“TIME HEALS ALL WOUNDS”
Has there ever been a more useless sentence uttered from one human being to another than this one?
I doubt it.
It sounds like something a bad amateur therapist wrote on a napkin or something an obnoxious friend would write in a “sorry for your loss” Hallmark card.
To make it worse — this terrible saying isn’t even true. Time, in fact, does NOT heal all wounds.
Admittedly, it can heal a lot of non-lethal physical wounds, yes, but emotional wounds? Especially the deepest, most painful variety that most people carry from something as traumatic as say, an intense breakup? Not so much.
Not only can many of those find a way to stay unhealed for a lifetime – they can actually get much worse.
In fact, the only two things true about the old claim that time heals all wounds:
One. The first person to speak those words to another person was obviously not suffering from any “wounds” as painful as intense heartbreak. We know this because heartbroken people don’t say dumb things like this to other people. Usually, they’re too busy crying.
Two. The first person to ever have someone say these words had just been gone through a brutal breakup, then they probably never heard a word of it. We know this because people in that much pain don’t hear stupid things like that. Usually, they’re too busy crying.
When they were done crying, they were likely too caught up in the avalanche of physical, emotional, and mental trauma to care about whatever their unempathetic friend was babbling about.
They probably only stopped crying long enough to catch their breath, wait for the next wave of anguish to hit, and start crying again.
Most of us recognize this as the most natural response to severe heartache.
It’s the only type of reaction a normal person could have after surreal breakups happen to unsuspecting significant others who suddenly find out how insignificant they really are.
For instance, imagine the same person who swore to love you last night, has come to you this evening to inform you they believe it would be a spectacular idea if the two of you made separate dinner plans tonight – and for the rest of your life, that would leave most people feeling a little off balance.
And to make things worse, since that surreal moment happened, your own stupid brain thought it would be a great idea to put the memory of that awful moment on the giant widescreen inside your mind, and start using your own voice to pepper you with questions you know very well you don’t have the answers to.
“How could he do that to me?”
“We always told each other we knew we were the one – they always said they knew I was the one – how can I suddenly not be the one now!”
This was always the worst one for me:
“But that one night… it was so intense and meaningful and real… I know it was real… how can everything we’ve been through just mean nothing to them anymore?”
It’s hard finding out the person you were in the middle of loving forever doesn’t want you to be part of their forever anymore.
Like I said – We’ve all been there.
If you haven’t, don’t get too excited, it only means chances are very high, you belong in one of the 3 following groups of people:
1. Barely old enough to read this article (in which case I both pity and envy you because your day of agony is coming junior);
2. You won the genetics lottery and were born with stunningly rare beauty. (In which case I speak for everyone when I say “Congratulations — everyone else hates you!”)
3. You’re one of the roughly 3.7 zillion narcissistic personality disorders in the world walking around inflicting “Romance PTSD” on the rest of us.
But if you aren’t in any of the above groups, and you’re experiencing the serious, hard-to-breathe heartache at this very moment, then you might be desperate to know if anything can make the stabbing pain in your chest stop stabbing quite so deep.
And if the old adage about “time healing all wounds” doesn’t leave you feeling jazzed about waiting for the next ten Christmases to pass before you feel like living again, then there is good news for you.
But first the bad news…
There is no “make the pain go away right now” answer that will restore the sense of calm, comfort, happiness, passion and ability to experience a full night of sleep that you just lost.
But there are steps you can take so you won’t have to feel so overwhelmed while you’re learning to feel fully human again.
Be warned though. Your mind and freshly ravaged heart will resist a few of the things which will make the unbearable just bearable enough to keep moving forward.
It’s normal to have those reactions – but you may have already learned for yourself the first impulses you had to try to win back the heart of whoever you just broke yours, didn’t work out so well. You might have even already tried more than once.
That leads us to one of the first steps which will actually help.
#1 STOP TRUSTING YOUR BAD OPINION OF YOU RIGHT NOW
Two of the more demoralizing attacks on your self-worth will likely come from the merciless version of you that shows up determined to be “honest with yourself” about what led to the breakup.
Then you will immediately begin smacking you down by relentlessly asking something like this:
• ”Why am I always the weak one!? Why do I have to be the one hurting and wondering why doesn’t love me anymore?!”
• ”Why am I so stupid and pathetic that I still love them even now?!”
