Is it Peace or Denial?

June 9, 2024

We all experience the pain of hurt and sorrow in our lifetime, and sometimes it becomes so overwhelming that it feels easier to shut down, disassociate, and not feel anything at all. And you do it for so long, you can almost trick yourself into thinking you’re very much at peace. But how do you know if you’re experiencing actual peace or just living in numbness and denial?

We’re going to talk about it covering three main points. Number one, we’re going to define denial and its attributes. Two, we’re going to talk about what peace feels like. And third, we’re going to talk about going from numbness to cultivating peace. 

Can you tell the difference between being at peace about something or being in denial and what is the difference?

I think that the way to start is to consider what denial is, what it looks like, and maybe even why we end up there. So denial is essentially a form of self-protection. It’s a defense mechanism. Life gets too overwhelming. We get really scared about something. We’re not ready to face it. Maybe we feel ill-equipped. I can’t solve this problem yet. And so instead we just kind of deny it’s happening by checking out, by ignoring it. It’s a way to protect ourselves from a truth that might be too painful or too difficult to accept at the moment.

So it’s not necessarily that you should shame yourself. I’m hearing you say it’s a natural default. We go to this place of “This is too much, and so for right now, I’m just going to forget about it.” I can’t worry about this bill, so I push it aside. It may cross your conscience for a second, but you can’t focus on that right now, you have other things to do, and so we deny it’s there. Maybe we forget about it for a while and we keep living our life and maybe we’re still spending money and ignoring that the bill is there. But we just check out of that problem because we don’t have a solution yet.

I think for me, it’s almost like I don’t have the language. I just know it hurts. It almost makes me feel more pain because I feel lonely in it. I don’t know what to do with it, and I don’t even know what it is. I don’t have language for it, so I’m just going to ignore it. I think that denial happens more often when we don’t have a community to process things with or to lean on for resources, for support. Denial in its form doesn’t actually mean you’re not choosing to deal with something. It’s just acting like that thing you’re ignoring doesn’t exist.

I know where I’ve seen this happen a lot in my own life, and for other single parents too. I just had what would’ve been my 15th wedding anniversary. And it’s really easy to just be like, “Oh, May 14th doesn’t exist. I’m just going to choose to just let that day carry on and not even think about it.” I’m thinking that it’s bringing me peace but in actuality, there’s still pain behind it. There’s still things that I’m denying are there. I’m just choosing not to deal with it. And maybe you’re delaying facing that reality until a time when you feel more prepared to do it. Which is not denial necessarily. Is that what you’re saying? I think if we push something aside and pretend it’s not there in those moments, we’re denying it. We’re denying its reality. So even if it’s a delayed sense of facing this later, we are in a state of temporary denial. Those things are going to come back up, and so denial only lasts so long.

I’m good friends with denial. I’ve lived in it for a lot of my life, and for me it’s not just numbing and doing some of the proverbial things. I’m going to act like everything’s okay and I’m going to keep going. And whether it be overextended financially or something that I keep putting off doing, I’m just going to continue to act as everything is okay. And that’s not necessarily because it’s a sense of overwhelm; I just don’t want to feel the negative things. There are little things in my life that I find myself putting off and calling it procrastinating, but I know it’s deeper than that; it’s choosing to not deal with something and act like it doesn’t exist. It’s acting as if the elephant in the room isn’t there. 

Let me just read a few examples of what denial looks like and tell me if you guys agree with this. It can be passiveness and apathy, withdrawal or disconnection. I found this one interesting: bullying. And appearing unfazed by anything. (That’s what I was talking about when I’m just acting like everything’s okay.) Busyness or using the usual coping mechanisms like shopping, eating, and addiction. Basically, it’s the inability to fully engage with life. And I think at one time or another, all of us have or continue to use denial as a coping mechanism. It’s almost like you’re a robot just making your way day to day by going through the motions, getting stuff done, checking boxes, but maybe ignoring the elephant in the room. And on some level, I think it’s a natural kind of default, like a survival mechanism. But if we don’t deal with it, we’re not actually experiencing any kind of peace. We’re just living in a delusional state. 

