THE PAST-POSITIVE PERSONALITY
The “past-positive personality” also lives a large proportion of the time in the past — but in this case it is a past of happier memories.
For a past-positive, “those were the good old days.” The past-positive lives in a world long since gone, but still held dear. The scenarios are endless…
“When I was young, things were great!”
“Things have never been the same since I lost my business.”
“Man, you should have been there in college!”
“I still miss the good times and close friends back home in Ohio.”
“Often I think about how happy Bill and I were when the children were young…”
“I guess I was never as happy as I was in childhood. I just can’t stop thinking about those happy, carefree days.”
Past-positive personalities constantly yearn for the “good old days;” turning backwards mentally to times that were better, more successful, or happier. Of course it is natural for all of us to think about our happier memories from time to time. Certainly, happy memories from the past enrich our life. They give it a sense of positive continuity — a sense of what we are at our best. The joys of life should never be forgotten; but the difference between the more normal remembrance of good times gone by and the more continual reminiscing of past positive personalities is quite different.
In normal remembrance, past-positive thoughts evoke mostly happy feelings, but for the past-positive personality, as pleasant as the recollections are, the mood that surrounds them is more regretful and sad. It might seem paradoxical that pleasant memories could create a blue mood, but for the past-positive personality, thoughts of a happier past can do just that. The reason? Excessive drifting to happy times in the past is usually an indication that the present is not going all that well. Almost by definition, happy memories tend to fill our mind when present times are unfulfilling, uneventful, or unhappy. Thus the picture of the past-positive personality is usually a sad one. It is, more often than not, one of the most basic signs of a present life that is empty and unrewarding.
As much as we might wish, life is not always a straight, upward progression of continued success and achievement. For many, life peaks at a certain point and then turns downward. It can go up again — and for some it will. But for others life never regains its former glory, and for many of these, past-positive thoughts take an irresistible hold…
The elderly, naturally enough, are quite susceptible to the grip of this past-positive syndrome. Certainly thoughts of a healthier, youthful, and more active life take precedence over their current life-situation. Yet in my clinical experience, I find many young and middle-aged clients falling into the same frame of mind. Males who have devoted themselves to sports careers are one pronounced example. Here I’ve counseled relatively young men who already feel like “has beens” — their mental life fixed on a fading past of athletic successes. Women too, especially those whose entire self-image had been based on their glamour and beauty, tend to have such difficulties as their youthfulness fades.
These are not the only ones. Some never forget a special love in the past. Some never recover from a financial reversal or a major accident. Some can never let go of lost social status or occupational prestige. And for some it can simply be one dramatic life-event: “the time they scored the winning run;” “the day they got the major award;” “the night they hit the jackpot in Vegas;” etc..
The highs of life are treasures — something we all should visit and relish now and then. But continually living among such memories should be seen as something sad. Mostly, because of what they say about the present…