• “What is wrong with me?”
And the very similar, never far behind questioning of your own intelligence:
• ”I AM SOOO STUPID!!!! How did I not see this coming!?”
These are the two most popular war-cries ever cried when attacking yourself after a brutal breakup.
Both of them are from the well-known, but unprinted “couples handbook” which states “whoever leaves first is the strongest” and “whoever means what they said the most is an idiot”.
In other words, they encourage you to think less of yourself for meaning what you said.
Think about that again, but slower this time.
Think about how fair it is that you’re likely willing to accept the pain of your betrayal at the hands of someone you loved as evidence you deserved your fate.
Why? Because you weren’t as selfish, dishonest, and self-centered as the person who betrayed you and failed to betray them first.
Does that sound right?
If they ended everything with a sudden coldness you never imagined was possible until the moment you were living it, then it likely left you even more shaken than you know.
Just the memory of you reacting with tears, in obvious anguish, or desperately questioning their decision to throw everything away, all while they remained unaffected is likely being used as more evidence of your weakness and their…strength?
Stop and consider the possibility that what they did to you and how they did it proved something else entirely.
Consider the fact that you were the only one who actually meant it when you said you would love them forever isn’t a good reason to think less of yourself, but maybe a reason to like who you are, as unpopular as that idea might feel in the moment.
What if being blindsided you was easy because you would never betray the person you claimed to love the way they blindsided you?
What if the truth about you is that you’re…
…than they ever were.
The tendency to apply uneven views of yourself and the person you lost is not as uncommon as you might assume.
Lee Wilson, a nationally recognized relationship expert and recovery coach located in Nashville, TN, explains that this type of uneven self-attack style thinking is sadly, pretty common.
“There have been many client sessions when I’ve had to carefully point out to someone wrestling with intense heartache, that the reason they never saw it coming is very simple…because they would never consider doing it to anyone.”
People tend to assume everyone basically tries to live up to the same ethics and morals they strive to honor. Which makes manipulating a good person much easier.
“They meant it when they told the other person they loved them. That’s a good thing right? It shows integrity and wisdom to live up to the meaningful things you say to someone else.” Lee explains
“But instead of understanding that, a lot of times they see that admirable trait as reason to beat up on themselves even more – while almost praising the self-centered manipulator and mistaking their selfishness for strength.”
Out of the two of you, maybe there is a weak and foolish one – but maybe it isn’t you.
Maybe you were just so enamored by the glimpses of the person they could choose to be one day, you never saw them for the person they were choosing to be right now.
And that’s the only version of them that matters.
2. ACCEPT THE HURT
You recover faster when you stop avoiding the pain.
Anyone experiencing the anguish of a broken heart might be confused by this one. It might seem like telling a person on the verge of drowning to “embrace the waters”.
But many times in that very situation, the person needing to be rescued is so frantic and hysterical it can be much harder to get them back on solid ground. When that happens it’s important to find a way to make them stop reacting out of sheer fear and panic.
This is the same principle.
When a flood of excruciating pain has been mercilessly slamming into long enough you can become terrified of your own feelings.
You may find yourself constantly on alert, afraid your next thought might release an onslaught of emotions and restart the spiraling tormenting thoughts and long sleepless nights.
Sometimes even the realization that you haven’t experienced an episode of anxiety or regret can be the very thing to trigger what you’re most afraid of.
It can be exhausting to constantly analyze every thought and non-thought, examining every detail for proof that you’re either regaining strength or still hopelessly obsessed.
But it’s all false data.
The truth is all of it is completely normal – and it loses its power when you realize the thoughts themselves are the natural part of the process of learning to live without something you didn’t know you were about to lose.
3. IF IT’S NOT GETTING BETTER – TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR
When hugs, friends, alcohol and ice cream aren’t enough.
There’s a reason broken hearts are at the center of the greatest books, poems, songs, plays, movies, legends, and actual historical events in the history of… well, history.
Finding “the one” you’re destined to spend your life with isn’t just the central theme of endless story plots, it’s the literal point of life for a lot of people in real life as well.
For certain people like this, finding and then losing the person they believed to be the one great love of their life is exceptionally painful.
Normally, the remaining foundations in someone’s life are what keeps them from spiraling deeper into what could otherwise become a dangerous level of depression.