What does peace feel like?

I think it’s important to talk about what peace is not. So apparently it’s not the absence of emotion or conflict, which for me, that’s probably a huge misconception. If I’m not feeling anything, then I’m good. I’m at peace—things aren’t bothering me. I’m good. I’m okay. It’s not unconsciousness or numbness. It’s not dependent on external circumstances. It’s not happiness and it’s not short-term relief. I think this is interesting: It’s not happiness. We think of peace as “all is right with the world, I’m happy.” And that’s not true. That’s not real. Happiness happens because something happens. We experience it. When something happens, we become happy, but that’s not joy and it’s certainly not peace.

Inner peace is the opposite of being numb because numbness is feeling checked out or being dissociated, whereas inner peace for me feels very grounded. It feels very present tense—where I am ready to face reality. I heard this great quote recently: “Mental health is a commitment to reality at all costs.” And I think peace is found in the present. Can I feel grounded, equipped, resourced, solid, secure? I might still feel sad, but I can have peace about something. It’s definitely not a disconnected feeling. It feels very grounded in reality. And it comes with a sense of inner steadiness, balance, and fulfillment. I think this is a pretty good definition: a deep state of calm, clarity, acceptance, and contentment.

Is it possible to feel peace at all times? 

I’m just thinking, “Oh my gosh, do I ever feel like that?” And then I start shaming myself. I don’t know if it’s possible—I don’t default to peace. I default to denial or overwhelm or something like that. But the longer I’ve gone into my spiritual walk, the more I recognize how to find peace. It becomes more of a discipline because I think so much of peace that happens in our minds, it’s not based on something that has happened or hasn’t happened. It really is about our mindset and what we choose what we focus on. I may be in a complete state of contentment, but that doesn’t mean everything’s right—and then I get a phone call from my daughter and she’s in trouble or something has happened and I can just get rocked immediately. I don’t think we just are attempting to live in a zen state where nothing affects us. I mean, we are human beings, so we have feelings. We need to pay attention to them. But the older I’ve gotten and further along in my spiritual walk, the more I’ve realized, “Okay, I know I’m not at peace. I could go drink or I could go do whatever, or I can just collect my thoughts.” And we’ll get into some of the ways that I do that in the next section. So long answer to your question: I don’t think it’s possible for us to live in this constant state of peace.

I think that seems way too lofty and far too robot-like; my peace gets disrupted often. But I think when you start to notice your peace was disrupted, you can intentionally focus on the things that bring you peace. And I do think of peace as an intentional practice. I don’t think it’s a little gift that just automatically happens to appear. I tend to find peace when I’m really intentional about it. For me, it’s about getting present and going, “Okay, I can’t fix the future. I can’t fix the past.” It’s more about being present and seeing things for what they are, not future casting. My whole life, I’ve been fairly good at living life, knowing I’ll be okay regardless of whatever happens, whatever’s going to come along. I could see how in the past there may have been denial of like, I’m just not going to worry about it. I just know that it’s going to be okay and I’m just going to be eternally optimistic. But then there are other times where something comes along that disrupts peace and it’s like, “Okay, let me just take a beat. Has this happened before? Has it worked out in the end? Where have I seen things that work out in the end? And how can I capture that, have faith, and know that I’m going to be okay at the end of the day?” It might be rocky getting to the other side of this, but how can I walk through it knowing that I’m going to be okay on the other side?

