What Does It Mean If You're Thinking Of Someone From The Past?

Updated July 08, 2020

Medically Reviewed By: Wendy Galyen, LCSW, BC-TMH

Thinking of someone from the past can bring up a lot of different emotions. It could be unnerving, it could be joyfully nostalgic, it could make you sad, or you might feel indifferent. Regardless of how it makes you feel, you might question why you’re thinking of someone from the past and what it means. Especially if you haven’t spoken to this person for a long time, you’re likely wondering where these thoughts came from. If these thoughts came out of nowhere, it makes sense that you’re confused.

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What Are Some Reasons You Might Be Thinking About Someone From The Past?

The first and most obvious reason that you might be thinking of someone from the past is that you miss them, but that’s not always the case. At some point, you had a connection with this person, so it’s only natural to wonder what they’re up to or how they’re doing. If you do miss them, that’s also normal. Thinking of someone from your past could be attributed to many different factors. Here are some of the potential reasons that you might be thinking about someone from your past, as well as possible signs someone is thinking of you.

You Have Fond Memories Together

Even if the relationship ultimately turned sour, you might find yourself thinking about someone from the past simply because you share good memories. It doesn’t mean that you like or love the person; you might have just been happy when they were around at some point. Especially in relationships or friendships that lasted for a long time, you’re bound to have had a lot of special times together. You might think of concerts you went to or vacations you went on. If you’re missing someone who treated you poorly, it could be that you don’t miss them at all, but the times that you had together still stand out in your mind. You can cherish these memories without forgetting that this person wasn’t right for you. You don’t have to feel ashamed or conflicted; the good and the bad can both exist.

They Hurt You

It can be tough to let go of the things that hurt us. If someone from your past hurt you, you might rehash situations in your head, such as an argument you had, and attempt to resolve what wasn’t resolved during the connection. You might think of what you could’ve or should’ve said, or you might imagine a scenario where they treated you differently. If you’re thinking of someone because they hurt you, be sure to take the steps needed to work through this pain. You might consider seeing a mental health professional, or you might reflect on what kind of treatment you’ll accept from people in the future. Learn from what you went through, but don’t let it spoil new connections before they start.

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There’s An Unresolved Question

Similar to feelings of past hurt or pain, there might be something that was completely unresolved in the relationship. For example, you might have suspected that someone cheated on you and have evidence to back it up, but you never got closure on that. When you think about someone from your past, you might be looking for closure. It doesn’t always have to be as prevalent or as painful as someone cheating on you. It could also be that this person was a mystery to you, and you’re continuously curious about how they work. Maybe, they operate totally differently than you do, and although you are no longer in contact, your relationship with them left you wondering why they feel the way they do or why they make the actions they make. Human behavior is fascinating, and there’s nothing wrong with being curious. As long as it’s not distressing for you to think about this person, be assured that it’s both normal and okay.

You Care About Them

Caring about someone doesn’t always mean that you want them back in your life. There are times in almost everyone’s life when we think about someone even though the connection wasn’t the best or was even notably unhealthy. Say that you had an ex that struggled with depression or substance use. You might care about them even though the relationship didn’t work out, and especially if they weren’t in a good place the last time you spoke, you might wonder how they’re doing or think about how you hope they’re doing better quite a bit. That’s completely reasonable, and it doesn’t mean that you’re not over the relationship. It might just be that you have a big heart and can’t help but care.

You Had A Dream About Them

We all have strange dreams from time to time. Sometimes, they just happen to involve someone from the past. Of course, an obvious sign that someone is thinking about you is that they have a dream about you, but sometimes, these dreams are just random. Instead of thinking about someone from your past specifically, you might just be thinking of that time in your life, and as a result, because they were there during that time, they might show up in your dreams.

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Should I Reach Out?

