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How do you heal emotional wounds?
Does time heals all wounds?


The purpose of this page is to educate readers on how to heal emotional wounds, and to investigate and educate readers about the effectiveness and issues related to the saying "Time heal all wounds". Topics covered include:

  • The problem that "Waiting for time to heal" is actually very "costly"
  • Evidence to show that in so many cases, waiting is not a solution
  • If you grieve, say due to the loss of a loved one, how long should you grieve? What else might you do in addition to grieving, what about something positive?
  • If you harmed someone, what is a good solution to fix your mistake, since time won't fix it?
  • With alternative approaches to healing most wounds that may be a much healthier choice than just using time, or trying to forget that it happened


If people believe or assume the saying is true, when something like a death occurs, or someone is harmed, they may believe there is nothing necessary to do except wait, or ignore that it happened, or try to forget that it happened. (Note that for the purposes of this page, "waiting" is used interchangeably with "ignoring" or "forgetting.")

Furthermore, in cases where someone has harmed someone else emotionally, financially, or physically, do both parties' wounds just heal with time?

Regardless, how long is the waiting time? If nothing other than "time" us used, could the waiting be anywhere from days to a lifetime for the wound to be "healed"?

If you think about it, isn't it true that the "waiting time" (for the wound to heal) from the loss of a loved one, or if someone had harmed someone else is a negative emotional experience? Most often, a "wound" is a negative event and outcome. Certainly, the grieving process for loss of a loved one, and feeling bad because you did something to someone (or someone did something bad to you) are both negative experiences.

The problem is that science has proven that negative emotions reduce your life span, causing emotional damage (such as pain and anxiety), as well as physical damage to your body. There IS a cost to "just waiting."

The cost of just waiting

No matter your age or how healthy you are, how often do you think about and realize the truth is that you only have so many days left to live on this planet? Do you think about it every day, once a month, or not in years? Now that statement was not intended to be negative, rather it's intended to have a positive motivational outcome. How often do you stop to think that each day we have alive is a miracle and a gift? If you could do anything today, what would you do today? How do you want to live each day of your life?

The waiting time for the wound to heal is a negative experience.

I invite you to consider this:
Suppose our lives lasted just 2 days.
If you spend 1 day having a negative experience,
then isn't it then true that
at most only 1/2 of your life could be positive?

Thoughts from research

The first step was to try to find out what other experts have written to see what they felt about the "saying" that "time heals all wounds." When I did that, I found some interesting articles. A search on google (google) provides many sources on the subject. When I looked, I only found articles stating that that time did NOT heal wounds.

The following sections contain some of the thoughts from my research, along with some "road tests" to see if there are, actual cases where "time heals all wounds" could be true.

In order to determine if it heals all wounds, it's necessary to list the different kinds of wounds that can exist. What kind of "wounds" could there be? Well, there could be emotional and physical wounds. These types of wounds could be broken down into sub-categories:

  1. Emotional wounds when someone you love dies.
  2. Emotional wounds when you did something to someone else (which often causes guilt), and caused them to have an emotional, physical or financial wound.
  3. Emotional wounds when someone else did something to you that caused an emotional, physical or financial wound to you.
  4. Physical wounds to non-living things.
  5. Physical wounds to living things.

I'll go through each of those categories, apply real life examples to each, and discuss each of them to see if indeed the saying is or appears true.

Emotional wounds

Let's first look at the effectiveness of healing methods (such as time) for emotional wounds.

Emotional wounds when someone you know (and most likely loved) dies

This is the most common use of "Time Heals All Wounds." Note that I say "most likely loved" in the heading. That's because there could be cases where you have emotional wounds that remain after a person dies. Maybe the person harmed you before that person died, causing you negative emotions; and the issues regarding those emotions never got resolved while that person was still alive.

However, does time really heal this kind of wound?

If you review the copy of a Psychology Today "Time Heals All Wounds, or Does it?" page (with highlights added), it draws the conclusion that "Time doesn't heal; it's what you DO with the time that does." The following taken from that page brings up two questions:

"First, how long is "some time" - two months, one year, two years, five years? The second question is why doesn't this apply to the rest of our lives? After all, we have to look for a new job, search for the right house, study to get through school. Even if we want to win the lottery, we still have to buy the ticket."