What I hear you guys saying is that it’s the whole idea of living life on life’s terms. It may still have pain, you may still have sorrow, grief, hurt, all the things that come along with life, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you don’t have peace. Peace can coexist with those other emotional states and with a variety of circumstances. It’s more about how connected I am to knowing what I want and need and what I can do in the moment today—not getting lost in fear of the future or pain of the past, but staying really grounded in self. For me, it’s very much connected to a sense of community or being in the safe presence of God and then other people who love me, where I find peace in that sense of connection. I don’t think it’s a constant state, but it’s a state we can continue to return to by bringing consciousness to those elements that help us feel grounded again. A lot of it has to do with seeing the big picture and separating yourself from what’s happening in the moment. I read a book that talked a lot about being the observer of a situation. And instead of being controlled by things that are happening, just believing there’s a greater good, believing that God’s in control for me and that I can rely on that. But it’s very much a discipline and it’s very much something that I’m getting better at, but on a daily basis, I get rocked. I don’t want people to beat themselves up thinking that it’s just useless. On this side of eternity, we’re always going to be dealing with this. 

Moving from numbness into cultivating peace

Recently I was feeling very apathetic in a situation that was going on in my life. I actually talked to both of you guys about it. I also went to my counselor and was like, “Hey, I am feeling really apathetic and I don’t want to feel this way.” And I could tell that I was denying the way I was feeling. And so we unpacked it a little bit in my counseling session, and she was like, “Sounds like you’re really hurt right now.” And I immediately just started sobbing. So we started working through that. There’s a life coach on Instagram who said a quote that I really feel goes hand in hand with. She said, “Know the difference between protecting your peace and becoming numb. If you have to shut down in order to avoid pain you’ve given up.” And so I think in that apathy, I had shut down. I was feeling overwhelmed by the hurt, by everything I was giving to this situation. And then I just got to a point where I was like, “I’ve given hope.” And that caused me to not be able to show up in the situation and say, “Hey, this is what I need right now. This is what I’m feeling, and because of that, here’s what I need.” So I’m actually kind of grateful that I had that realization at this point because it snapped me out of it. And now I’ve been able to put that apathy aside and actually step into the situation more fully and say, “Here’s who I am and this is what I need.” I just wanted to bring that up because it’s the self-awareness of knowing this is what I’m feeling, even if it is apathy. 

And I’m hearing you check in with yourself, letting yourself notice what’s happening, and then asking questions can really help you understand how to move from denial into peace. And I think there are some helpful questions: Am I acknowledging that this painful thing is happening and that it’s real? Am I staying in what’s true facing reality in the present moment? Am I withdrawing from life, or am I actually engaged and connected to what’s true for me? And now that I’m recognizing it hurts, I can do something about it.

One of the things that I’ve been working on is saying, “This is true regardless of what it is.” So it’s like, I feel hurt. And sometimes my shame will come up and be like, “Oh, you shouldn’t feel hurt. Oh, you shouldn’t feel sad.” I might even say to the person I’m talking to, “I’m feeling really sad right now because blah, blah, blah, whatever it is. And maybe that’s silly, but it’s true.” I think that’s a super helpful tool to move from denial into peace: facing what’s really happening right now. And as you notice that without judgment, recognizing, “Am I letting myself feel things that are true emotionally, physically? Am I noticing it in my body? Am I focusing on external circumstances or the past or the future, or can I actually live in the present? Can I stay to what’s true in the moment? Am I giving myself room to understand my fears and my feelings, or am I just pushing them down?” 

I really like this word “cultivating” peace. It’s not having peace. It’s something that you cultivate. If you’re cultivating crops, you’re planting the seed, you’re taking care of it, you’re watering it, then you’re harvesting it. But it’s not something instantaneous where you put a seed in the ground and boom, it grows. It’s something that you work on, or even letting yourself go, “Okay, for the next five minutes, I’m going to allow myself to go down the road of the thing I’m afraid of.” And if all those things happen at the end of that—I lose custody two times a week or whatever it is, whatever it is that you’re struggling with—has that really turned your world upside down? And I would say more often than not, no, it doesn’t. There are some things that obviously are catastrophic, but most of the things that I futurecast are not catastrophic. And if I allow myself to walk down that road and go, “Okay, God’s still on the throne. My girls are still here, still got a roof over my head, still got the lights on, health,” whatever it is, it allows me to go back and have some peace. That’s because I’ve cultivated that exercise of walking down all these things and coming back to the place where I’m like, “I’m okay.” And it’s not even enjoyable sometimes, but as an exercise, I think it’s helpful to walk down that road and kind of go, “Am I going to be okay if all the worst things I’m afraid of happen?” 