Other times, however, even close friends and family, professional work, and even the prospect of new possibilities don’t seem to hold much allure or spark any new desire to jump back into life even when it seems like it’s been long enough.
The question is how long is “long enough?”
No one really knows exactly – but one study from 2007 has provided a sort of rough estimate answer.
The survey included 69 college students – all of which had gone through a breakup sometime within six months prior to taking part in the survey.
These students were asked to complete a questionnaire every two weeks, which asked them to essentially rate their level of heartbreak and recovery several times over the course of the following months.
The study pointed to two especially interesting things:
First, the majority of them tended to recover from the breakups faster than they expected. This was especially true if they initiated the breakup.
Second, 11 weeks seemed to be when the majority of participants felt significant relief.
This suggests that there will never be an exact answer to a question with as many factors as “How long will it take to get over a broken heart,” 11 weeks might be a good place to start asking yourself a few key questions.
• Do you struggle to find the motivation to even get out of bed on most days?
• Do you find it hard to enjoy hobbies or activities you used to enjoy?
• Do you struggle with sleep?
• Do you experience repeated cycles of tormenting thoughts?
• Do you still find it hard to think about anything other than the person you lost?
• Do you feel stronger cravings or past feelings of addiction?
• Do you have little to no interest in dating anyone else?
If you find you’re still far from being back to normal, that could be an indication you’re dealing with more than you know.
You could have an undiagnosed condition magnifying an already painful experience like an intense breakup or divorce, and what you’re feeling is far more agonizing than it has to be.
For example, anyone diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is much more likely to also be dealing with Rejection Sensitivity Dysphoria, (RSD) which creates strong compulsions to please others in order to feel accepted.
It might also magnify empathetic feelings causing an extreme value to be placed on feeling unusually connected with those friends and family closest to them – especially in terms of romantic love or close friendships traditionally based on loyalty.
This can lead to unusually intense romantic relationships throughout life when things are going well.
However, if and when things go badly, the anguish felt is literally described as “unbearable,” which is why the word “Dysphoria” was selected. The word is a translation from Greek, meaning “hard to bear.”
Luckily, there are medications that have been shown to provide relief for people who, in many cases, had no idea the intense misery they were living with day after day could be anything less than paralyzing.
If this sounds like you — then it’s worth the time to talk to a mental health professional.
4. NO CONTACT
It’s not a game, but you can win anyway.
This one might seem to go without saying. After all, if someone has just ended a relationship with you then it stands to reason that “contact” is going to be greatly limited.
But the truth is, in many of the more painful instances, especially relationships and marriages which have lasted for years it’s very common for there to be several attempts to talk them out of the breakup.
Desperation, anxiety and fear feed the usually unrealistic idea that if the person only understood how much you love them, and how willing you are to “make them happy” then they would stop everything and make the right choice to be with you again.
This is almost never the case.
That’s because the logic behind this common reaction is faulty.
Despite what many fairy tales and classic love songs say, letting someone know that you “love them more than anyone else will in the world” is not the attraction or swaying factor most people believe it to be.
In fact, it may be a huge part of why the relationship is coming to an end.
If choosing a date, lover or spouse were based on who felt the most love, then everyone would see a large number of the sexiest people in the world dating many of the most unattractive, loneliest, and least successful people in the world.
Imagine a bikini model had to choose between two men asking her out.
One of them is her unemployed former dog walker who happens to be a 49-year-old male, who never finished high school due to his addiction to playing video games, which eventually led to morbid obesity, all of which has been enabled by his mother allowing him to live in her basement rent-free for the last 30 years.
The other man is a former boyfriend who cheated on her once but has sworn to never hurt her again.
Which one do you believe she’d be more likely to choose?
Which one do you think would feel the most intense feelings of “love” and would be the most grateful for the chance to make her happy?
The truth is attraction has very little to do with finding the person waiting and willing to love you the most.
Attraction as well as the loss of attraction is determined more by everything else in your life that makes YOUR life interesting.
In other words, what things are happening that other people would also find exciting, challenging, fascinating and unique?
What areas of life are you excelling in, or showing a high degree of skill or exceptional talent?
In too many cases, one person in the relationship has relied on pouring affection, compliments, and consistent vows to “never stop loving” the other person in the hopes that hard-to-replace levels of adoration will convince them to stay.
Ironically, the very sense of desperation this creates can easily have the reverse effect, essentially convincing the person they can do better than the person telling them how great they are on a daily basis.
