Pile of old photographs

On Remembering the Bad Stuff

Last Updated on: September 5, 2023

When we look back, we often do so with fondness.

Rose-tinted glasses are more than just an idiom; studies have shown that we alter the past in our minds with new information we have gathered. We might remember meeting our partner was love at first sight, but that could be our present self projecting the current feelings of love on the past.

So if we tend to remember our past positively, is that a good thing?

I believe not. It can lead to us thinking that the best is behind us. We also need to have a balanced perspective to learn from our past experiences.

We are having a bad week. Our frame of reference is recent, so we compare our feelings today with how we felt in the past. And, if we edited our past to be brighter, then we believe that life is getting harder. This can bring on feelings of resignation and bitterness.

Maybe that is why the older folk like to say, “Back in my day…”

It would be better to remember the bad. Really remember it, and don’t fear it.

All experiences are useful to our learning and growth. With that perspective, we can look back and remember truthfully how far we have come and how much we have achieved.

How can we practice this and improve our representation of the past?

  • Write a truthful, reflective journal and look back often.
  • Stop deleting your bad photos. This is another way we edit the past. Look through them often and remember the feelings.
  • Talk to friends and family, and notice how they might misremember the past.
  • Close your eyes and put yourself back in time. Be honest. What were you scared of? How did it really feel?

We don’t need to avoid bad things. Bad feelings have a place. Previous bad experiences teach us something and show us how far we have come.

Celebrate the bad, remember it, and use it to move forward.

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