I think both of those questions are great questions. How long does it take? The article talks about it in the real life example. On the second page, it's written:

"It was as if her mourning had gone no further from where it was 5.5 years ago."

" ... No more time would have eased or erased her grief." . " Time had NOT been her friend."

The solution, which follows the point of the second question, is to take action to work through the grief:

"After six months of counseling she worked through what she had been running from for over 5 years and found peace with her father's death."

When I read these statements, I realized there is another huge important point that follows this and other real life situations. 5.5 years had gone by instead of 6 months. Think about that. 5.5 years instead of 6 months! Subtract the two and you can say that five, yes five additional years of emotional anguish, pain, stress, sadness, and unhappiness were needlessly endured, not to mention the physical costs that those negative emotions inflict. Some say, "The body hears what the mind thinks." The action of communicating could have saved five years!!!

In "Myth 4": The grief recovery method, Myths about Grief it states:

"The myth that negatively affects the largest number of people in the world is the idea that time can heal an emotional wound."

"Time only passes, it does nothing. It is what we do within time that affects the quality of our lives."

Then they go on to explain why to people "think" that "Time heals all wounds":

"As we adapt to the new and usually painful reality of the death, we begin to be able to function a little better. With that comes the illusion that time has healed us, but all that's really happened is that we're adapting to the physical absence of the other person."

Then they state:

"The key to recovery from grief is action, not time!"

"The best example we use to support the idea that action is the key is the idea of a flat tire. If you arrive at your car in the parking lot and see it has a flat tire, would you pull up a chair and sit and wait for air to jump back into your tire? Silly idea, isn't it? We all know that time won't fix that tire. We also know that only actions will get the car back on the road."

However, what does that have to do with emotions created from the loss of the loved one? Here is what they write:

"The parallel is this: An emotionally broken heart is remarkably like a flat tire. The get up and go has got up and gone. The ability to participate fully in life is limited, if there at all. Again, the key is action."

In summary, it seems clear that for emotional wounds when someone you know (and most likely loved) dies, action, not time is required.

What kinds of actions can be taken?

Obviously, in the case of a wound from a deceased person, many cultures and/or religions believe that you grieve in the meantime (in the case of a death), but you may not know that the process and/or amount of time to grieve varies a fair amount within cultures and/or religions (see: Varanasi is the city that celebrates death (news.com.au),  quora.com and reddit.com), and you may not know that are may be a fair percentage of healthy people who do not need to grieve when someone dies (see health.howstuffworks.com). Those facts can bring up some questions that you may want to think about when and if you decide to grieve:

  • How much time, (if needed) should you grieve?
  • Why don't some people need to grieve?
  • Maybe there is a better process than just grieving?

Of course doing the "grief work" is the most commonly used action. However, may I suggest that if you need to grieve, you consider starting the grief work soon and work hard at it (maybe through a counselor for example) to work though it as soon as possible, as this will help reduce the cost of "the time in working though the emotional wound." Remember, negative time is costly and subtracts from your positive time alive.

As mentioned, there are people that don't grieve, they may just feel sad and move on. Buddhists believe "that the cause of suffering is attachment" (huffingtonpost.com). You might want to consider how long do you "attach"? That thought leads to a story about my experience when I lost a family dog not too long ago.

We had a dog that was an amazing, loveable dog. Before he died, I had already done some grief work, as I knew he was getting sick and I wanted to be able to support him through the process of him dying by showing him I loved him and that he was a good dog. My hopes were to best support him through his sickness and dying process. Now not long before the dog had died, I had been sent some recent pictures of him. When he died, at first I didn't even want to look at the pictures. I felt so sad. Then one morning I woke up with this thought:

"The truth was that every picture I had of our dog was a picture of a happy experience for every one of us. There was no denying, that they were all happy experiences. That was the truth. It then became clear to me the next question to ask myself was, "If the truth is that they were happy memories, wouldn't I be dishonest to myself right now if I saw those pictures and then had an unhappy experience?"

Maybe a way to think of it is this: Let's say you were driving down a road and you come to an intersection. You take a left, when you know the correct way is to take a right. How long do you drive down the left road before you turn around, come back the intersection, and follow to right road? What if you just took the right turn in the first place?

After thinking about that, I chose to focus on all the positive experiences we had while our dog was alive. That worked very quickly.

