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Getting over Denial When the Truth Is Heartbreaking

Getting over Denial When the Truth Is Heartbreaking

Denial is part of being human. We deny things in an attempt to protect ourselves from the facts we refuse to face. We all do it at some point. We deny death, we deny that a relationship is over, we deny that we lied to a friend. Sometimes denial can be healthy; we deny the desire to stop working on a paper for school or a project for work by telling ourselves we aren’t tired – we can do it! But denial can also be dangerous. When we deny something to a point that it impacts our lives negatively (i.e. a toxic relationship, an unhealthy addiction), we set ourselves up for hardships.

When a loved one dies, the first stage of grief is denial. It makes sense, right? We refuse to believe they could really be gone. By failing to accept the truth, we allow ourselves to come to terms with the reality slowly. But once we get past the pain and shock, we can toughen up and start to accept what has happened.[1] But how do we get over denial when we don’t feel strong, or when the thing we are denying is something we have to face?

It can be challenging to accept reality when we feel we have an unfinished business.

If someone dies and we don’t get to say goodbye to them, or if we never got the closure we needed from a breakup before moving on to a new relationship, we can feel like something is missing.[2]

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Sometimes, the thing that’s missing doesn’t have to be something sentimental, like saying goodbye. In fact, we can experience denial when we didn’t get the chance to be angry with someone. Perhaps you find yourself denying a relationship has ended not because you still love that person, but because you never got to tell that person how angry they made you. Likewise, you could be angry that a parent died because of how the will was written, causing you to deny they are truly gone and there is nothing you can do.

Denial becomes a problem when we use it to avoid the negative emotions.

Though denial is a natural response to a challenging situation, it can be a bad thing if it’s used intentionally. If you deliberately use denial in order to avoid the emotions you are experiencing, you may be hindering the healing process.

In the book turned Netflix series, ’13 Reasons Why,’ a high school girl named Hannah has committed suicide. The show revolves around her parents and classmates struggling to understand why this happened. There’s a shocking scene that perfectly summarizes denial in which the girls’ parents are at dinner.(Spoiler ahead if you haven’t watched it!) Hannah’s mother strikes up a conversation with another patron, the mother of a little girl. The stranger asks if they have children. Hannah’s mother suddenly tells the woman that they have a daughter. She’s 17 and already looking at colleges. The husband looks confused, but she continues to discuss what her daughter may major in, and other elements of her life. At no point did she accept reality and explain that she had a daughter, but she passed away. It’s heartbreaking and tragic, but the husband was trying to cope. That’s why he was confused as to how his wife handled the question.

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The denial she was experiencing only caused the two to argue and break down. It didn’t help either of them. Though a fictional example, it’s an accurate one. Because Hannah’s mother didn’t know why her daughter killed herself, or even have the chance to talk her out of it or say goodbye, she couldn’t accept that she wasn’t coming back.

Moving on really is the only option no matter how hard it is.

As much as denial may seem like a safe way to protect yourself from the difficult truth, it just isn’t so. But knowing you need to overcome denial isn’t enough to, well, overcome it. In fact, when you realize you are forcing yourself to ignore the truth and refuse acceptance, you may find yourself even more overwhelmed and wondering where to begin. Like most instances where closure is needed, writing a letter you will never send can be helpful as an outlet. But there are other ways to face your denial and start living a better life.

While you obviously have to accept the situation for what it is and face that you are in denial, there are steps you can take to truly overcome those feelings and start to move on.

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Accept the anger you may be feeling.

If you’re denial comes with feelings of anger or extreme disappointment, it’s okay to feel those things! Know that your feelings are valid. Of course, this doesn’t mean you should go around punching walls and yelling at people, but you can scream. Go for a hike, climb a mountain, get somewhere where the only things to be bothered by sound is the wildlife and just let it out. Yell, scream, cry, and throw things if you have to. Until you release that anger, you won’t be able to positively interact with anyone, even if they aren’t the cause of those feelings in the first place.[3]

Simply knowing you’re in denial is not coping.

It’s not enough to accept you’re in denial. Sorry. While it’s the first step to overcoming it, you have to do the footwork. We already know the defense mechanism serves a purpose, but once you feel ready to vent to someone, you have to do it. Make sure when you are ready to talk, it’s with someone you trust to listen and be respectful. The things you are going through are valid, and you need to talk to someone who will know that.[4]

Don’t get caught up in the stages.

