It is often said that time heals all wounds, but that is a sentimental lie told by people that have no other advice to give when faced with the wounds of living. Yes. Time can be the great eroder of pain, the emancipator of twisted hearts and the softener of cruel memories. Yes. The steady march of time can put all wounds behind us and give all experiences their reasons – reasons we do not know in the moment. And yes. Time can certainly dull the sharp, stabbing edges of experience, but time itself is no healer. Your time must be used appropriately in order to heal fully from the wounds that you suffer in your life, otherwise those old hurts will haunt you wherever you happen to go.
So how must we participate with time in order to heal those things that harmed us and set right the broken things of our experience?
Find Distance and Perspective
“Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.” – Soren Kierkegaard
We must use our time to find the proper distance and the proper perspective in which to view those events that harmed us. The further we get from the experiences of our wounds – those things that broke and battered us in our lives – the easier it is to push them off into the periphery of our life’s vision and not let them be the focal point of our living.
This is not a striving to ignore them or to push them so far that we pretend they do not exist. No. This is gaining of context. It is putting into proportion the hurts that we have felt and being able to see them in the healing landscape of objectivity.
Great hurts in life often become the driving force behind our experiences. We return to them often in their freshness and use them as calibration mechanisms to our current experiences. If we have been cheated on, all relationships hold the potential for infidelity. If we have been abused, all relationships hold the potential for abuse.
The steadfast movement of time allows for a distance to be put between the hurtful experiences in your life and the present experiences of living and that distance creates a space of change. It allows you to peer honestly at your new experiences, not entirely shadowed by the hurt, and understand it as it truly is.
Most wounds we suffer in life cause us suffering because we lack the perspective on what they will bring us in the future. We are beholden to the march of time and we do not get to understand the beauty of our present pains until they are far back in the rearview mirror of our lives. Only then are we able to see how the wounds we suffered have made us who we are today. How, if we had not suffered them, we would be unrecognizable to ourselves, and in fact, something less then what we now are.
Find Strength and Fortitude
We all know the famous quote by the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche;
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”
But what does that mean? There are so many layers to the meaning that it deserves it’s own expository article, but I will give you the cliff notes here.
On the one hand it means, by virtue of the fact that you are still alive after something damaging happened to you, you are stronger for living through the experience. I know that it does not often feel this way. Especially with those things that truly work to ruin us. But just by existing through a difficult situation you are made stronger in ways you may not even recognize until time has tempered them down into the hardened things that can not be broken again.
This idea refers to a common psychological and biological phenomenon known as hormesis. Hormesis is the concept that where a stressor at large doses might do harm, a stressor at small, controlled doses can actually have a positive impact on future growth. We see the effects of hormesis first hand in exercise. We punish our bodies; tearing muscles and stressing the heart and body, in order to acclimate the body to a higher level of performance in the future. The same concept applies to mental stressors. We can use them in order to strengthen our mental resilience and capacity to handle future pains.
The above quote also refers to something Nietzsche was adamant about in his philosophies. The fact that it is the negative conditions of our lives that define us more than the positive conditions of our lives. We are made resilient and strong by going through our sufferings, by seeking them out even, and by using those sufferings as the cornerstones of our identities and building around them the foundations of our lives.
We all have those moments in our lives that have shaped the very core of our being and it is almost guaranteed that some of the ones that shaped you the most were events that seemed negative at the time but, as time passed and you continued to live, turned out to be the very things that needed to happen in order to make you who you are today. Those weaking moments, in retrospect, turned out to be the very conditions we needed to create in us our undeniable future strength.
Find Closure and Relief
“Forgiveness is the fragrance that the violet sheds on the heel that has crushed it.” – Mark Twain
The final gift of time in moving towards our health is the space it allows in forgiving – in forgiving ourselves for our mistakes that caused our pain and in forgiving others the pain that they have caused us. And that is perhaps the hardest, but most necessary action that time requires of us in fully healing.
Forgiveness is not an easy process. Before it comes resentment and anger, but after it comes a final peace. It is not a giving up of your grievances against those things that hurt you, it is an acceptance that they have happened and an ownership of what you will now do with them. It is returning the power of your life back towards yourself instead of leaving it in the hands of those harming things.
Forgiveness gives us closure. It ends the chapter of pain and begins a new chapter that starts fresh and free of old injuries. It allows us to leave behind the old wounds and move courageously towards the new ones that will inevitably come. Because that is what life demands of you. A constant and courageous movement towards the potential for new wounds.
In all truth, our wounds do not ever really heal, because healing suggests that what was hurt returns to what it was. It means that we are merely waiting to be cured of something that will bring us back to what we were. That is not what happens with time. You will never be able to return to what you were after a deep hurt and you should never want to.
What is a better goal with time is to repair our injuries. To make ourselves stronger and more resilient in the process by using the lessons we learned from them as catalysts for deeper growth and understanding – about ourselves and about the world.
Repairing is a different process than healing. Repairing takes ingenuity, creativity, additional materials and steadfast work to fix what was broken. Healing is passive and repairing is active and that is what time requires of you in order to be fixed. It requires you to take command. To use your time wisely in repairing yourself, so that you are ready for the next wound that comes. Time well used can be a great surgery against the wounds of yesterday, but only when your time is spent actively pursuing the remedies of repair.