I think it’s a courageous thing to do. I think that moving from denial into cultivating peace requires courage because it does require facing what’s true, but it also helps us when we stay in the day: “I can face what’s true today.” I can’t fight all those shadows and fears out in the future because I can only face what’s true today. Stay in the day. Don’t worry about the past. Don’t think too far ahead. And then also checking in with the people around you, checking in with loved ones and asking them, “Am I facing what’s true about this? Am I way off base here?” And getting a moment to get some feedback and input. 

And then having the self-compassion that’s needed and required, especially if you’re dealing with a lot of shame. I know I’ve brought that up a couple of times here, even just a minute ago saying, “I shouldn’t feel that way. I shouldn’t feel sad, but it’s true” and give yourself the compassion to say, “That’s okay.” 

And then also whatever it is that you’re beating yourself up over—when I know that I’ve messed up or disappointed someone—having a path ahead and saying, “This is what happened. This is what’s true. I’m sad about that. I’ve hurt someone. I’ve done this, I’ve done that, but here’s how I want to make that better.” Or “Here’s how I want to move myself forward in that way.” Or even just saying, “I’ve been in denial for the past six months and I haven’t wanted to look at this, but starting today, these are the things that I want to do. From here on, I’m going to get up and journal. Every morning I’m going to take time to retrain my brain and say, ‘We’re not going to freak out over this situation. We’re going to take a minute and feel it. We’re going to feel the sadness. We’re going to feel the hurt.’” And then having a path forward and being able to say, “This is what I want to try to do to move forward out of denial into peace, or move forward into reaching forgiveness with this person that I’ve hurt, or whatever it is that’s disrupting the peace, while giving yourself grace. 

I’ve only found true peace when I surrender and believe that my Creator has me, my girls, and the situation under control. It’s beyond my understanding how it’s going to work out. All these things that we’re talking about are really good practices, but at the end of the day, it isn’t until I surrender control and recognize that God is good, that I can understand peace beyond my understanding. It’s the first piece of it. The second piece in cultivating peace instead of denial is generosity. When I can reach out and do something for somebody else, it restores peace because it’s no longer just about me. A lot of the time when I feel like things are overwhelming or chaotic, I can spin into this “It’s all about me” spiral and “Woe is me,” and “People don’t understand me.” And so if I can step out of that and do something nice for somebody else, make a call, send a quick text, compliment somebody, it helps in cultivating peace.

I was so glad to hear you say that, Robert, because the foundation of my peace is rooted in my deep connection to God, just being able to trust that he loves me, that he cares, that he’ll see me through any difficulty, any hardship. It might not be any less hard, but I don’t have to go through it alone. He has seen me through incredible ups and downs, deep pain, great joy, and that source of comfort and hope is absolutely foundational to my peace. Out of all the things we’ve said, it’s the bedrock for me, and it’s what I go back to time and time again. And so denial is a river in Egypt, and we can float along it for a while and it can feel kind of good in the moment when we need a little break or respite, but it really is so valuable to cultivate peace. And I do that so often in community with people who love me, with God who loves me. There’s something that feels safer about facing hard things when I don’t have to face it alone. And that’s how God has been such a big part of my peace.

I think denial is when we take matters into our own hands: we’re trying to cope, we drink, we binge whatever it is, and peace is really about cultivating connection with God, with others, with the present. And so we should not try to be self-sustaining here. We’re not capable of doing it. I think at the end of the day, we have to surrender and realize there are things that are outside of our control. And denial only keeps us in that place, and it prohibits us from growing, and actually knowing real peace. 


Let me just tell you what I’m taking away from this conversation. This is a profound thing for single parents trying to find a sense of peace.

