Whether you’ve lost a parent or other loved one, faced a health issue, or simply received some disappointing news (like I did this past week), you probably feel profound and lingering pain.
As we age, we may believe that we have the wisdom and perspective to heal rapidly, but it may, in fact, take longer to get over our psychic, emotional, and physical hurts. Even a simple bruise heals more slowly after 50, according to the New York Times.
A fan of superheros, I was always drawn to the Cheerleader in the show Heroes. Her power was regeneration. Whether she suffered a broken bone or (as she did in one episode) woke up on an autopsy table, she was able to simply close-up her wounds and get on with her life. Alas, I wasn’t born with that power. But I’m working on it.
Physical wound healing is comprised of four phases, described by long medical words. But it’s not all that complicated. Here’s how you apply those phases to work through the tough times and emerge at least as powerful as you were before your trauma.
- Homeostatis. In the case of a physical injury, your body and caregivers respond quickly to “stop the bleeding.” Obviously, if you’ve been physically injured, you’ll seek help (or at least put on ice or a bandage). If you’ve been wounded with loss, words or actions, acknowledge the pain and come up with a way to direct your energy to something positive. Go for a walk or the gym, call a close friend, or distract yourself with a fun activity. You will, of course, need time to mourn and heal (and perhaps even learn new skills again), but attempt to stop your bleeding — physical or emotional before it consumes your life. Above all, get help!
- Defensive/Inflammatory Phase: Your injury begins to heal, but part of that process can be a flare-up. Perhaps you wake up in the middle of the night thinking about your hurt. Remind yourself that the pain is all part of the process.
- Proliferative Phase: I love this phase. It’s when new skin and blood vessels form and your body gets ready to be whole again. Perhaps you’ve found a healthy new distraction or new (less hurtful) relationships. The term, “thick skin” is especially appropriate here.
- Maturation Phase: Hooray! You’ve healed. You may be left with a scar as a reminder of lessons learned through the injury. But if you’ve taken the proper steps in the first three phases, you’ll eventually be whole again.
Of course, real life is never as simple or sequential as the healing of the cut you gave yourself slicing an apple.
As we age, we may face even more hurt than we did in our youth — illness or deaths of loved ones, ageism in our job hunts, old friends changing and moving on, relationships ending.
Learning to say “I’m hurting right now and I need XXXX” (you fill in the blank) is tough for many of us. After I went public on social media a few years ago and declared “I need a hug,” the outpouring of love and reassurance was amazing. In fact, a woman in my neighborhood who I barely knew approached me in a restaurant and gave me one of the best hugs I’ve received in my life.
Remember the four phases, ask for help, and attempt to be the cheerleader of your own life. You may still bear a scar, but your pain will subside over time.