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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

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Heather Poole

Heather shares about everyday lifestyle tips on Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 30, 2019

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

How the Stages of Change Model Helps You Change Your Habits

Change is tough, there’s no doubt about it. Old habits are hard to shift, and adopting a new lifestyle can feel like an uphill battle!

In this article, you will learn about a simple yet powerful model:

Stages of change model, that explains the science behind personal transformation.

You’ll discover how and why some changes stick whereas others don’t last, and how long it takes to build new habits.

What is the Stages of Change Model?

Developed by researchers J.O. Prochaska and Carlo C. DiClemente over 30 years ago[1] and outlined in their book Changing For Good, the Stages of Change Model, also known as the Transtheoretical Model, was formed as a result of the authors’ research with smokers.

Prochaska and DiClemente were originally interested in the question of why some smokers were able to quit on their own, whereas others required professional help. Their key conclusion was that smokers (or anyone else with a bad habit) quits only when they are ready to do so.

Here’s an illustration done by cartoonist and illustrator Simon Kneebone about the different stages a smoker experiences when they try to quit smoking:

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    The Stages of Change Model looks at how these conscious decisions are made. It emphasizes that change isn’t easy. People can spend a long time stuck in a stage, and some may never reach their goals.[2]

    The model has been applied in the treatment of smoking, alcoholism, and drugs. It is also a useful way of thinking about any bad habit. Social workers, therapists, and psychologists draw on the model to understand their patients’ behaviors, and to explain the change process to the patients themselves.

    The key advantages to the model is that it is simple to understand, is backed by extensive research, and can be applied in many situations.

    The Stages of Change Model is a well-established psychological model that outlines six stages of personal change:

    1. Precontemplation
    2. Contemplation
    3. Determination
    4. Action
    5. Maintenance
    6. Termination

    How are these stages relevant to changing habits?

    To help you visualize the stages of change and how each progresses to the next one, please take a look at this wheel:[3]

      Let’s look at the six stages of change,[4] together with an example that will show you how the model works in practice:

      Stage 1: Precontemplation

      At this stage, an individual does not plan to make any positive changes in the next six months. This may because they are in denial about their problem, feel too overwhelmed to deal with it, or are too discouraged after multiple failed attempts to change.

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      For example, someone may be aware that they need to start exercising, but cannot find the motivation to do so. They might keep thinking about the last time they tried (and failed) to work out regularly. Only when they start to realize the advantages of making a change will they progress to the next stage.

      Stage 2: Contemplation

      At this stage, the individual starts to consider the advantages of changing. They start to acknowledge that altering their habits would probably benefit them, but they spend a lot of time thinking about the downside of doing so. This stage can last for a long time – possibly a year or more.

      You can think of this as the procrastinating stage. For example, an individual begins to seriously consider the benefits of regular exercise, but feels resistant when they think about the time and effort involved. When the person starts putting together a concrete plan for change, they move to the next stage.

      The key to moving from this stage to the next is the transformation of an abstract idea to a belief (e.g. from “Exercise is a good, sensible thing to do” to “I personally value exercise and need to do it.)[5]

      Stage 3: Preparation

      At this point, the person starts to put a plan in place. This stage is brief, lasting a few weeks. For example, they may book a session with a personal trainer and enrol on a nutrition course.

      Someone who drinks to excess may make an appointment with a drug and alcohol counsellor; someone with a tendency to overwork themselves might start planning ways to devise a more realistic schedule.

      Stage 4: Action

      When they have decided on a plan, the individual must then put it into action. This stage typically lasts for several months. In our example, the person would begin attending the gym regularly and overhauling their diet.

      Stage 4 is the stage at which the person’s desire for change becomes noticeable to family and friends. However, in truth, the change process began a long time ago. If someone you know seems to have suddenly changed their habits, it’s probably not so sudden after all! They will have progressed through Stages 1-3 first – you probably just didn’t know about it.

