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Nostalgia As Effective Coping Technique Against Loneliness

Posted Jan 14 2009 7:22pm

This article reviews research into the surprising role nostalgia may play in warding off the impact of loneliness, and it amplifies the perception of social support. From the article:

The results showed that individuals who felt the loneliest reported receiving the least amount of social support. What was interesting, however, was that these participants turned out to be the most nostalgic. In addition, when nostalgia was induced in a number of the study participants, they in turn perceived to have the greatest amount of social support. These findings suggest that nostalgia amplifies perceptions of social support, and in this way, counteracts feelings of loneliness. In addition, the findings revealed that the most resilient individuals are more likely to use nostalgia to overcome feelings of loneliness.

The article goes on to suggest, quite reasonably in my opinion, that nostalgia may have an important role in cognitive therapy when treating individuals dealing with isolation, loneliness, or exclusion. There are, of course, some other interesting things to take away from this study. First off, isolation, loneliness, lack of social support, etc., are significantly associated with depression. Further research into the association of nostalgia and depression would be interesting, and might provide a more accurate indicator of just how significant an impact nostalgia might have on an individual’s mood.

Another reaction I had is that of a “balancing act” with respect to an individual’s temporal focus. I tend to agree with the article that a focus on nostalgia may allow individuals coping with loneliness or isolation to manage their functioning as they work through that particular period in their life. Conversely, a retrospective focus without efforts to address one’s current lack of social support might prove to be, at best, a temporary solution. Perhaps the use of nostalgia, combined with efforts to develop new social connections (even through the use of nostalgic memories as a blueprint for future action) might be more effective. Anecdotally, I think about the guy in his 30s who constantly talks about his “glory days” of high school, and hasn’t attempted or achieved much since. Here, there is significant nostalgia, but without any accompanying forward focus. Even with respect to the elderly, who in my experience often use nostalgia most effectively, a forward focus can pay huge dividends in terms of functioning later in life.

The other thought I had as I read this is the necessity of considering an individual’s past prrior to using it as a coping mechanism. This article, as presented, assumes an individual who is isolated now has had previous experiences in life when they were not so isolated, and can call upon their memories of those moments relatively easily. What of the individual who has struggled most of their life, or is struggling now in large part due to a generally negative history? Even if an individual had significant moments of happiness, social support, and relatively high functioning in the past, a significant traumatic event can make sustained recall of those other, less salient events more difficult. An assessment of an individual’s past, as well as their ability to focus on those elements of their past that would be helpful without traumatic memories intruding on their recall, would seem to be an important consideration in terms of any use of nostalgia for therapeutic purposes.

I would be really interested in anyone’s opinion regarding the concept of nostalgia, particularly as it relates to functioning and possible therapeutic value. Please comment!

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