Even at a time when cognitive and behavioral therapies are systematically supplanting psychoanalytically-inspired treatments, when anyone mentions therapy we imagine, Elizabeth Bernstein writes: “… an hour spent on a couch dredging up unhappy childhood memories.”
It should be obvious now and it should have been obvious for a long time that fixating on what went wrong in your past is not going to make you feel more confident, more proud or more able to face life’s challenges and dilemmas.
In fact, Freud-inspired therapy will more likely produce a mild depression, coupled with a fatalistic attitude toward the future.
Stanford psychologist Philip Zimbardo notes that people who obsess about negative past experiences become mired in their memories. And then they become fatalistic about their ability to take any action that will change their future.
Isn’t this the mindset that Freudian treatment has always wanted to produce, an enhanced consciousness about past traumas and a fatalistic acceptance of one’s Oedipal destiny?
Doesn’t it make intuitive sense to count your past successes, not your past traumas? If you think over the times you got it right, you will develop your confidence in your ability to succeed. If you mull over the times you got it wrong you will end up thinking that you are fated to get things wrong.
The new approach does not recommend ignoring things that went wrong. It suggests that you see them as exceptions, not as your truth.
Zimbardo offers exercises to enhance one’s good mood:
A person can raise a past-positive score, Dr. Zimbardo says, by focusing on the good in your past: create photo albums, write letters of gratitude to people who inspired you, start an oral history of your family.
But then, in advice that seems suspiciously close to what coaches and consultants do, Zimbardo recommends that people plan their future and take steps to implement their plans.
His approach seeks to instill a balanced attitude toward your place in time:
The best profile to have, says Philip Zimbardo, psychologist and professor emeritus at Stanford University, is a blend of a high level of past-positive, a moderately high level of future orientation and a moderate level of selected present hedonism. In other words, you like your past, work for the future—but not so hard that you become a workaholic—and choose when to seek pleasure in the present.