If you’re thinking of someone, it might raise the question, “should I reach out to them?” There’s no real “should” when it comes to this question because the answer will be highly unique depending on your situation, and ultimately, it’s up to you. There are situations, however, where it’s best not to reach out even if you want to. If the relationship was toxic and it ended in a volatile way, for example, it might be best not to reach out. Additionally, if there are still old wounds there on either side, you might reach out to apologize in some cases, but sometimes it’s best to just let it go and give the other person space. Even if you’ve learned and have grown, the other person doesn’t owe it to you to talk to you or accept your apology. Be mindful of how they may feel, and don’t try to reach out if they have you blocked on various platforms online or have made a pointed effort to diminish contact with you.

Alternatively, if you want to talk to someone because you’re the one seeking an apology from them, be cognizant of the fact that you might not get one if you reach out and that it might just hurt you more. When it comes to reaching out to someone from your past, always use your discretion. If you felt hurt or unheard by this person, it may be best to leave it in the past. Think about what will be healthy for you, and use your best judgment when something could be less than beneficial for you or your mental health.

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If you’re constantly thinking of someone and it is starting to impact your mental health negatively, it’s important to address it rather than letting it go on. Now, if it’s fleeting, it’s one thing. If it’s an obsession or you find yourself thinking of someone all day every day long after you’ve broken up, it’s another. Some wounds heal with time, but it’s also possible that it’ll take more than that. First, don’t judge yourself for thinking about someone from your past. Know that your thoughts and feelings are both normal and valid. Let yourself feel your emotions, and reach out for help if you need it. You can go to your personal support system, or you can reach out to a mental health provider for additional guidance from an objective third party.

Online Counseling

Online counseling is an excellent place to work through any concerns you have related to thoughts of those from your past or anything else regarding your interpersonal relationships. Using online counseling, you can talk to a licensed provider from the privacy of your own home or anywhere else with a reliable internet connection. The online counselors at ReGain are licensed providers that are here to give you an open seat to talk about anything on your mind. Search the network of online counselors at ReGain today to find the best fit for you.

References:

Prevention of Substance Use and Mental Disorders

Your Brain’s Response to Your Ex, According to Neuroscience

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why am I thinking about someone from the past?

There are many potential reasons you might think about someone that you were connected to in the past. It could be that you miss them, that you saw or heard something that reminded you of them, or that you still care about them. If you care about someone from your past, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re stuck on them. The same is true if you only think of them from time to time. It’s natural to think of those that we were once involved with because, of course, they are in some of our memories. However, if you keep thinking about someone from the past and can’t stop, it might be deeper than that.

Is it true that if you are thinking about someone they are thinking about you?

In some cases, it is true that if you are thinking about someone from the past, they are also thinking about you. Mainly if the connection wasn’t 100% sour, it’s natural that positive thoughts about the person from your past will arise. Even if the relationship ended terribly, you might still have thoughts about someone from your past, negative or positive, from time to time. Again, this is natural because they were a part of your life, and you do have memories with them, whether those memories are negative or positive.

Thinking about someone from your past becomes a problem when your thoughts about the person border on or reach a full-on obsession or when these thoughts begin to impact your emotional health. If you feel like your emotions are ruled by this person even though they’re in your past, there is a problem. Note, however, that this isn’t your fault and that it is something you can work through. Another potential issue is if you are actively trying to get this person back into your life when they don’t want to be in it and have made it known that they aren’t interested in reconnecting. As painful as it is, it is essential to respect people’s boundaries. This is difficult for some, but it is something that you can work through.

How do you stop thinking about someone from your past?

One of the best ways to stop thinking about people from your past is to cut off contact with them. This can be extremely difficult if you still have feelings for them or still think about them a lot for another reason, but it is often the key to letting go. The reason that it’s important to distance yourself from this person and to stop following their social media is that right now, you are used to having them around and knowing what is going on in their life, which is what is spurring you to think about them, most likely. Even if that’s not the case, it isn’t helping you.

When you’re always looking at a picture of someone from your past. It’s way harder to get them out of your head because your brain is still getting input regarding that person. Of course, if we see something on a particular day, we are likely to think about it, whereas if it is out of our view, we are much less likely to think about it. Maybe, you and your ex tried to be friends immediately after breaking up, and you’re finding that you can’t get them off your mind. That makes sense. If that’s the case, it might be time to establish distance.