My grandma and uncle had a friend who helped out through many years. Her husband was not doing well, so my uncle asked what would happen if he passed, what would she do? The friend replied:

On Friday there would be a wake
On Saturday would be a funeral
On Sunday I would greave
And on Monday I would put my red dress on.

When I was younger, I remember my mom saying to me that when she died, it would be ok to feel sad, but the best thing I could do for her is to not feel sad too long, because although she would be dead, I would still be are still alive, and she wanted me to go on and enjoy the rest of my life. I'm so glad she said that to me. If you think about it, don't you feel that every person would wish the same for their loved one?

What I invite you to consider this:
If you completely forget everything you have ever heard about how people or society may have said you are "SUPPOSED" to handle the loss of someone, including feeling sad, if you really loved someone and you think about all the happy experiences you had with them, which are still in your mind forever, isn't it more truthful to yourself to feel happy when you think about the happy experiences? Wouldn't that person want you to have a happy rest of your life? Wouldn't being positive be more healthy for you? Wouldn't it be more loving to you and those around you? I invite you to consider if my mom had good advice that might be useful for you as well.

Not long ago, I learned about the research and information written by Dr. Martin Seligman (upenn.edu), developer of the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center (upenn.edu). This center, also known as "Authentic Happiness", provides free resources where people can learn about Positive Psychology. Dr. Seligman was interviewed in this TVO program video. If I correctly apply the concepts in the video (youtube), he would say that working out a negative experience (like grief work) can take us say from a "-8" to a "-2" on an emotional scale, with the best hope of "0", but it does not make us happy, for that is a separate mechanism. If instead more energy and time is spent focusing on Authentic Happiness, you can have a better life. For example, focusing on Authentic Happiness can take you from a "+2" to a "+5", which is positive on the emotional scale.

Might a combination of short grief time with lots of time reflecting on all the good memories, provide a better solution? It seems that this would follow the teachings of the Positive Psychology Center.

Emotional wounds that you have because you did something wrong to another person

First, it's really important to realize that we all make mistakes in our lives. There is a saying that "just because we made a mistake does not mean we are a mistake." The point of this section is to teach you how to recover and grow after making a mistake.

Mistakes you could have made include physically and/or emotionally abusing someone, lying to someone, stealing from someone, and so forth. However, what if you are not sure if you have done something wrong to someone else? The simple answer is this "Did you do something that does not feel right in your heart?" Of course, you can talk about it with the other person. These kinds of wounds can be one of the most damaging of all wounds, as you know you have done something wrong in the first place (by what your heart is telling you), and you know that you wounded another person. It is something that can cause you guilt for the rest of your life. Once again, as we have seen time and time again throughout this paper, time does not heal wounds, action does. Realize we are talking about not just one, but two wounds, since you have your guilt, and you have the damage you have done to someone else.

I think most people are aware of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA for short), but not everyone may know how they "operate". They follow what are called the "12 Steps" and the "12 Traditions." Today there are over 2 million members in AA. There are also many other Anonymous programs (wiki) that have taken the "12 Steps" and "12 Traditions" and have adapted them to their needs.

AA's 12 Steps (aa.org) are a set of steps that define a process that was designed to help people live and recover from their addition. One of the problems (that may have caused a person to drink in the first place) is that people can cause a variety of wounds (both emotional and physical) that affect other people, possibly while they were drinking. If you read those steps, it's clear that AA does not believe that "time heals all wounds", for they list the steps of action that they will help the member recover.

When you harm someone else, the most applicable two of those 12 steps are listed here, as they are the most directly related to this topic, and they clearly outline a plan of action. The first one to mention is Step 4:

"4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

This means take time to think about what you might have done wrong.

The second one is Step 9:

"9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

Two key points to understand here, something that those who have worked the 12 Steps should already know:

  1. Simply telling someone else what you did is not nearly as effective because it does not release you from your guilt like talking to the person you have harmed, and it does nothing to help the wounded person.
  2. You must work with the person you have harmed, wherever possible. Saying you're sorry to that person and making amends to them clearly is the best way to release your guilt, since you are making a "best effort" to correct your mistake.
(Note: In a simple example to help you understand what it means to make an amends, say you physically damaged their car. An amends should start by paying for the repairs. Saying your sorry doesn't pay the bills. Making an emotional amends follows the same principals.

