A Sucker for Sentimentality
Nostalgia; nostos ("return home or homecoming") and algos ("pain or suffering").
Nostalgia is known as a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, a sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time. Interestingly, it was previously seen as a psychiatric disease in the days when women were locked up for hysteria.
Before we get into the psychology of it, I've decided to commence with some insight into what has prompted the pontification; on a recent very hungover Sunday, I found myself living my best Bridget Jones life, walking like John Wayne, on route to a house share interview (yes you have to sell you soul these days to live with a group of random strangers for an extortionate price), with the looming prospect of emergency contraception in the back of my mind, wanting the world to swallow me up.
The ten-minute walk gave me enough time to reach an existential crisis regarding the fact that at the grand old age of 36, I still have very little discretion over where I live, even in the rental world. Shockingly this is due to me living life slightly differently concerning my being self-employed and single. Shocking, I know. Refer back to the 'Modern Woman' blog here.
It had only been a few nights before that I'd been nostalgically wading through boxes of 'stuff' after being advised by my letting agency that I was being evicted. Their reasoning being the offshore investment company (entirely owned by men) that acts as my landlord wanted to re-decorate and earn another 25k a year (most likely fund their children's cocaine habit at Eaton). These events led to an emotional breakdown, which helped me understand why I would have been dragged off to the local asylum only around 120 years ago due to such nostalgic behaviour. There is a thought that sacred memories give us a positive frame of reference for the future; they provide us with hope. However, when the nostalgic memory links to someone or something now so removed from our life, it can be a very jarring experience.
We often see the event that links to an object through rose-tinted glasses. Consequently, we feel sentimental and potentially long for the past (1). While digging through the untouched boxes (literally) of my last move six years ago, I sobbed in dismay over the dusty crystal glasses I had kept wrapped in the hope that I may mature and own a glass cabinet (I know). I moved on to the break-up letters from my only long-term relationship, devastated that my ex-partner had more Emotional Intelligence than all the men combined since. And lastly, the pièces de résistance was a bag of what I initially thought may have been crack, but on further inspection, it was the ashes of my guinea pig (whom I had co-parented with my ex); Iggle Piggle. By this point, I was a mess. Nostalgia and sentimentality had taken me, thrown me under the bus and reversed for good measure.
Consequently, I have longed to understand why I felt I had to keep Iggle Piggles' ashes. Why my house had felt so important to me - when delving into the research, I found very little perhaps because, as humans, we accept that it's normal to feel this way, well ok, maybe minus the ashes. Psychologists argue nostalgia and sentimentality facilitate an existential (meaning of life) function, that perhaps they help us make sense of the world and join the dots. They give us a sense of social belonging (which we know is integral to mental health and wellbeing) through memories that remind us of good times when we were connected. Research has argued that "metaphorically nostalgia is a deposit in the bank of our memory" that we can utilise when things are hard (2).
Over the years, we've tried to make sense of sentimentality and nostalgia. In 1994, Frijda suggested:
"Longing for something definitely lost is meaningless; so is vomiting after hearing morally disgusting information; so is freezing in anxiety when there is nobody to watch you or taking advantage of your actions .... Emotions like nostalgia indeed are, in a sense, luxuries that one indulges in for the sweetness of their bittersweetness, if one indulges in them—which one does only infrequently." (3).
Thirty years earlier, Nawas and Platt mused:
"It is rather curious that a phenomenon as pressing, as ubiquitous, and as little understood as nostalgia has received only passing attention from psychologists ..." (3).
As someone who attempts to be a rationalist to protect herself from and make sense of difficult experiences, I struggle to accept the impromptu, uncalled-for emotional attacks sentimentality and nostalgia provoke for seemingly no practical reason. On the 22nd of July, I kissed and said goodbye to every wall in my bedroom that had been mine for six years, and I remembered the 14.5 intimate dalliances I'd had in there (the bum-sniffing French man didn't quite add up to a whole notch on the headboard). I reflected on the determined effort I'd made to erect my floral blind, which was still precarious to date. I looked back on the moment, six years earlier, after several months of travelling and working in a hostel for keep. I finally had my OWN bed and room. As I write this, even now, my eyes are welling up.
This, to me, feels like attachment. Research shows nostalgic (compared to ordinary) narratives contain more references to attachment-related content (4). I feel attached to that room and home. The attachment spans every friendship and relationship created there, every experience within it that has made me the individual I am today. I have spent a sixth of my life there. An impacting factor may be that I moved to this home during a colossal transition event in my life. It became my anchor.
Research shows a causal connection (one causes the other) between nostalgia and feeling socially connected, allowing us to feel loved, protected, trusting, secure attachment, and socially supported (4). Which I guess is why it also hurts like a b***h.
Anyhow, I guess in a roundabout way, through evidencing the psychological impact of nostalgia and sentimentality, I also wanted to point out the zero f***s landlords give when it comes to emotional turmoil. Whilst trying to console myself with the knowledge that I am not an emotional wreck, it's just my brain playing tricks on me. I'm currently sofa surfing and living my best unconventional life.
I look forward to updating you on my new home if the powers that be deem me worthy of non-destitution following having to beg for guarantors (a big shout out to my closest connections - you know who you are). If anyone wants to join me when I relieve my anger by defecating on the doorstep of my old landlord (obviously, I have the listed investment company address), please pop me a DM.
All my love,
A rather homeless Becky
1- Hepper, E. G., Ritchie, T. D., Sedikides, C., & Wildschut, T. (2012). Odyssey's end: Lay conceptions of nostalgia reflect its original Homeric meaning. Emotion, 12, 102–119. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0025167.
2- Davis, F. (1979). Yearning for yesterday: A sociology of nostalgia. New York, NY: The Free Press.
3- Nawas, M. P., & Platt, J. J. (1965). A future-oriented theory of nostalgia. Journal of Individual Psychology, 21, 51–57. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.1852.
4- Sedikides, Constantine & Wildschut, Tim & Routledge, Clay & Arndt, Jamie & Hepper, Erica & Zhou, Xinyue. (2015). To Nostalgize: Mixing Memory with Affect and Desire. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology. 51. 10.1016/bs.aesp.2014.10.001.