While denial is the first stage of grief, don’t get obsessed with following the stages. Everyone deals with things differently, and there’s a good chance you may find yourself skipping around. This doesn’t mean you aren’t actually coping or grieving “properly.” And if you’re trying to help someone grieve and get over their denial, you must stay patient. Even though we may not understand the time it has taken someone to accept a death or a different kind of loss, that person is dealing with it on their own level.[5]

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For reference, the stages are as follows:

  • Denial: A defense mechanism to deal with great sadness.
  • Anger: Frustration and helplessness associated with tragedy often results in feelings of anger.
  • Bargaining: You think you could have prevented it if you had just done [insert reason here].
  • Depression: Incredible sadness often comes along with grief as the pain of the tragedy begins to set in.
  • Acceptance: You will always feel some sadness, but you will begin to move on with your life.

You don’t have to be strong and you don’t have to forget.

Overcoming denial doesn’t mean you can’t feel. You’re allowed to cry and you’re allowed to move on with your life while still carrying that loss with you. There is no “right” way to feel pain or accept something life-changing. You will always carry the event in your heart, but you will overcome the feelings of anger and blame. Even though it’s hard and it will always hurt when you think about it, overcoming denial is the only way to regain control of your life.[6]

Along with allowing yourself to be patient as you face your denial, remember that whatever you are experiencing that caused you to feel that denial in the first place is valid. People can grieve for death, moving away from home, graduating or even changing jobs. If you are in pain or hurting, acknowledge that. There is no comparison of pain that you should measure yourself against. Your feelings matter, and so does your happiness. Overcome your denial to live in happiness.

Reference

More by this author

Heather Poole

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Published on October 30, 2020

11 Essential Philosophy Books That Will Open Your Mind

11 Essential Philosophy Books That Will Open Your Mind

There are numerous ways to build your mindset, but none are as profound as reading philosophy books. Through these books, some of the greatest minds around ask questions and delve deep into thought.

While there isn’t always a clear and distinct answer to the many questions of philosophy, the entire field is a gateway to a higher sense of self. It gets you to think about all manner of things.

Below, we cover some of the essential philosophy books that are best for those who are just starting or looking to expand their mind.

How To Choose a Good Philosophy Book

Before getting to this list, we’ve researched ideal philosophy books to help you expand your mind.

We’ve found that the best philosophy books excel in the following criteria:

  • Complexity – Philosophy isn’t a subject that you can’t dive into immediately and understand everything. The books that we selected are great for people making the first leap.
  • Viewpoint – With philosophy, in particular, the author’s views are more important than in your standard book. We want to ensure the viewpoints and thoughts being discussed still hold up to this day.
  • Open-mindedness – Philosophy is all about asking perplexing questions and unraveling the answer. You might not reach a conclusion in the end, but these books are designed to get you to think.
  • Culture – The last criterion is culture. A lot of these books come from early philosophers from centuries ago or possibly from recent years. These philosophy books should paint a picture of the culture.

1. Meditations

    One that you’ll find on many of these types of lists is Meditations and for good reason. It’s the only document of its kind to ever be made. The book focuses on the private thoughts of the world’s most powerful man who advises himself revolving around making good on his responsibilities and the obligations of his position.

    We know enough about Marcus Aurelius to know that he was trained in stoic philosophy and practiced every night on a series of spirituality exercises. These exercises were designed to make him humble, patient, empathetic, generous, and strong in the face of whatever problem he had to face off. And he faced plenty of problems since he was basically the emperor of roughly a third of the planet.

    All of that is poured into this book, and you are bound to remember a line or more that will be applicable in your life. It’s a philosophy book staple.

    Buy Meditations here.

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    2. Letters From a Stoic

      Similar to Marcus Aurelius, Seneca was another powerful man in Rome. He was a brilliant writer at the time and was the kind of guy to give great advice to his most trusted friends. Fortunately, much of his advice comes in letters, and those letters happen to be in this book. The letters themselves provided advice on dealing with grief, wealth, poverty, success, failure, education, and more.

      While Seneca was a stoic, he has a more practical approach and has borrowed from other schools of thought for his advice. As he said when he was alive, “I don’t care about the author if the line is good.” Similar to Meditations, there are several brilliant lines and advice that are still relevant to this day.

      Buy “Letters From a Stoic” here.