What does it mean if you can’t stop thinking of someone?

If you really can’t stop thinking about someone and it’s veering on obsession, this is a concern to address. Love obsession and obsessive love disorder are very real issues that some people face, and while these issues are painful, it is definitely possible to heal from them. Of course, obsession is not always the case or cause if you’re thinking of someone frequently. It is simply a possibility to consider, especially if you are experiencing compulsions such as compulsively calling or texting them, looking at their social media excessively or making fake accounts to “watch” them, or even showing up at their place of residence. Love obsession or obsessive love disorder can become dangerous if you are preoccupied with a person to the extent that you’re doing these things, and it will hurt not only them but also you. If you are experiencing what you think might be an obsession, it is crucial to reach out to a mental health provider who can aid you in overcoming it.

What does it mean when you keep thinking about someone?

One common thing that makes a person continue thinking about someone from their past is that they have an unresolved or unanswered question that they either have about this person or wish that they could ask this person directly. For example, if your ex cheated on you or left abruptly, you might wonder what you did. You might think to yourself, “did they ever love me at all? Was the love they showed me fake?” If you’re not talking anymore, there might be some questions that you never get a clear-cut answer to, and as hard as it can be to accept, it actually is okay. What they did to you might not be okay, but you can move forward and be okay yourself. In therapy, you can learn skills like radical acceptance and can challenge cognitive distortions that arise when you think about this person that will help you get them off of your mind, and in turn, will help you get these questions off of your mind.

How do you know if someone is missing you?

If someone’s missing you, you may or may not know it. There are some telltale signs you can look for that might let you know that someone’s missing you.

Signs that someone is missing you include:

• They are trying to strike conversations up with you
• You see that they viewed your social media
• They are asking mutual friends about you

Sometimes, people will miss you quietly, and there won’t be any signs. They might be afraid to reach out, especially if one of you hurt the other the last time you talked. If you are thinking of reaching out, it’s vital to examine if that action would be healthy for you and if you could take rejection on their end. If you can’t take potential rejection, do not reach out. If you can, and there wasn’t anything serious going on, such as abuse in the past, it may be okay to reach out and ask how they’re doing or even to reconnect. Don’t place any expectations on your attempt to reconnect. They can talk to you or choose to leave it alone, and both are okay. Use your best judgment and make sure that you’re in a healthy mental space before you reach back out.

Why can’t you get someone off your mind?

To answer this question, you need to first think about your current relationship with this person. Are you still in touch? Do you follow them online, or did you recently see a picture of them pop up on social media? Do you still see them in person at work, school, or for another reason? These are all potential reasons that you might not be able to get someone off of your mind. It’s normal to think of people that are long gone in your life from time to time, and it doesn’t always mean that you have feelings for them. Other times, it could mean that you still love them or still have feelings for them. That’s something that you’ll probably be able to answer or gauge for yourself, and it’s something that will vary from person to person. If you haven’t cut off contact with the person, do so now. Thinking of someone briefly when something, such as a song or movie, reminds you of them is one thing. Thinking of them all day or feeling as though your emotions are controlled by it is another.

Why is a certain person always on my mind?

Again, think about your relationship with this person as it exists right now. Did you just break up? Are you interested in them romantically? Are they a mystery to you? These are all potential reasons that a person is always on your mind. The nature of how they’re on your mind is more important in determining if thinking of someone from the past is healthy for you or not. If you’re thinking of this person fondly with no negative feelings attached and it’s not veering on obsession, nor is it harming you, things are likely just fine. However, if you obsess over or experience long-term depression symptoms or can’t seem to shake thoughts about someone from your past, it is absolutely something to address. If you are thinking about someone from the past all the time and it’s weighing on your mental health, that is when you might consider seeing a therapist. With the help of a mental health professional, you can move on, get to a stable place, and thrive.


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