you dwell on the past, you are blind to the great things in your life. No, you didn’t make it in that other career. But this current job brought you wonderful friends through your coworkers and to a city that’s awesome. No, that marriage didn’t work out, but since becoming single you’ve had more time to get into volunteer work you love. But you don’t recognize the beauty in these things, because you’re dwelling. If you aren’t grateful for the good things you have, your happiness level naturally goes down and you believe you have a bad life.


You waste your time

Dwelling on the past is just a waste of time. That’s it. Nothing more. There is no way it is beneficial. Remember there is a difference between learning about the past and dwelling on it. You learn in one fell swoop, and then you move on. But dwelling is just thinking and obsessing, with no aim to learn anything. That’s a waste of time.


And to waste time is disgraceful

Wasting time like that is disgraceful. You only have one life. You take it for granted by dwelling on the past—something to which you cannot return.


You repel those who have moved on

Maybe you went through something difficult with a group. You got a divorce, for example, and you have kids. That divorce also affected your kids deeply. But, they went to therapy, they grew and got stronger, and they moved on. They want to move on, but it’s hard for them to when you won’t stop talking about the past.


But they’re the ones who understood you

Sometimes, if you won’t stop dwelling on something that others want to leave behind, those people just leave you. That’s very sad, since they’re the ones who truly understood you the most—they were there during your trauma. Be strong with them, for them, and stop dwelling. If they can, you can.


Over time, you glorify the past

The longer you dwell on the past, the more prone you are to glorifying it. You forget about those absolutely terrible, horrible, unbearably painful moments in some circumstances—the ones that made you think I can’t wait for this to be over—and you start to only remember the good. That’s just how your memory works.


If you glorify it, you don’t learn from it

When we glorify the past, we don’t learn from it. In fact, we repeat it. Too often do people get back with exes because they dwelled on the relationship, glorified it, and forgot how terrible it actually was.


You deny that things happen for a reason

If you dwell on the past, then you are inherently denying that things happen for a reason. You aren’t taking the chance to connect the dots, and see how the good things you have today could not have existed without some of your painful experiences.


Then life feels confusing and senseless

When you ignore that things happen for a reason, life feels very dark and senseless. It’s hard to have hope. It’s hard to find the silver lining in things, moving forward, if you can’t even see it looking back.


It’s self-indulgent

Truly, dwelling in the past is just self-indulgent. There are friends and family who need you to be there for them now in the real-time things they’re going through today. Your energy should be spent helping those going through something today, rather than pitying the old you.

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