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Science Explains Why Time Doesn't Necessarily Heal Emotional Pain

The stronger you become, the more resilient you'll be to life's stressors -- both big and small. Increasing your resilience requires intentional practice, but it's well worth the effort. Building mental strength increases your ability to heal your psychological wounds.
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Whether you've been through a bad break up or you're reading a sympathy card, the old saying, "time heals everything," gets passed around whenever someone is suffering. While it's usually said with the best of intentions, that saying can be quite damaging.

As a therapist, the notion that time equals medicine is an issue I tackle in my office on a daily basis. Individuals seeking help often say, "I shouldn't still be feeling this bad." It might be a year after a painful divorce, or two years after the loss of a loved one, their pain is palpable.

Quite often, their ongoing anguish stems from their attempts to escape heartache. Rather than deal with their grief or confront their sadness, they attempted to distract themselves from their misery.

They tried to act tough, hoping they could white knuckle it through their pain until time healed their wounds. But despite the passage of time, their distress remained because they lacked the skills necessary to bounce back from adversity.

I learned first-hand that time heals nothing. It's what you choose to do with that time that makes all the difference.

What The Research Says

A new study published in Perspectives on Psychological Science confirms this idea that time doesn't heal. Researchers from Arizona State University discovered that in general, people don't possess a lot of natural resilience.

When individuals experience life-altering events, like a natural disaster or long-term unemployment, there's a good chance it will take them longer than anticipated to bounce back.

The study confirmed that life stressors can cause a substantial decline in well-being that can last several years. Researchers report that the previously held belief that "most people are resilient" may prevent people from seeking the help they need to recover more effectively.

There's No Timeline On Bouncing Back

The well-intentioned adage, "things will get better soon" perpetuates the myth that healing a psychological wound is a passive activity. Unfortunately, waiting to feel better might not yield the best results.

Assuming that time heals -- and putting a time frame on when you should feel better -- is dangerous. Not only might you become highly critical of yourself if you don't bounce back fast enough, but you may also lack empathy for other people's prolonged suffering.

Rather than rally around a friend going through a rough patch, you may be tempted to assume he should be doing better. After all, his divorce was six months ago, right?

Or instead of revealing your own distress to a trust family member, you may suffer in silence out of fear that you'll be judged harshly. But waiting for more time to pass isn't likely the best option.

Build Mental Strength

No one is born mentally strong -- but everyone has the ability to develop mental strength. Similar to developing physical strength, there are exercises you can perform to build mental strength.

Healthy habits, like identifying what you're grateful for and practicing self-compassion, can go a long way toward boosting your mental muscle. Thinking realistically, regulating your emotions, and behaving productively is the key to bouncing back from adversity.

The stronger you become, the more resilient you'll be to life's stressors -- both big and small. Increasing your resilience requires intentional practice, but it's well worth the effort. Building mental strength increases your ability to heal your psychological wounds.

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, keynote speaker, and the author of the USA Today best-selling book 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do. To learn how to build resilience, sign up for her Mental Strength eCourse.