'Time Heals All Wounds:' Is There Any Truth to This?

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Verywell / Laura Porter

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If you ever thought that all you needed was a few months to get over something traumatic, trust that you are not alone. Most of us have been there and believed the same thing before. After all, the popular cliché “time heals all wounds” is used by many people for good reason.

But is it completely true? Yes, and no.

Time is certainly an important factor when it comes to healing. Although it may take away some of the pain, sorrow, or other negative emotions associated with an experience, time on its own is not a healer.

Whether you are going through a breakup, grieving the loss of a loved one, or going through something else emotionally taxing, plenty of other important factors are involved in the healing process. 

In this article, you will learn why the cliché that “time heals all wounds” may not be fully true, as well as time’s true role in healing, other factors involved, and where you can focus your efforts to speed up the healing process.

Time’s Role in Healing

What is time’s actual role in healing? According to licensed psychologist and owner of the Baltimore Therapy Group Heather Z. Lyons, PhD, time essentially equates to opportunity. Therefore, how someone heals over time ultimately depends on how they decide to use that opportunity to shape their present and future circumstances.

She explains that people can use time to gain insight, healthier relationships, and an orientation toward growth. “Some people will use time as an opportunity to collect experiences that orient them toward their values and dilute or challenge difficult experiences,” she says.

For example, people can connect with friends, develop new relationships, or engage in activities they find rewarding to aid in the healing process.

Heather Z. Lyons, PhD

Time also allows for reflection on the difficult experience in a way that promotes insight and the ability to move on.

— Heather Z. Lyons, PhD

She notes that this is contrasted with rumination, which is reflection that does not integrate thought and emotion.

“Rumination is usually all emotion or all thought. Healthy reflection integrates the two to help people gain new understandings,” she explains, noting that when people ruminate, they usually confirm negative beliefs about themselves or others.

For example, this may include a belief like "I knew he'd leave me, that's just the way all men are” or “I won't let my guard down next time so I don’t get hurt."

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What Can Prevent Healing?

It’s possible (and highly likely) that time will not heal all wounds for several reasons. So, what can prevent someone from healing as time goes on?

The following things may prolong your healing, even though a notable amount of time has passed:

  • Remaining fixated on something, like how a harsh breakup ended
  • Refusing to let go of a betrayal by holding a grudge
  • Denial that something has happened
  • Not forgiving yourself or a person who was accountable for the wound or trauma
  • Not having a solid support system or emotional outlet to express your emotions
  • Resorting to unhealthy coping and/or distraction mechanisms
  • Relying on drinking or taking drugs to numb pain associated with the event

In addition to ruminating, people can use time to support the limiting beliefs that they have that keep them stuck in a cycle of negative experiences.

“[They] find themselves stuck and living in the past as though no time has elapsed after the experience of a difficult event,” says Lyons. “Of course, some experiences are so traumatic that they leave us scarred for a while, and this scarring is our brain's way of keeping us healthy,” she says.

How to Promote Healing

“Some factors differentiate those who move on with time and those for whom time seems to provide the opportunity to become more entrenched in a loss, trauma, or other difficult experiences,” says Lyons.

Essentially, how you utilize your time is directly correlated to how well and how quickly you will heal. So let's take a look at some factors that help facilitate the healing process.

Integrate Lessons You've Learned

“People need the opportunity to express their pain in ways that marry insight and emotion,” says Lyons. This could mean creating art based on your experience, making music, creating journal entries, or writing stories. Ultimately, you can express your pain in a way that feels cathartic and healing to you so it doesn’t stay bottled up or turn into an unhealthy expression down the line.

Honor Your Emotions

Give yourself grace to fully process your emotions. This is especially important after experiencing a traumatic situation, like a breakup, a death, or a physical injury. Release any judgment associated with the experience, and allow yourself to accept and feel whatever comes up for you in order to move past it.

Receive Support

Lyons notes that people benefit from social support. So spend time with those you trust who can offer you emotional support in your time of need. This can be friends, family, or a trained professional, like a therapist or coach.

Align Your Actions With Your Values

“People benefit from engaging in activities that help them live lives aligned with their values,” says Lyons. So pursue the hobbies you enjoy and make new memories doing what you love to help yourself achieve a deeper sense of healing.

Techniques to Speed Up the Recovery Process

Instead of solely depending on time to heal your wounds, there are other areas that you can focus on to promote healing. To achieve a deeper sense of healing, you can try any or all of the following techniques:

Lyons reminds readers that “when we open ourselves up to new people and experiences, we also retrain our brain to understand that yes, there are places and relationships that are dangerous, but there are also places and relationships that are safe.”

A Word From Verywell

“Time heals all wounds” is one of the most popular sayings, but it may not be completely true. Although time is not exactly a healer, it can have healing purposes. Ultimately, though, it’s up to you to find ways to achieve healing during the time that passes after experiencing a wound or trauma.

Try not to guilt yourself if you heal slower than you want to. Everybody heals on their own timeline, so offer yourself grace and patience during this time.

If you find it difficult to overcome an experience, consider seeking the help of a therapist or qualified mental health professional. An experienced professional will be able to guide you through the healing process in ways that offer much deeper healing than time alone can offer.

By Morgan Mandriota
Morgan Mandriota is a freelance writer, the founder of Highly Untamed, and an expert writer at Verywell Mind.