You’ve probably had the reaction of cringing while looking at your old high school photos. Our past is sometimes a sensitive subject, which we often try to glaze over with the confidence of the current-day. There is advice out there to not let your past mistakes define you, and to try improving for the future by starting with doing things right today. The existence of these sayings gives validity to the notion of our past sometimes being painful. The lack of ability to change things which happened in the past can cause a lot of regret to build up inside a person, and bringing up that past can sometimes lead to unanticipated reactions. Below are two reasons why you should be careful about bringing up people’s past in conversations, whether it be the good or the bad aspects of those times.
Ashamed of the Past
The first scenario in which someone may not respond favorably to you bringing up their past is if they regret doing/being the things that you bring up. For example, bringing up the fact that your buddy was in a bar fight a few years back may trigger a myriad of emotions within them. Maybe the friend in question was in a dark frame of mind around the time that incident occurred and does not want to relive those memories. You never know what kind of emotions people associate with certain memories and events. Their reactions to your act of bringing those memories up can vary widely. Some people may let you know of their displeasure right then and there, while others will hold grudges with the perception that you are trying to embarrass them.
We all strive to improve ourselves is some shape or form as life goes on. The need for improvement can be traced to being driven by a fear of wasting time, and thereby a fear of impending death to come. When you bring up the things that others are not proud of doing or being, you can be hinting on the sensitive subject of their attempts to change. There is a possibility that the person you’re speaking to or about has made a decent effort to change. Bringing up distant memories which others aren’t proud of having devalues the efforts they’ve made to overcome the mistakes that they’ve made.
Be careful about bringing things up which people are not proud of. The most innocent and seemingly minute instances can trigger big changes in the attitudes and actions of others. The memory that you bring up for a laugh could have triggered a massive effort of self-improvement in the other person, and you may not be helping that effort by doing so. A level of sensitivity should be present when talking about the past with others. Ensure that you are not hitting any sensitive areas within the person’s interpretation of those events. A good way of avoiding this mistake is to ask questions rather than make statements about the memories which you want to bring up. Get a feel for how the person in question has interpreted the events which you want to bring up, and notice how that interpretation differs from your own.
Can’t Recreate the Past
Another example of why you should be careful about bringing up people’s past behaviors and actions is the fact that they can’t recreate those actions and behaviors. Even if what you’re bringing up is positive in nature – such as how good a performance your friend gave at the local talent show was – you may be bringing attention to the fact that they’ve never been able to perform at that level again. We yearn to recreate positive experiences of the past. If our efforts come up short, we start being resentful to the fact that we can never recreate those positive things. A simple and positive, “remember when,” can lead to someone’s spiral down the rabbit hole of not being able to recreate that memory.
Be wary of the good memories you bring up. Good memories can serve to trigger negative reactions because of the fact that they cannot be recreated. Someone’s talent may have grown smaller, their abilities may have shrunk, and their happiness may have never been at those levels again. The indirect reminder of facts such as those can trigger a resentment towards you for innocently bringing them up. This is why remembering the good times we had with people who have since passed away are sad undertakings. We are reminded that we can never experience those happy times again, and that we can’t recreate the past events in question.
In the News
Read our analyses of current events by becoming a Patron.
- How to Talk About People You Don’t Like – (When You Have To)
- How Choosing Your Battles Wisely Affects Your Place in the World
- How People Ruin First Impressions During Small Talk
- How to Handle People Who Mask Ignorance by Taking Over the Conversation
- How to Deal With Needy Managers – A 3-Step Approach