12 Step programs say "think about what you did wrong" and then "repair the damage." They define a clear plan of action. There is a slogan in 12 Step Programs, which is "the program works if you work it." Making amends is the loving action that will release you from your guilt. You will heal both parties reopening the option for living a positive life and achieving Authentic Happiness (upenn.edu).

So, why doesn't everyone simply communicate and solve their problems?

Depending on the situation, it could be broken into categories. Here are just a few:

  1. You never thought about it, or leaned about it. There is a saying "We don't know what we don't know", and that's true. I hope that this page has helped educate you as to a better solution.
  2. Other reasons, including laziness or monetary (such as greed).
  3. Fear. The fear could be that they (or you) made a mistake and don't want to admit it.

Elizabeth KüRoss, M.D, co-founder of the hospice movement around the world, and author of 24 books including the groundbreaking book On Death and Dying (amazon) that discussed the five stages of grief, (wiki) wrote (awakin.org):

"Happiness, anxiety, joy, resentment -- we have many words for the many emotions we experience in our lifetimes. However, deep down, at our cores, there are only two emotions: love and fear. All positive emotions come from love, all negative emotions from fear. From love flows happiness, contentment, peace, and joy. From fear comes anger, hate, anxiety and guilt. It's true that there are only two primary emotions, love and fear. It's more accurate to say that there is only love or fear, for we cannot feel these two emotions together, at exactly the same time. They're opposites. If we're in fear, we are not in a place of love. When we're in a place of love, we cannot be in a place of fear."

My friend Dan reminded me:

In the book of Matthew, Chapter 22 starting at verse 34, Jesus said that the second most important commandment is (changing thy to you and thyself to yourself): Love your neighbor as you would love yourself.

I invite you to consider the following:
  • If you have fears in your life, wouldn't actions such as working through any fears to admit any mistakes and making amends help yourself and others to better live a life of love?
  • Now regardless if you believe in the Bible, doesn't the message (Love) seems like the right way to live? If you have harmed someone, isn't communicating to work it out the truthful, loving thing to do for both you and the person you have harmed? If you have lost a loved one, then wouldn't working towards focusing your energy into resuming a positive life experience make sense to you?

Emotional wounds when someone else did or said something to you that caused an emotional, physical or financial wound

When someone else does something to cause an emotional wound, then it seems you have at two primary options:

  1. The first option is the same as the previous section when someone you know dies. You can use self-help resources or talk to others such as professionals, who can help you work through to acceptance.
  2. The other option is you can talk to the person who caused the wound. If you feel uncomfortable with that, you could arrange a mediator to work with you. Time will not heal that wound, only action.

One of the most commonly known scenarios is when a married couple goes to couples counseling. Taking action and talking about the issues can heal the wounds caused by their spouse. Communication is the key to healing the wounds. Often times the sooner you start communicating about the wound instead of letting it "fester", the better. Because as the wound "festers" it may get so ugly that a mediator or counselor may be needed. Again, the goal should be to try to keep a short time before communication starts, as most often time is the enemy for both parties. Don't forget, emotional wounds are unhealthy, so quick action can work to heal the unhealthy wound that will result less stress, less pain, better health, increased happiness, and so forth. (See also Important Relationship Skills and an example of How to resolve a relationship issue with communication.)

If the person who caused you an emotional wound won't talk, maybe they don't want to admit their "mistake." Consider showing that person this writing. Maybe if they realize it will help both parties to heal with love, and release their guilt, they will be willing to do it.

Physical wounds

Note: If you are still unsure if the saying "Time heals all wounds" is false, consider reading these following sections on physical wounds; otherwise, you can skip to the conclusion.

I am not saying, by any stretch of the imagination, that when people say "Time heals all wounds" that they ever meant "all wounds" to include physical wounds.

Emotional impacts are harder to measure. In some cases, looking at it in other ways may give insight or logic into what might be true. This is often done in science and math. For example, before some buildings, malls, planes, and so forth are built, scale models and/or software models are then built of them to help them conceptualize what it will look like, or test how it will operate. Looking at physical wounds might provide some insight into how effective proposed healing methods (like time) may or may not be with emotional wounds.

We will start discussing physical wounds to nonliving things.