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      Stage 5: Maintenance

      After a few months in the Action stage, the individual will start to think about how they can maintain their changes, and make lifestyle adjustments accordingly. For instance, someone who has adopted the habit of regular workouts and a better diet will be vigilant against old triggers (such as eating junk food during a stressful time at work) and make a conscious decision to protect their new habits.

      Unless someone actively engages with Stage 5, their new habits are liable to come unstuck. Someone who has stuck to their new habits for many months – perhaps a year or longer – may enter Stage 6.

      Maintenance can be challenging because it entails coming up with a new set of habits to lock change in place. For instance, someone who is maintaining their new gym-going habit may have to start improving their budgeting skills in order to continue to afford their gym membership.

      Stage 6: Termination

      Not many people reach this stage, which is characterized by a complete commitment to the new habit and a certainty that they will never go back to their old ways. For example, someone may find it hard to imagine giving up their gym routine, and feel ill at the thought of eating junk food on a regular basis.

      However, for the majority of people, it’s normal to stay in the Maintenance period indefinitely. This is because it takes a long time for a new habit to become so automatic and natural that it sticks forever, with little effort. To use another example, an ex-smoker will often find it hard to resist the temptation to have “just one” cigarette even a year or so after quitting. It can take years for them to truly reach the Termination stage, at which point they are no more likely to smoke than a lifelong non-smoker.

      How long does each stage take?

      You should be aware that some people remain in the same stage for months or even years at a time. Understanding this model will help you be more patient with yourself when making a change. If you try to force yourself to jump from Contemplation to Maintenance, you’ll just end up frustrated. On the other hand, if you take a moment to assess where you are in the change process, you can adapt your approach.

      So if you need to make changes quickly and you are finding it hard to progress to the next stage, it’s probably time to get some professional help or adopt a new approach to forming habits.

      The limitations of this model

      The model is best applied when you decide in advance precisely what you want to achieve, and know exactly how you will measure it (e.g. number of times per week you go to the gym, or number of cigarettes smoked per day). Although the model has proven useful for many people, it does have limitations.

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      Require the ability to set a realistic goal

      For a start, there are no surefire ways of assessing whereabouts in the process you are – you just have to be honest with yourself and use your own judgement. Second, it assumes that you are physically capable of making a change, whereas in fact you might either need to adjust your goals or seek professional help.

      If your goal isn’t realistic, it doesn’t matter whether you follow the stages – you still won’t get results. You need to decide for yourself whether your aims are reasonable.[6]

      Difficult to judge your progress

      The model also assumes that you are able to objectively measure your own successes and failures, which may not always be the case.[7] For instance, let’s suppose that you are trying to get into the habit of counting calories as part of your weight-loss efforts. However, even though you may think that you are recording your intake properly, you might be over or under-estimating.

      Research shows that most people think they are getting enough exercise and eating well, but in actual fact aren’t as healthy as they believe. The model doesn’t take this possibility into account, meaning that you could believe yourself to be in the Action stage yet aren’t seeing results. Therefore, if you are serious about making changes, it may be best to get some expert advice so that you can be sure the changes you are making really will make a positive difference.

      Conclusion

      The Stages Of Change Model can be a wonderful way to understand change in both yourself and others.

      While there’re some limitations in it, the Stages of Change Model helps to visualize how you go through changes so you know what to expect when you’re trying to change a habit or make some great changes in life.

      Start by identifying one of your bad habits. Where are you in the process? What could you do next to move forwards?

      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

      Reference

      [1] Psych Central: Stages Of Change
      [2] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [3] Empowering Change: Stages of Change
      [4] Boston University School Of Public Health: The Transtheoretical Model (Stages Of Change)
      [5] Psychology Today: 5 Steps To Changing Any Behavior
      [6] The Transtheoretical Model: Limitations Of The Transtheoretical Model
      [7] Health Education Research: Transtheoretical Model & Stages Of Change: A Critique

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