We rarely get through any period of grief, loss, or disappointment without someone repeating the old adage “time heals all wounds” or “just give it some time“—and it is not always welcomed. When the pain is raw, the words almost sound callous and insensitive whether or not the intent is there. Sometimes we even hear the words said to us in our own voice. And yet, there are moments in our lives when we feel as though our broken hearts will never heal. Somehow, through the hopelessness and despair, we are expected to believe that our pain will heal. Why does everyone repeat this saying?
A few words of wisdom
Consider the phrase in context. Words often change meaning as they travel across history, language, and culture. Maybe there is a deeper meaning to the phrase. Not everyone encounters the same amount or type of grief, but most people experience some form of it, at some point during their lifetime. There is a certain amount of shared experience throughout humanity.
Perhaps we can find some consolation in that – the fact that we are not alone in our suffering. In the past, that was really all we had to help us through difficult time – each other.
Does time does heal all wounds? Well…no, not really. There are undoubtedly more accurate statements to be made, such as “many physical wounds will heal over time” or “there appears to be a connection between physical pain and emotional pain.” Of course, the old-fashioned “wisdom” comes from a time when knowledge did not need to be qualified by science or measured with precise accuracy. Still, there may be some therapeutic value to many of the old sayings. They are repeated for a reason. Analogies may not be exact, but they can be helpful in explaining complicated ideas. Sorrow is indeed a long and arduous journey. Discovering simple truths may bring some comfort along the way.
Emotional wounds are complex. True, there are symptoms and causes of emotional ailments. But you can’t place bandaids on your emotions. Most of us can look at a physical injury and give a fair estimate of how much pain another person is in, and how much medical attention they will likely need. The grieving process is far more intricate because of the way details contrast from person to person. However, there are still a few comparisons that can be made. Like physical wounds, emotional wounds have variable degrees of pain. Most wounds aren’t life-threatening, but they can still be serious. The pain needs some kind of attention right away. This is where emotional first aid comes in.
In the exact moment that we are hurt, we aren’t always thinking rationally. We tend to react involuntarily. We cry, we lash out, we recoil in fear. The pain shocks us, even if we were expecting it. We might look away. We might not tell anyone that it hurts. We may not be able to admit we need help. It’s important to understand that the healing process will not begin immediately. This is part of what makes that saying so frustrating, especially in the modern era.
Time is valuable to us.
We are cautious of the ways we use it. We may feel guilty for spending too much of it on ourselves. We should understand that some point, we will need to examine our pain and develop a rational plan of action. In the meantime, we can learn about emotional injuries and how to practice emotional first aid.
A time for hurting
Beyond the physical pain of an injury, we do not suffer many negative emotions, assuming the injury is not part of some larger emotional trauma. If we slice a finger by accident, we may have a moment or two where we reflect on being careless, but we move on fairly quickly. If this is the third time we cut our finger this week, then the experience can become more intense. The physical pain doesn’t necessarily change, but the associated emotions are easily affected.
Individual factors can play a big role when it comes to emotional pain. The way we process our feelings is important. Feelings may change over time, for better or worse. In that sense, it seems as though time could be more of a contributor to our emotional pain then the healer of it.
Deep, complex emotions are associated with trauma and loss. There are a number of different emotions that can be felt at the same time, at different times, and for varying lengths of time. There are different stages of grief. Being able to identify and accept all of these feelings can be exhausting and time consuming. If we are unable to accept feelings as they are, then they start to pile up. They become compounded with unnecessary extra feelings. Now, not only are we sad, but we are feeling guilty about feeling sad. Then maybe we feel ashamed that we feel guilty about feeling sad, because we know we deserve to feel sad, and that makes us angry at ourselves. Emotions tend to feed off each other if they are not given proper attention.
A time for healing
Healing time is fragile, whether we are healing physically or emotionally. We are sensitive, irritable, and more susceptible to infection. We may have a habit of picking at open wounds, even if we know better. In times of emotional healing, we have to make a conscious effort not to pick at ourselves, or else we can’t expect to heal properly. Continuously replaying tragic events or inventing “what-if” scenarios can be especially harmful to us when we are in this vulnerable state of mind. We have to remember to take care of ourselves throughout the healing process
No matter how much time passes, or how well we heal, our wounds leave us with scars. Emotional scars can be ugly sometimes. In our search for answers, we may be lead down unknown paths, some of which can be very dangerous. We have to ask the questions that will lead us to the best answers. We may consider how time affects our individual grief. We consider how our perception could change. We know that simply believing in something doesn’t make it true. Faith leaves our hearts open to the possibility that something could be true. Healing comes from new perspectives, which need time to develop. There is really no simple way to explain that. So here it is again: Time heals all wounds.
A wrinkle in time
Time, of course, does not actually possess the ability to do anything. Time is an abstract concept. The best way to understand time is to experience it. Likewise, the best way to discover if time can help an individual’s healing process is for that person to simply experience the process, over time.
Emotional pain is an unsettling concept, in part because there are no absolutes. Perhaps something was lost in translation, and the phrase carries a new connotation. The other possibility is that there is a bit of rogue humor behind those four little words. Before modern psychology, there was not much to help reconcile the harsh realities of human emotion. Our ancestors saw how unfair life could be, and they recognized the absurdity in that. Like us, some experienced tremendous pain, grief and loss while others did not. There has never been any reason behind it, but we will always search for it. That is the endurance of the human spirit. Time passes by. We survive as we repeat our own words of wisdom.