There are many reasons why people dwell in the past, some of them good, and others less favorable. We may go over the past in order to learn from mistakes, and take the knowledge gained into the future. In this way we use the past as a tool to improve our lives.
At other times, we may dwell in the past because we feel unable to move on, due to a lack of closure from an event , or just because we feel stuck. Like a vinyl record, we continually go around and around the same groove getting nowhere.
Excessively dwelling in the past is considered unhealthy, because it indicates we are not living in the present, and experiencing life in a healthy way. After traumatic events individuals may experience flashbacks of what happened to them in the past, which continues to eat away at them emotionally, leaving them ill and depressed.
Happily, for most of us, going over the past can be useful, rather than causing us pain. By checking out what we have done before that worked well, we can learn how to repeat the performance, and we grow stronger and more knowledgeable.
Dwelling on the past, as long as doing so isn't eating into the time in the present when we should be being productive, can also be comforting during times of stress. Our memories of pleasant and joyful times, remind us we are lovable, and although life may not be great right now, it has been in the past, and so may be again in the future.
Just as unhappy thoughts about what has gone on before can make us feel down, happy thoughts, and memories, can help us to feel more secure and confident. By purposefully remembering times when we have overcome difficulties, and been successful, we can boost self esteem.
Scientists have discovered we sometimes use our memories to aid us in managing future events. During dreaming, we may use our memories to show us where we need to work on ourselves and improve. Many gifted individuals have even learned new skills, by going over where they have gone wrong in the past, until they reach a successful outcome, in their dreams.
It would seem that humans having the ability to dwell in the past is no mistake. Mother nature gave us this function as a gift to help us to reach our full potential. When we dwell in the past in an unhealthy manner, rather than in a way that is useful to us, this is an indication to us that there is some problem in our past we need to deal with, and heal from.
Healing the past involves looking deeply at where we have already been. Most of the time, when we don't move on, it is because our brains are struggling to find an answer to a problem we have faced that can't be found. Like a computer set to keep returning to a malfunction until it fixes itself, we continue to go over the past at the expense of not fully living our lives in the present.
When this happens, the key to moving on, is acceptance and self confidence. Understanding and accepting that we can't always provide ourselves with the outcome we would wish for, can leave us free to explore new avenues to finding happiness, instead of dwelling where failure or unhappiness resides.