“Time heals all wounds.” Everyone’s heard that old cliché. A well-meaning friend or relative may have even said it to you during or after a difficult event.
But does it? Does time heal all wounds?
The answer is “sometimes.” Or rather, time heals some of the wounds some of the time.
On a subconscious level, your brain knows what it needs to do to heal from deeply painful situations, but not necessarily traumatic events.
The big problem is that we often disrupt the process by making decisions that interfere with that process. Who has time to sit around and mourn? There are always a thousand things to do, and people look at you weird when you break down in tears at work.
So we stuff it down, give it the old stiff upper lip, and soldier on through the pain.
Traumatic events are different in that they are like a wound to the brain. Like physical wounds, you may need the help of a trained professional to get them under control and heal from them. You may not be able to just put yourself back together after a bad car accident, physically or mentally. Sometimes you need additional help to actually heal from the event.
But there are other reasons why time does not heal all wounds. The following behaviors are common reasons why you might not be healing.
1. You may be going in circles instead of forward because of the grief or traumatic event.
The act of healing is not linear. People tend to imagine it as a journey with a definitive start, gradually improving, and then reaching a point where they are healed and all better. Sometimes it can work that way, but mostly it does not.
The way it actually works is that there is a starting point, you may improve for a while, then get worse, then get better, then get worse, then question why you’re doing all of this because it doesn’t seem to be helping, then get better, then get worse, until finally, you reach a point where the pain isn’t devastating.
And even then, the pain may never be completely healed, in much the same way that breaking your leg may cause you to walk with a limp for the rest of your life.
Some people get trapped in the loop because they don’t understand that healing is not linear. As a result, they hit the bad times, think they are not making progress, and stop trying, which causes them to interrupt their healing and get stuck.
2. You may be locked in denial about the traumatic event.
Denial about a traumatic event locks a person in place. It prevents their healing because they are not acknowledging what is real. This doesn’t always look like someone just flat out saying that a circumstance didn’t happen, though that is possible.
Sometimes denial can be downplaying the severity of an event or the truth of an event. Like, “Oh, this person didn’t really mean to hurt me. They love and care about me.” Even though they chose to do a thing that left a deep and lasting wound for you to deal with.
Can you say what the event was without trying to sugarcoat or explain it away? Are you able to acknowledge the raw, ugly truth about what happened to you?
3. You may be preventing your own healing by using unhealthy coping mechanisms.
People often get trapped in a cycle of unhealthy coping mechanisms because, frankly, the healthy coping mechanisms don’t kill the pain nearly as well. In addition, healthy coping mechanisms and healing can take a long time to work – months and years long.
But I need relief now! So, I’m going to find it at the bottom of this bottle, or by sleeping with these people who give me attention, or by partying too hard, or by throwing myself into my work so I can’t think about it, or by creating so much work in my life that I’m too busy to think about it. Or maybe I’ll blaze up some weed or snack on some edibles because it helps. It all helps.
Do you think so? Define “helps.” Because in the context of using unhealthy coping mechanisms, it may enable you to survive for a little while, but none of those things actually help you heal from the reason you’re doing it. What it actually does is either numb you or distract you from the pain for a while, which doesn’t heal or help anything. In fact, it’s just kicking the problem further down the road which risks amplifying it into a much bigger problem later.
And hey, no judgment. Many of us have done things we shouldn’t have done to survive. It doesn’t make you a bad person, but it also doesn’t help you actually heal and move forward.
4. You may not have the appropriate emotional support to heal.
Some people dislike the idea of ever talking to a mental health professional. They may believe that the professional isn’t in the right place to help them because they don’t know them as a person. Instead, they want to lean on friends and family because that’s what friends and family are for, right?
Many people think this way without ever considering whether or not their friends and family have the skill-set to actually provide that kind of support. A traumatic event is a serious psychological wound that needs knowledgeable help to heal in the same way that you’d go to a cardiovascular specialist if you have a heart attack.
