As a care minister, I have spent most of my adult life working with people who need physical and emotional healing.
I have spent countless hours sitting with hurting people waiting for someone to come out of surgery. I have spent substantial time praying with individuals struggling with emotional wounds caused by someone else or self-inflicted.
I have noticed that physical and emotional healing share many similarities but that there are some significant differences, as well. The insights gained from these experiences have real-world implications for interacting and ministering to the emotionally wounded.
What are the similarities and differences in physical and emotional healing?
A wound is an injury to living tissue. A deceased body might experience additional damage, but it no longer feels the effects of the wound.
Wounds are for the living—just one more reason to be happy to be alive.
While most physical wounds are generally visible, emotional wounds are sometimes skillfully concealed (1). Most physical injuries are accompanied by bruising, bleeding, and the sound of a person in obvious pain. However, an emotional injury is often hidden from sight until someone accidentally disturbs it or the individual chooses to reveal it.
Most visible physical wounds will elicit immediate sympathy and response from others; the unseen and unknown emotional injury will receive neither (2).
If we see someone who has fallen, our first response is to ask if they are okay and then offer to help them up. (I know that some of you laugh first before you offer to help. To you, it is not funny until someone gets hurt. You know who you are.)
But it is harder to recognize an emotional wound or to gauge its destructive impact.
Emotional wounds, if unseen, will not garner sympathy or a response from others.
The passage of time is often beneficial for someone suffering a physical injury, but it can hinder healing for the emotionally wounded (3).
The physical body may take steps to heal itself without any additional intervention needed. Bruises will fade. Bleeding will scab over. Scars will develop. Rest, aspirin, ice, or heat, and time may be all that is necessary.
And some emotional wounds will heal with time. For example, someone may apologize for the harm done, and the incident may be forgiven or forgotten.
But for some, emotional injuries will grow worse over time.
Covering a physical wound can promote healing, but concealing an emotional injury will cause additional damage (4).
Research indicates that covering a physical wound may actively promote healing. The body may need bandaids or immobilization devices such as slings and casts for a limited time.
However, uncovering an emotional wound can sometimes cause additional pain. As a result, deep wounds are often fiercely protected to avoid further harm.
Proverbs 14:13 says that “Laughter can conceal a heavy heart, but when the laughter ends, the grief remains.”
Few will dispute the need for a professional to handle a complex or severe physical injury, but many will question the need for a specialist to heal an emotional wound (5).
Sometimes, the body may require surgical intervention due to the complexity and severity of the wound. Examples include removing a bullet from a gunshot wound or inserting a metal plate or screw for a broken bone.
But emotional wounds can be as complex and just as damaging to the overall health of the individual.
Emotional wounds when seen are often diminished or dismissed. For example, we say that “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
Whether we take seriously the severity of emotional wounds are not, the brain does.
To the brain, an emotional wound can be as significant as a physical wound (6).
Research indicates that the way the brain experiences physical and emotional pain is pretty similar.
“Although the brain does not process emotional pain and physical pain identically, research on neural pathways suggests there is substantial overlap between the experience of physical and social pain.” Nicole F Roberts Forbes Magazine Article Feb 14, 2020.
If the brain processes them similarly, should we not take them just as seriously as a physical wound?
Emotional healing involves similar steps to resolving a physical wound (7).
A typical medical doctor visit concerning a physical injury will include a consult, a diagnosis, and a treatment plan. The treatment of an emotional injury will follow the same steps.
Consult: We have to talk about it with someone, even it is just ourselves.
Diagnose: We have to understand what the problem is. Often this can be determined by outward symptoms or actions.
Treatment Plan: We have to receive the instructions for treating the wound. Sometimes we are reluctant to a new plan – because our old plan was working so well?
Action: Even if we read or hear the instructions, we will not see a change in our condition unless we act on the advice we receive.
Emotional healing typically involves ourselves, others, and God (8).
Relationships, the source of the initial injury, are often a part of the remedy. Sometimes, we can process the injury by ourselves. But there comes a time when we have to reach out for help. Sometimes, we need close friends, groups, pastoral or secular counseling to help us. Many of them have been through similar experiences. And there are times when we can find help through prayer, the Bible, or the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
What are the implications of the Eight insights from comparing physical and emotional healing?
- We need to recognize that emotional wounds may be concealed.
- We need to learn to recognize the signs and symptoms of emotional wounds.
- We need to treat emotional wounds with the same care and concern given physical injuries.
- We need to understand that some emotional wounds may require assistance from others and that complex wounds may require professional help.
If we are willing, we can learn about emotional healing by observing how a physical wound is treated. But we must also be aware of the significant differences as we try to minister to others.
Would you consider sharing this article with someone else? Feedback is always welcome.
Maybe you need to read the following two promises today.
Psalm 147:3 states that “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”
Psalms 34:18 says that “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those crushed in spirit.”