Why healing is a process: Steps to healing

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Kevin Mangelschots

Every one of us can probably recall a moment in our lives when we went through a traumatic event that left a wound, and a long-lasting impression for a long time before we could accept what happened, and move on.

Think of the loss of a loved one such as a family member, a friend, or a pet.

That’s why healing is a process, not an event. Today, I will explain the different steps to healing that can be distinguished from one another.

Why is healing a process, and not an event?

Image of the earth with a heart and a band-aid put over it.

Emotional healing is a process since it takes a lot of time and effort before we can get over our painful, and sometimes traumatic experiences. When we’re hurt, or facing a heartfelt loss, we typically go through the stages of grieving.

That’s precisely why healing is a process and not an event. It’s impossible to fully heal from just a singular event. We must take a multitude of steps to get better. And oftentimes, this can take weeks, months, or even years.

For some, the reality is that healing is a lifelong process that never ends if that traumatic condition is severe enough, such as the loss of a child, or partner. Especially if the circumstances were considered very unfair and unjustified.

Steps to healing

The 5 stages of grief Kübler-Ross model.

There are typically 5 steps to healing, although some authors propose some additional steps.

These five steps are:

  1. Grief and denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

Grief and denial

Grief and denial are the result of severe emotional pain. A broken heart is typically most heartfelt when we’re faced with the rejection or abandonment of someone we hold dear.

We might be so shocked by this painful event that we try to deny that it ever took place to reduce the negative impact on our mental state.

Thus, denial can be considered a normal defense mechanism that humans employ to protect their sanity. “This can not possibly be happening to me” is a potential example of denial in action.

Anger

Satirical illustration of the step “anger” of the stages of grief.

Anger usually starts after the reality starts to settle in, which is typically after the grief and denial have taken place.

“Why me?” and, “It’s not fair!” are all too commonly said during this phase. Separated couples or people who recently divorced regularly display their repressed anger over their recently destroyed relationship because they feel like they’ve lost everything.

Bargaining

When people start noticing that things might be irreversibly damaged without any hope of fixing these issues, they typically start bargaining with reality.

They might say things such as, “I will be good if my previous choice gets reversed.”

Depression

Picture showing a woman with depression. On the left what you see and on the right what she feels.

Depression is when the true depth of what happened starts sinking in. And it’s at this point that we hit our deepest point of sorrow.

We start to believe that there’s nothing we can do to reduce our suffering, or to improve our situation. In extreme cases, we might even lose our sense of self-worth.

People regularly withdraw and isolate themselves from those around them since they feel too exhausted, and like they’re useless to their friends and family.

Unfortunately, this continued closing off from our loved ones ends up making them feel even worse and deteriorates their situation even more.

Acceptance

The road toward acceptance is not a happy path, nor is it an easy one.

It means making amends with all that we’ve lost while accepting our fate and being happy with what’s left.

However, with acceptance comes hope for a better future. And we can look forward to creating beautiful moments that we can enjoy once more.

Unfortunately, not everyone reaches the point of acceptance. It’s possible to get stuck in a previous stage without ever progressing towards acceptance, or regressing to a previous phase.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

How do you know you’re healing from trauma?

Illustration showing the healing journey when going through trauma.

  • You have accepted that you went through a traumatic experience or period
  • You allow, and even search out the aid of others
  • You take care of your mental and physical health again
  • You analyze what happened and become introspective to figure out what you can do differently next time
  • You know you’re not the only one going through difficult times
  • You are hopeful for a better future

What is the first step in the emotional healing process?

The first step towards emotional healing is admitting to yourself that you’ve been hurt, but also that you can get better again if you put in the required energy and work.
 
However, admitting to yourself that there is an issue to resolve is not an easy task, and requires a lot of courage and willpower to do so. Yet, it’s vital before you can begin to get better.
 

How long does it take to heal emotionally?

A clock with the words, “it takes time!” written on it.

How long it takes to heal emotionally from trauma is not set in stone.

Some folks recover quicker than others, and it’s also dependent on how severely you have ached in the first place.

It can take days, weeks, months, or even years to heal from emotional trauma. There are even instances where some folks never fully recover from their negative experiences, and thus never come to full acceptance of their new livelihood.

Does healing involve crying?

While tears can be normal and even help people to heal from their painful emotional trauma, it most certainly does not always involve crying.
 
Some people are more emotional than others, not to mention that it’s considered normal to show emotions in some cultures, while it’s not the norm in others.
 

Is it better to cry or to hold it in?

Image of a person crying and a tear rolling down their left cheek.
 
It’s typically better to cry than to hold it in for a prolonged period because repressed emotions tend to re-emerge at a later date with increased frequency and intensity.
 
Nevertheless, crying all the time or at any place isn’t always feasible since it’s deemed inappropriate to do so in some instances.
 
That’s why learning to control your emotions, and how to hold back your tears at times until you are at a better-suited place to let them out is essential.
 

This way, you don’t inhibit your feelings for too long while still having some sort of control over them.

Does crying reset your emotions?

Crying does not necessarily reset your emotions, but can help reduce tension by releasing pent-up feelings. Thus, improving mood in the process.

Crying releases stress hormones that lower the amount of stress we experience. This helps us to feel better, do better, and sleep better as a result.

Can all emotional trauma be healed?

The quote, “you cannot heal a lifetime of pain overnight, be patient with yourself, it takes as long as it takes to rebuild yourself” written on a background.
 
Technically speaking, all emotional trauma can be healed with hard work, help, and time. Everyone heals at their rate, and that’s why it’s so difficult to put an exact timestamp on how long the healing process will take.
 
In reality, not all emotional trauma gets healed. Some people go through so many hardships and tragedies that they get stuck in one of the grieving phases without ever reaching full acceptance.
 
That’s why it’s important to seek aid if you’re hurting and need assistance healing your wounds.
 

Why is healing so painful?

Healing is so painful because it is a process, not an event. And for some, healing is a lifelong process without an end.

This long timeframe coupled with hard work, the negative emotions typically attached to pain, and things we have to let go of can make healing from our wounds overwhelming to some.

Yet, the more you heal from your trauma, the stronger you become through these new experiences that you wouldn’t have undergone otherwise.

Final note

Image of a hand holding a card with the word “conclusions” written in blue.

Healing our emotional wounds takes a long time, and sometimes even a whole lifetime, without ever fully coming to terms with what happened.

Yet, it’s in our own best interest, and in that of all those around us, to face our issues and solve them instead of pushing our concerns away.

That might work for a while, but will cause problems later on in your existence. That’s because repressed feelings will pop up again at a later date with increased frequency and intensity.