Relying on your friends and family to help you heal from something as serious as a traumatic event isn’t the right way to go. They can provide support, sure. But chances are pretty good that they will have no idea how to actually address the pain you’re feeling and heal from it. They may think they do. They may be more than willing to tell you what you need to do or not do or that you should just suck it up and get over it.
But will that actually help? Probably not.
5. You may be fixated on the event rather than the healing.
A traumatic event is typically overpowering in its intensity. It can leave lingering effects that cause a person to stay focused on the event rather than dealing with the emotions and resulting wounds.
The problem is that when you stay focused on the event, you stay trapped in the past that you cannot change. Instead, your eyes have to turn toward the path of healing and dealing with the emotions and harm caused by the event. That is the way forward.
At some point, you’ll have to stop thinking about the past in the context of what you could have done better, what you should have done differently, and what you regret not doing.
6. You may be too focused on closure that will never come.
Closure, closure, closure. I need closure!
Closure is a luxury that few people can afford. Not everyone gets to have closure about a situation that hurt them.
For example, consider a child that grew up in an abusive home. They may get to be an adult, work to confront their issues, and finally decide to have it out with their abusive parent. Their hope is that their parent will see the error of their ways and apologize – and maybe they will. Or, maybe they won’t.
Maybe the parent isn’t a good person. Maybe the parent doesn’t see anything wrong with the way they treated their child. Maybe that parent will go to their grave thinking that they did the best they could. And the unfortunate part is, they might be right. Maybe terrible was the best they could do because they were too far damaged to change course.
And in a scenario like that, the child may never get closure in the form of an acknowledgment or apology. So what do they do?
They need to learn how to find acceptance on their own, without closure.
7. You may be reinforcing negative thoughts by ruminating.
Another common cliché when it comes to healing and addressing emotional and psychological wounds is “Talk about it. You’ll feel better.”
Yes and no. Talking about it is good because it gets it out in the air. Talking about it with someone trained to help you navigate the pain can help you heal. But just talking about it to talk about it, or constantly thinking about it, is called “ruminating.” And ruminating is unhealthy.
To ruminate is to excessively focus on a negative situation, dragging your own emotions into the gutter and keeping them there. It’s one thing to have intrusive thoughts that you can’t necessarily control, but some people constantly choose to put themselves into that negative mental space. They may feel like they deserve to be punished for whatever happened to them or whatever situation they were adjacent to.
“Why should I be happy when X thing happened?”
“Do I have a right to heal because I feel responsible for Y situation?”
And because they don’t feel worthy or like they deserve to heal, they force themselves into that painful mental space and dwell there. It doesn’t help. It just perpetuates an unhealthy cycle of painful feelings.
8. “Time heals all wounds” is a cliché that isn’t true for everyone.
People say “Time heals all wounds” because people, in general, are not that emotionally intelligent. They often feel compelled to say something when they see someone they know or love suffering. They want to offer that person comfort.
They generally don’t understand that a few pithy words are not going to comfort a person whose world has been shattered by the terrible and ugly things that can happen. They don’t understand that it’s generally better to just be present and try to help that person through things they can affect, like taking care of responsibilities, making sure they are eating, or addressing other tangible problems that wouldn’t benefit from professional help.
Can time heal your wounds? Maybe. Will it? Probably not.
The best thing you can do if you find yourself locked in place by something terrible you experienced in your life is to seek professional help from a certified mental health professional. You don’t have to live the rest of your life trapped in the intensity of that pain. It can be made smaller and even healed.
To heal does not mean that it will completely disappear and everything will be like it was before the event. You may still walk with a limp. But you will be able to walk, move forward in life, and learn how to deal with the days when you don’t feel like you can.
You may also like:
- How To Let Go Of The Past: 16 No Nonsense Tips!
- 20 Healthy Coping Skills: Strategies To Help With Negative Emotions
- How To Write A Forgiveness Letter For Self-Healing