People who are living in the past often display these 10 behaviors (without realizing it)

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Not all of us find it easy to let go of the past.

Some of us have gone through traumatic events that left us scarred for life.

Then there are those of us who have it so hard in the present that we latch on to the “good old times” when life was much easier.

Being stuck in the past might seem harmless, but studies show that it can actually lead to anxiety and depression.

And it’s also an obstacle keeping us from moving forward with our personal growth.

Want to find out if you or someone you know is living in the past?

Observe if they display these behaviors.

1) They romanticize the good old days

Their past was quite literally heaven on Earth—or at least that’s the impression you’ll get whenever you listen to them.

They might say that they had a perfect childhood, a perfect family, or a perfect career… until something happened! And now they’re no longer living the ultra perfect life.

You know better though. You know that things certainly were not perfect!

Perhaps you witnessed them getting into fights with their partner every day, or heard them complain about their annoying boss.

It was definitely not pleasant 24/7… but it was definitely familiar.

And in times of crisis, that familiarity is something they hold on to.

2) They have a lot of regrets and “what ifs”

They spend a lot of time mulling over their regrets and thinking about the what-ifs.

“What if I wasn’t so stubborn with my ex? Maybe we’d still be together. Maybe we already have kids!”

“What if I left my dead-end job sooner? I would probably be a CEO by now.”

They often fantasize about finding a time machine somewhere, going back in time, and fixing their mistakes somehow.

Rather than learn what they can from those mistakes so that they can do better in the future, they instead obsess over “undoing” those mistakes in the past… somehow.

3) They brag about their achievements from years ago

They’d talk about the awards that they got back in the day, or the businesses they used to run.

Perhaps good achievements in their time, but the problem is that they haven’t got any new awards in a decade and their business fell apart after only a year!

Now there’s nothing wrong about them celebrating their victories. 

But the problem is that as much as they love bragging, they don’t have much else to brag about.

They probably haven’t done anything noteworthy, so they’re stuck in their “glory days”—hell, they might not even feel that it’s already been over a decade. 

For them it was just yesterday.

4) They still stalk people from their past

You would see them quietly scrolling through their feed and see that they’re checking their ex’s profile.

Ask them about it, and they’ll get defensive.

“What? I’m just being curious,” they might say.

But this isn’t the first time they’ve done it!

Then there are times they check the LinkedIn of their bullies and enemies from decades ago just to see how successful they’ve become.

Most of us forget even the people we’re closest to if we haven’t interacted with them for a while. 

So if they’re still checking out people who are supposed to just remain in the past, they clearly haven’t moved on.

5) They’re always compare the present with the past

When they talk, it’s almost like they’ve resigned to the idea that their best years are already behind them.

“Food was better when I was still living with my parents.”

“Life was more fun while I was still with my best friends.”

“The world’s much more beautiful when I was younger.”

They sound almost like 80-year-old retirees reminiscing about “simpler times.”

Now there IS a kernel of truth to the whole “life was better back then” spiel. Stuff was cheaper back then, for example.

But there’s a difference between saying “gosh, life was easier when I was little!” once in a while and saying it over and over whenever they get the chance.

6) They’re still angry at the people who’ve hurt them

Someone forgot to invite them into a get-together two years ago? 

Well, they still haven’t stopped vague-posting about it on Facebook.

They graduated ages ago—with Latin honors?

Well, they still grumble about that one person who bullied them for having acne.

It’s not like we have to forget these things of course.

A sign that you have moved on from your past is when you can just bring up when people have wronged you and joke about it.

The thing is that if they still see red whenever those people show up, then they’re still stuck in old hurts.

7) They embrace the role of the victim

They’re so angry about those people that they’ll blame them for everything that’s ever gone wrong in their lives.

Do they have a poor self-image? They blame their first grade bullies for that—every damn time.

Did they lose faith in love and struggle to trust people? They blame their exes!

Did they fail in their career? Always their parents’ fault.

Now it’s not like I’m saying they’re necessarily being wrong or unfair. There’s often some truth behind the things they say.

But after some point, they have to be accountable of their life and take charge of their own self-healing. That’s just how it should be done.

8) They try to relive and recreate the past 

They aren’t that interested in trying out new things, opening their mind to new possibilities, or changing course.

