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Revisiting Your Childhood Home, "Remembrance of Things Past"

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. was in private practice for more than thirty years. He is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the states ...Read More

Did you ever have the experience of returning to the house you grew up in? If so, did you have the experience that the house and its rooms were much smaller than they seemed when you were a child? Did you remember the backyard as very large only to discover, as an adult, how small it really was?

This is a case study of a man who, when he reached the age of sixty, decided he wanted to visit the old neighborhood. He had several reasons for wanting to do this. When he and his friends got together, there was a tendency to reminisce about the past and life back then. Generally, the theme was about the “good old days,” and how those were the best of times compared to the world now. He hoped to recapture memories of his parents and extended family. Maybe just turning sixty was reason enough for wanting to go back. For one, he had nostalgic feelings about the old place.

However, the outcome of his visit was not good. The man came away feeling depressed and empty. He vowed never to do that again. He discovered that the old neighborhood was narrow, stifling and gloomy. He remembered that this was the reason for moving away and onward with his life.

He realized that those were not the “good” old days, but that the “good” days are right now. Maybe, for some people, memories are better than reality. Indeed, the saying that, “You can’t go home” is true, at least for himself. In case there is any concern about violating confidentiality, that man is me.

According to Psychology Professor, Jerry Burger, PhD, Santa Clara University, millions of people aged thirty and over, visit the home they lived in approximately from 5 to 12 years of age. For the sake of clarification, they don’t visit people from their past. Their interest is in visiting the home and neighborhood. What are their motivations?

According to Professor Burger, there are three reasons why people visit their childhood homes:

1. They have a wish to reconnect with their childhood. Because many things from the past are forgotten there is a hope that, by going back, they will be able to recapture memories that are important to them.

2. For some individuals who are going through a crisis or problem, there is a need to reflect on their past. They want to reevaluate how they developed their values and what led them to make the decisions they made.

3. As a result of having lived through abuse and trauma or having suffered from some kind of abuse or trauma, there is a hope that by returning to the site where these things happened, they can both find closure and leave with a sense that they have healed.

Dr. Burger reports that, while most people were happy they made the visit, there were three reasons why others weren’t. Much like my case above, these people did not get the hoped for results. For example, they discovered that unlike the romanticized memories, in reality, there was nothing romantic about the place. If they were happy there, they could not recapture that happiness and, for those who experienced abuse and trauma, the visit brought back pain rather than closure.

Returning to the concept of mindful living, too much time is spent living in the past or worrying about the future. A consequence is that we fail to appreciate now. As Thich Nhat Hanh, the great Buddhist teacher of meditation and mindful living, points out, we will never have this moment again, so, live it, experience it, be in the moment.

Your comments and questions are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

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