Physical wounds to nonliving things

Looking at physical wounds to nonliving things, we can quickly get some evidence into the fact that the word ALL in "time heals ALL wounds" cannot always be true, at least as far as physical wounds are concerned. For example, if a building is blown down or burned up, no matter how much time you wait, that building is not going to rebuild itself! Yes, that's obvious. If you think about it a bit further, that building can never be rebuilt to be the original building that it once was. You could build a new building that looked exactly like the old building, but it would not be the original building. Original hand painted paintings that were burned could never be put back together again, not unlike those who tried to put humpty dumpty back together again! It simply won't ever be the same. The best you can do is to try to restore it to be as close to the original as possible. This reality may also be true for emotional wounds.

There is something that becomes far more obvious in realizing that time by itself won't fix all wounds. The lesson will become clear when you realize that in order to rebuild the building, action is required, and quite a bit of action. Action would include things like organizing how to get it rebuilt with construction plans (including hiring people to produce the construction plans), demolishing the existing building and removing debris, hiring a construction crew to rebuild the building and so on. The list is of actual tasks would be huge, but I'm sure you get the point. It seems like a silly example, but when I think about it, I can't think of any example where a physical wound to a nonliving thing can repair itself. Maybe it exists, but I just can't think of anything.

When we look at the word "all" in "time heals all wounds" is not true. Again, in either all or most of all physical wounds to nonliving things, action must be taken after the wound, not time, if the "wounds" are to be "healed." In cases of physical wounds to nonliving things, it may be more correct to say, "Time heals no wounds."

Physical wounds to living things

Here we look at what happens to living things that are inflicted by a wound. "Living things" could be broken down into plants and animals:

Physical wounds to plants

Some plants can survive a wound by building new branches, or new leaves in the event of an injury. Is that plant ever going to be in the identical state that it was prior the wound? Of course not. While some plants have astonishing ability to regrow after severe damage, obviously the plant does not have the same plant cells as the cells that were on the original branch that broke off the plant. Some plants can take action to rebuild leaves or root systems after a wound, and I would guess some plants can not. Again, it's not time, it's action that can potentially cause a plant to heal from a physical wound.

Physical wounds to animals

Physical wounds to animals tend follow a somewhat similar pattern to plants, in that some have the ability to take action to repair a wound. However, at a quick glance it almost appears that maybe more plants can recover from severe wounds than many animals can. One of the exceptions was discovered when fishermen learned that cutting off the leg of a starfish does not kill the starfish, instead it produces two! I think that's more of an exception to the rule. For example, that's not the same results when humans and most other animals suffer a wound where the arm is cut off. For example, some plant clippings are essentially "cut off at the arms", and they can grow again. Sure many minor physical wounds, like small cuts in the skin do repair, the old skin dies off and is replaced with new cells, and most animal can repair those kinds of smaller wounds. Still, although the skin may look identical to what it looked like before the wound, it's still not identical. Again, time does not heal the wound, action does. Action directed by something in the animal causes new cells to be generated to "fill in the indent from the cut," for example. In some cases, action can heal some wounds. Regardless, it seems clear that it may be more correct to say "time does not heal" physical wounds to animal, the same results that are observed with plants.


Rose Kennedy (Mother of former U.S. president John F. Kennedy) wrote:

"It has been said, 'time heals all wounds.' I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone."

In every situation and every type of wound we have seen strong evidence that the saying "time heals all wounds" seems to not be true. If it does at all, it's a very costly option. In almost all cases, there are far better actions that will help you live a happier life. As mentioned in the beginning, when an emotionally disturbing event occurs in one's life, some short amount of time may be needed to "clear the head, or to grieve." However we have seen that action, not time, is the ultimate solution:

  • In the case of emotional wounds to other people, we have also seen that it the action of communication and making (or receiving) an amends is a process to set you free from the mistakes made by yourself or others.
  • In the case of emotional wounds due to loss of a loved one, a plan of action such as working though the grief, and/or a plan of action such as primarily focusing on the positive experiences you had with that loved one instead, can more quickly bring happiness.

In all cases, consider some of the choices you have, and see which ones feel best in your heart. I believe that the options discussed provide good solutions that will help you and all concerned live a better, more positive, loving life.

Thank YOU for reading this!

By David M

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This page updated 12/07/22 10:01 PM