Have you ever been traumatically bereaved from a death but didn’t want to face the intense pain (from the guilt or memories) and process it fully with a professional so you’ve been secretly hoping the grief would simply subside on its own, with time? Have you had others saying to you “give it time; time heals all wounds”? People offer all sorts of cliches to those who grieve when they don’t know what to say. Does time really heal, though?
Even as people say it to others, they may, deep down, not believe it themselves, but at the same time, deep down, really wish it to be true.
Nevertheless, it is inappropriate to say this to a bereaved person.
The phrase may be true for shallow wounds such as skin cuts or other life circumstances that aren’t complex, such as an argument with someone about having a different perspective, but professionals tend to avoid this expression in supporting a grieving person.
I mean, could you imagine hospital doctors, for example, travelling on their ward rounds going up to patients in their bed and saying “sorry you’re feeling ill; it won’t be necessary to give any medication for your wound because time heals all wounds. Just give it time, and let’s see what happens, okay? I’m sure it will get better with no effort on anyone’s part.” An example of magical thinking perhaps?
This simply wouldn’t happen!
Complexities of life, such as bereavement, can impact physical as well as mental and emotional health.
Grief is complex because there are so many interconnected aspects to consider and process.
Our mental and emotional states are not straightforward and even more complex than our physical body systems – because our relationships have an energy and life of their own, outside of ourselves. So, it can be difficult to heal our emotions and not so straightforward.
Some emotional wounds, if not talked about and processed, remain frozen in time within the body and mind. In other words, some trauma wounds feel as raw and painful today as they did the first time we experienced them.
Traumatic or prolonged grief, experienced from the premature death of a meaningful relationship, is so deeply emotionally painful. That wound can get lodged and stuck there. And it can have a debilitating effect on your life.
This type of grief needs to be sensitively and skilfully worked through with the help of a trained therapist.
There are those who try to bypass the intentional work required in order to avoid the pain.
Some feel they can rely on their faith community and/or prayer instead for healing. Even those who find prayer efficacious will admit that prayer is an intentional behavioural act, as well as a state of mind, with hopes for a positive outcome.
So, effort and intention is required to heal emotional wounds (and physical ones too, of course). And those specialist, intersectional training in trauma, attachment and grief are best placed to help for traumatic grief when the death has come too early in the life cycle.
Salt on the wound
For trauma that hasn’t been skilfully or fully processed, this expression ‘time heals all wounds’ can feel like salt on a wound, because waiting it out isn’t diminishing the pain, so the expression itself can intensify our pain (and our shame!) and sting like a thorn. It can be paralysing as we wait and nothing subsides nor improves. We may spend hours turning things over in our heads during the day or at bedtime, or whenever we feel the void the most.
The idea behind talking therapy or play therapy is to dislodge the thorn and release the intensity of the sting so that you are not debilitated by your personal grief nor the perceived wounding words of others.
Healing can come in many ways and forms, soothing and calming the intensity of painful wounds. With physical wounds, we mostly just rely upon the knowledge and skills of the medical profession to give us medication to take away the intensity of the pain.
For our part, it is effortless – we simply take the medication or treatment plan prescribed for us by a knowledgeable professional and wait for the medication to do its healing work. And as if by magic, with time, the medicine usually does its work and healing can then happen (depending on the condition).
So naturally we would want to apply that same logic to emotional healing; we simply apply time to the emotional wound and silently wait for the healing to happen, just like silently taking medication can makes things better for a physical wound.
Yet the same logic cannot apply to emotional healing.
How can specialised grief therapy help?
Healing of any kind doesn’t just magically happen simply with the passing of time. That’s because traumatic experiences are deeply embedded and stay stuck, and can often manifest themselves in puzzling ways, or leak in our everyday lives until we process them with someone skilled. Therapy can help to free us up to think and cope in alternative ways with life and with relationships.
So, yes, emotional healing from a traumatic and painful bereavement takes time, though, I’m suggesting that it could also require a little more than just that. Facing grief alone can be tough. And it may not be easy. All sorts of anxieties and fears (which may cause some people to spiral out of control) might come up before or in the early stages of this kind of intentional work for healing.
But working with a highly experienced bereavement specialist can give you the confidence in making that pathway to healing smoother.
The pathway to healing with a specialised therapist can help build your emotional resources and resilience so that other people’s unintentional wounding words or their avoidance of you doesn’t sting us anymore. With the right help and support, you can learn to respond in different ways to your wounding experiences – and maybe even learn to cope differently with future losses, too.
“Do not be dismayed by the brokenness of the world. All things break and all things can be mended. Not with time, as they say, but with intention. So go – Love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally.” L.R. Knot
If you would like to discuss your particular needs, and to see if I am the right therapist for you to work with to get you to a better emotional space, drop me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org/
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