If this sounds like a mistake you made, “no contact” can help correct that imbalance you created in terms of your own worth.
The sudden cut-off from you as a reliable source of ego-stroking can be jarring once it’s been cut off, leaving the previous object of your endless affection in need of reassurance.
Although this isn’t going to work in every situation, cutting off all non-vital contact is not only the best shot you have to make them reconsider, it’s also the best shot you have to force them AND you to reevaluate your worth without them around to skew reality.
You might find even you lost sight of what made you worth seeing in the first place.
Whether they see you for who you are and come back or not, regaining a large portion of your self-respect and refocusing in areas of your own life will definitely make you much more confident and attractive to people.
However, it’s important to understand the difference between “no contact” and “the cold shoulder” or “the silent treatment.”
Any ground regained by withholding excessive praise during “no contact” will be lost if it’s viewed as being motivated by anger, bitterness, or sour grapes.
This isn’t a new version of passive-aggressive behavior.
There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.
The right way:
• Be pleasant
• Don’t go out of your way to avoid
• Don’t go out of your way to contact
• Keep interactions to a brief
• Avoid unnecessary contact (birthdays, anniversary, holidays)
• Unfollow/unfriend social media accounts
• Stay busy, stay socially active
• Rekindle hobbies & interests
The wrong way:
• Allow emotions to dictate decisions
• Show anger over loss
• Appear hurt to soothe your ego and gain attention
• Online stalking
• Check in repeatedly in case something changes
• Reach out to common friends as a go-between
• Let them know you’re waiting and hoping for another chance
5. RE-WRITE YOUR HISTORY (but this time be accurate)
A funny thing about your memory: how you remember the past is influenced by your emotional state in the present.
It’s not common knowledge, but research shows that many people who have experienced a long unhappy marriage or painful divorce will have a difficult time remembering the best times at the beginning of the relationship if they’re feeling intensely unhappy now.
They can admit to having good experiences and even recall some attraction in the beginning – but they’re foggy on memories related to being deeply in love with the same person they feel loathing for in the here-and-now.
It works the same in reverse.
After the system shock that comes with being emotionally shredded during a breakup, odds are high your current view of the lost relationship isn’t as accurate as it seems.
You’re very likely looking back at the person you lost and seeing all the incredible things in them you somehow couldn’t see and took for granted for so long.
In fairness, some of it — even most of it — might actually be true.
But at least some of what you now remember about their “awesomeness” or how “incredibly happy” you were when you were with them isn’t as certain as you might be remembering it now.
Right now, all of your bad choices and mistakes in the relationship are more than likely being laid at your feet – by you.
At the same time, all of their bad choices and mistakes are also being laid at your feet – by you.
This is why your friends and family can be very helpful at this stage of your heartache recovery.
Luckily, you can usually find a small group of people ready and waiting to remind you of the reality they can’t believe you’ve been so ready to re-write.
A few of them will be very excited about the chance to tell you exactly the way it really unfolded, and in their version, you weren’t always the bad guy.
If you aren’t sure you can trust yourself, talk to the people you’ve trusted the longest with everything else to remind you of the negative things and even some of the more painful memories in all its excruciating painful glory.
Then write down a list of the painful but TRUTHFUL negative aspects of the relationship and force yourself to accept them.
Allowing yourself to remember things accurately isn’t refusing to forgive or holding a grudge.
Sometimes making a list like this is the best way to get back a much more accurate view of the past, since you’ve effectively repainted them as some perfect soulmate you let slip through your imperfect fingers.
And even getting back to a more honest view of things won’t cause you to stop seeing much of the good in who you lost.
It also won’t take away all of what’s left of your pain.
If what you lost had any real worth at all, instant recovery will never be an option, because losing something meaningful is supposed to hurt bad for a while.
But it doesn’t have to be soul-crushing or overwhelming to the point you can’t see the point in trying to find love again.
If you apply some of these strategies you won’t have to hurt this much forever.
After all, “forever” is nothing more than an endless supply of “time” right?
Which reminds me of that brand new updated saying you’ve probably never heard…
“Time and truth and patience, along with the love and support from the people who love you most and know you best… heals all wounds much better than just time alone.”
I read it on a napkin somewhere once.
Coach Ken helps people understand and even escape toxic and abusive relationships.
photo credit: Wikimedia