As humans, we automatically try to avoid pain and maximize pleasure. It isn’t necessarily conscious. We have automatic reflexes to help us avoid physical pain. When we come in contact with anything sharp or hot we automatically jerk away from it. There is no thought involved, it’s evolutionary.

What about emotional pain? We have defense mechanisms to help us avoid this too; some conscious, some unconscious. We use repression, which is unconscious. We literally forget things that cause us distress or emotional pain, and then we forget the act of forgetting. “The essence of repression lies simply in turning something away, and keeping it at a distance, from the conscious.” –Sigmund Freud. We also use suppression, which is a conscious act. We deliberately stop thinking about things that cause us emotional distress or pain.

The entire purpose of defense mechanisms is to protect ourselves. But to what extent do defense mechanisms actually help? For example, when I think about death, I begin to feel anxiety, so I suppress the thoughts and stop thinking about it. Well, how am I ever going to deal with something that will, inevitably, happen to me? Not thinking about feelings and emotions, and not dealing with the anxiety will make the time of death that much scarier.

Defense mechanisms are mostly automatic responses to pain and distress. I think avoiding defense mechanisms and actually being aware of our feelings and what causes us pain is hugely important. Talking with a friend, family member, therapist, or counselor is exactly how to deal with painful and distressing thoughts.

Avoiding feelings is perfectly natural and almost everyone does it. I, for one, am great at it.

(Funny side note: notice how I used “the” time of death, instead of “my” time of death… see how great at avoidance I am?)


Saying Goodbye

Death is my least favorite thing to contemplate. The thought of death gives me anxiety. I hate not knowing what will happen to us after we die. I believe that we have souls, and I don’t believe that souls can just disappear… but that topic is for another time. Lately I have been thinking about the time just before we die. If you knew you were going to die soon, what would you do? Would you try to live your last days to the fullest, by doing everything you never had a chance to do? Would you take risks because you are going to die anyway? Would you sit at home doing your favorite activities with your favorite people? Or would you have a big “going away” type party with all of your closest family and friends? As I know about the human memory and mind-changing, I cannot give a definite answer here. Right now, I think I would want to have a “going away” party with all of my favorite people. You always hear people saying how they want just one more day, or one more hour with the loved one they lost. So I would give it to them. It seems kind, to give yourself and the people you love one last fun day together, and to celebrate the life you lived. I think an important part to this last day together would be to tell your loved ones what a wonderful life you had. There is something comforting in knowing that a dying person really appreciated their life, and are at peace with everything in it.