      3. Nicomachean Ethics

        Aristotle was a famous Greek philosopher at the time with profound knowledge. He’s named after a form of logic as well called Aristotelian logic. Through this book, Aristotle writes about the root of all Aristotelian ethics. In other words, this book contains the moral ideas that form a base for pretty much all of western civilization.

        Buy “Nicomachean Ethics” here.

        4. Beyond Good & Evil

          Friedrich Nietzsche played a big role in the philosophical world. He was one of the leading philosophers of the existential movement, and it all came through this particular book. He is a brilliant mind. However, the issue with a lot of his work is that it’s all written in German.

          Fortunately, this book is one of the slightly more accessible ones since it’s translated. Within the book, he breaks down the paradoxes of conventional understandings of morality. By doing this, he sets the stage for a lot of the 20th-century thought process that followed.

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          Buy “Beyond Good & Evil” here.

          5. Meditations on First Philosophy

            In Meditations on First Philosophy, René Descartes breaks his book down into six meditations. The book takes a journalistic style that is structured much like a six-day course of meditation. On day one, he gives instructions on discarding all belief in things that are not guaranteed. After that, he tries to establish what can be known for sure. Similar to Meditations, this is a staple and influential philosophical text that you can pick up.

            Buy “Meditations on First Philosophy” here.

            6. Ethics

              Written by Benedict de Spinoza, this came at a time during the Age of Enlightenment. Enlightenment was a movement that dominated the world of ideas in Europe during the 17th and 18th centuries and with that, many schools of thought emerged and were presented through books.

              Out of the many influential philosophy books published back then, Ethics dominated during this period as it discussed the basis of rationalism. Even though we’ve developed further beyond that, Ethics can introduce new ways of thinking from this particular school of thought.

              Buy “Ethics” here.

              7. Critique of Pure Reason

                Immanuel Kant is another great philosopher who brought together two of history’s biggest opposing schools of thought into a single book. Those schools being rational thought and empirical experiential knowledge—knowledge gained through experience.

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                In Critique of Pure Reason, Kant explores human reason and then works to establish its illusions and get down to core constituents. Overall, you can learn more about human behavior and thought processes and thus, open your mind more to how you think and process everything around you.

                Buy “Critique of Pure Reason” here.

                8. On the Genealogy of Morals

                  Another piece of work from Nietzsche that is accessible to us is On the Genealogy of Morals. According to Nietzsche, the purpose of this book is to call attention to his previous writings. That said, it does more than that so you don’t need to worry so much about reading his other books.

                  In this book, he expands on the cryptic aphorisms that he brings up in Beyond Good and Evil and offers a discussion or morality in a work that is more accessible than a lot of his previous work.

                  Buy “On the Genealogy of Morals” here.

                  9. Everything Is F*cked

                    The only book on this list that’s been written in the past few years, this book by Mark Manson aims to explain why we all need hope while also accepting that hope can often lead us to ruin too.

                    While many of the books on this list are all practical, this one is the most realistic one since not even the greatest of philosophical minds could predict things like technology, Twitter, and how our political world has shaped.

                    Manson delivers a profound book that taps into the minds of our ancestral philosophers, such as Plato, Nietzsche, and Tom Waits, and digs deep into various topics and how all of it is connected—religion and politics, our relationship with money, entertainment, and the internet.

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                    Overall, this book serves as a challenge to all of us—a challenge to be more honest with ourselves and connect with the world in a way we’ve never tried before.

                    Buy “Everything Is F*cked” here.

                    10. Reasons and Persons

                      One of the most challenging philosophy books to read on this list, Reasons and Persons will send you on quite the trip. Through a lot of painstaking logic, Derek Parfit shows us some unique perspectives on self-interest, personhood, and whether our actions are good or evil.

                      Considered by many to be an important psychological text around the 20th century, the arguments made about those topics will open your mind to a brand new way of thinking.

                      Buy “Reasons and Persons” here.

                      11. The Republic of Plato

                        Written by Plato himself, this book is the origin of political science and offers a brilliant critique of government. As you would expect, the critique is still important today. If you’re looking to understand the inner thoughts of Plato, this is one of the best books around.

                        Buy “The Republic of Plato” here.

                        Final Thoughts

                        Philosophy books take a while to digest as they provide profound knowledge and leave you with many questions. With many of these philosophy books, you need to take your time with them, and you might have to read through them a few times as well. And with every read, your mind will only expand.

                        More Books to Open Your Mind

                        Featured photo credit: Laura Chouette via unsplash.com

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