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MEMORIES: Throwback Thursday and the Complexity of Nostalgia

If you are one of the people who grew up with social media in your younger years, you are likely being reminded of some of the past events and posts that occurred on your social media sites. Things like TimeHop had their debut before fizzling out, only to be replaced by Facebook “On This Day”. Being only a click away from some of your old pictures and past experiences can bring up lots of emotions, one of them being a complex feeling of nostalgia. 

Merriam-Webster defines nostalgia as “a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition”. The sentiment is not always warm and fuzzy. In fact, nostalgia can also be heavily laced with sadness and regret which can lead to deeper emotions of hopelessness and depression. So, if you find your memories that pop up producing sadness instead of warm fuzzies from time to time, you may identify with some of the following circumstances. 

Below are 3 reasons why social media and the “memories” it stores for us can be harmful instead of helpful as well as a couple of ways to combat these negative aspects of nostalgia.

It can hurt you as a couple

Quite a few times, couples have come to therapy and discussed finding old messages, seeing an old picture of their current spouse with another boy or girl that they had previously been told was never a “serious thing”, and feeling like they had been cheated on or betrayed in some way or another. It doesn’t seem to matter whether you consider yourself a jealous type or not, having a front-row seat to some of your spouse’s previous shenanigans with other people can certainly feel like a gut punch. Previous to social media, your new partner would have to go to your house and go through old boxes of photos and love letters. Now, it’s like your mom got ahold of that box and decided when to randomly plaster them on the web to remind you and your friends about them.

In order to protect ourselves from being bombarded by the emotions that come with seeing each other giving pieces of our hearts to other people in our past, you can choose to delete those messages and memories from your pages. It doesn’t mean you get to hide your past from the partner you are closest to, it means you are protecting yourself from being hit with the memory on days when you may least expect it.

Remembering the sad parts

Often times we use social media as a “highlight reel” so we post the happy pictures, ones where things look great, only to know deep down that the true experience behind the picture is a series of twists and turns that weren’t always so great. For example, you might log onto Facebook and see that little notification that tells you about your memory from a few years previous. You click on it and see a picture of an old football game you went to in college. First reaction: That was so fun! Yet somewhere under the surface, you remember more…that in fact, it was one of the games where an ex argued with you the whole day. What about a picture of a past birthday dinner that happened just 30 minutes before you went out to a bar and made a fool of yourself? Even pictures of you in high school, hanging out with friends that were close can be hard because it’s likely some of those friendships have faded.

Your social media algorithms have no way of knowing that the pictures you posted smiling, hugging your friends, or cheering on a team at a game were laced with sadness or embarrassment or arguments. If you are in a time in your life where you seem to need more distance from these memories, try deleting the app or turning off the notifications for the memory reminder for a bit while you start to focus and build more on being present in the here and now of your current life.

It might make you “should” yourself

“Should-ing” ourselves can be a dangerous spiral. Once we say to ourselves, “I should do this and this” or “I should have done that or this differently”, we start wrapping ourselves up in a blanket of shame. When we “should” ourselves about how we could have acted differently in the past, we can get stuck ruminating on things that are impossible to change. Not only can this be devastating to our present happiness, it does not help us forgive ourselves for past mistakes in order to move forward and grow. So, if you see a picture and think, “I should never have worn that dress” or “I should have studied harder for my test instead of gone to that concert” or even “I should have never dated that loser, I wasted so much time”, remember that “should-ing” yourself isn’t only being mean to your past self, it is harming your current self.

Nostalgia and memories don’t always serve up negative emotions. Sometimes when we seek out nostalgia, we are reminded of the great people that supported us, maybe those that were helpful during those hard times. This can create a great sense of joy and be a great coping mechanism to recall these memories when we feel lonely.

Furthermore, you can reflect on the times you had and how far you have come, and use the memories as a restorative time. Combatting some of the negative aspects of our social media memories includes evaluating where you are in life right now. Even if you’re an otherwise level-headed person, it might be time to find a way to turn off those memory notifications. Nostalgia is bittersweet. When social media displays your memories we often default to believe the lie that the people and experiences we and our friends posted are as truly happy and carefree as we curated them to look. But we need to learn how to know better, how to balance more realistically the happy and the sad parts and restore the parts of the story that hit us where it hurts so that we can more fully enjoy our present being.

Stuck in nostalgia and memories on your social media keeping a grip on you? Call Amy Wine Counseling Center to talk to someone today. Reconcile your past and take control of your present being so that you can launch yourself into a more successful future!

Sarah Dailey

Sarah Dailey, LPC

I help my clients as they walk through life’s valleys. Meeting them in the dark places to acknowledge and support my clients enables them to explore and discover their own worth and value. Just as we are hurt in relationships, I believe that we are also healed in relationship with one another. Together, we will find the tools and insight to process your experience and hopefully you will leave feeling encouraged. In particular, I enjoy marriage and family therapy.


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