Instead of picking themselves back up and trying for a brand new stand, they’ll instead try especially hard to restore the past.

It doesn’t matter even if they’ve failed to start a business five times. They’ll just try again in hopes of striking gold a second time!

This kind of backwards-looking mindset keeps them stuck in the past.

They’ll never ever be able to see all the new opportunities they could have if they go to another direction.

9) They’re not excited about the future

Where most of us look forward to seeing what the future has in store for us, they are meh about it at best. 

At worst, they’ll resent the fact that time is moving forward at all.

As far as they’re concerned, their best days are long behind them, and every day that passes puts them farther and farther away from those good old days.

It doesn’t matter if they’re talented or capable of wonderful things. 

They don’t have the motivation to move forward because they know it will never be as beautiful as their past.

10) They feel like they’re betraying the past if they stop thinking about it

This is specifically for people who feel guilty for moving forward—the ones who are grieving for the death of a loved one, and the one who wants to fulfill a promise (probably to their parents or siblings).

Because of this guilt, they subconsciously make decisions that keep them stuck in place.

They won’t date around if they made a promise to their childhood crush that they’ll wait for them.

They won’t try to book a ticket to Peru because they don’t want to be happy. Why should they when their loved one passed away?

They want their existence to be mere remnants of the past

But the thing is that what if their childhood crush had forgotten, or gotten married without them knowing? And what if their loved one never wanted to see them suffer?

What to do if this is you:

Plan an exciting future

Be as ambitious as you want. Go crazy with it. Make sure it pales in comparison to your past.

By doing so, you’ll trick your brain to slowly lose appetite for anything related to the past. After all, the future seems more exciting and delicious.

Write a letter to the people who’ve hurt you

Writing is therapeutic. Try venting everything in a piece of paper, talking about how they hurt you and how it affected you.

Be thorough and let your pain out. Then burn the letter or keep it in your wallet as a reminder.

Try new things

This can help you stop dwelling in the past by broadening your horizons. You can easily end up discovering new aspects of yourself while you find new things that bring joy back into your life.

Identify your habits

Self-defeating habits come with a self-defeating mindset.

Do you immediately assume the worst when things get hard? What triggers you into daydreaming about the past?

Asking yourself questions like these makes it easier to identify where you need to change.

Surround yourself with positive people

The people you surround yourself with greatly affect your mental health.

You have a much better chance at developing a positive worldview and getting over your past if you’re surrounded by people who are happy in the present and excited for the future.

Final thoughts

If you see someone who’s stuck in their past and struggling, be kind—and yes, that applies to you, too.

Don’t say “Pfffsh, get over it!”

Living in the past may be holding them back, but sometimes they can’t help but do it to escape their current reality. And let’s face it, some wounds take a lifetime to heal.

So be gentle. Be kind.

But if you can (and only if you can do it gently), let them realize that the only time we should revisit the past is to learn our lessons. 

It might not be easy, but we have to try our hardest to live in the present and look forward to the future…because as cliche as it sounds, life goes on.

Lost Your Sense of Purpose?

In this age of information overload and pressure to meet others’ expectations, many struggle to connect with their core purpose and values. It’s easy to lose your inner compass.

Jeanette Brown created this free values discovery PDF to help clarify your deepest motivations and beliefs. As an experienced life coach and self-improvement teacher, Jeanette guides people through major transitions by realigning them with their principles.

Her uniquely insightful values exercises will illuminate what inspires you, what you stand for, and how you aim to operate. This serves as a refreshing filter to tune out societal noise so you can make choices rooted in what matters most to you.

With your values clearly anchored, you’ll gain direction, motivation and the compass to navigate decisions from your best self – rather than fleeting emotion or outside influences.

Stop drifting without purpose. Rediscover what makes you come alive with Jeanette Brown’s values clarity guide.

 

Pearl Nash

Pearl Nash has years of experience writing relationship articles for single females looking for love. After being single for years with no hope of meeting Mr. Right, she finally managed to get married to the love of her life. Now that she’s settled down and happier than she’s ever been in her life, she's passionate about sharing all the wisdom she's learned over the journey. Pearl is also an accredited astrologer and publishes Hack Spirit's daily horoscope.

If you want to be happy without relying on others, say goodbye to these 6 habits

6 signs you’re truly with the right person, even if you sometimes doubt it