  1. When you don’t acknowledge something exists, you’re in denial, which can actually feel beneficial as self-protection in the short term, but it is definitely detrimental if we continue to live in that state. 
  2. Being at peace means fully living in the present, not being numb or indifferent.
  3. Self-awareness is a key part of moving from denial into peace. And I would add to that, ultimately, surrender has to play a part in finding peace.

Listener Question
How do I find a church that would accept my child and me as a solo parent? What should I be looking for? 

I love that you want to find a church that could meet your needs for you and your kids. That’s so valuable. I love that. And I’m actually kind of sad that we have to ask that. I want to believe that every church out there is going to wrap their arms around single parents, and that would be my hope and prayer for sure. But it may not always be the case. Maybe there is some fear around divorce or maybe a real focus on intact families that can leave single parents like us feeling left out or excluded or uncomfortable.

Pew Research found that 67% of single parents don’t attend church because they don’t feel welcome. And so it’s a real problem, and that’s honestly why Robert created Solo Parent. Because there’s been this big gap. And on a personal note, I think there were several people on Easter Sunday this past year who experienced it. I was around all the intact families, and I felt so lonely. And next year we’re going to call each other and go together; several of us were like, “Why didn’t we call each other and go together? Why did we try to do this alone?” I sat there. Jax was in his kids’ area. I’m sitting there by myself in the middle of all these intact families, and there was a baby that actually wanted me to hold it. And mom and dad are sitting right there and I’m holding the baby, and I’ve got tears running down my face. And so that was on Easter Sunday. I guess I’m saying all this to say, “You’re not alone.” This is a real thing and it hurts and it sucks to go to church and feel alone in the middle of all these intact families. What I’ve found is that it’s less about depending on the church itself, depending less on the pastors themselves to make me feel seen, known, heard, understood, and instead finding a community. Community inside the church. And just like with any relationship, (I’m thinking about dating relationships), you go on a date pretty quickly. If you want to go on a second, it’s good or it’s not. If you go again, find out if you want to go on a third date. Just show up to different churches, seeing what they have to offer. Is there community for you? Is there a Solo Parent group in their community? Or maybe ask the pastors, “Do you know of any other single parents that go to church here?” Ask the questions to gauge if they’re accepting of your situation. And it’s less about the words that the pastors say either from the pulpit or even in answering these questions. Do they have what you’re looking for? Do they have the community you’re looking for? Do they walk it out? Is it happening in the church or is it something that they’re lacking?Just go around and find it.

And I think too, even if the programs don’t exist or that community isn’t already in place, being able to have that conversation and seeing what receptivity comes up. Assessing Are they welcoming? Are people kind? Does the leadership listen and want to respond to a need? Even if it doesn’t already exist? There isn’t going to be a perfect church out there or one that’s completely responsive, but I think it can make sense. Like you said, go find out. Go another time. Ask the right questions. I love that you suggested trying more than one time instead of deciding too quickly, based on your own sense of discomfort. If I go to a new situation and I’m feeling alone or afraid or different, I can start to make judgements really quick about why that was instead of really looking inside and thinking, “I’m really uncomfortable feeling single,” or “I feel really lonely right now,” or “I don’t have any friends here yet.” It’s a combination of assessing what’s happening for you and then noticing what’s happening in that faith community.

I have also felt the shame of walking in by myself or with my girls and feeling the eyeballs in the back of your head. Like people wondering, I wonder what the story is there. It can feel really isolating and alone. So I get all that. Ultimately though, the point of church is people gathering together to worship God, to learn more about him. One of the things that I loved about the word “solo” when I chose the name was that in Italian it means “exclusive.”

And I started to find my time with God, whether in church or otherwise, as something special. There’s something special about the idea of “solo.” So when I go to church solo, I’m not trying to perform. I’m not trying to show up as part of a club. I don’t care if I fit him. I’m here exclusively to meet with God. And so all the things that you talked about are so practical and so good. But I would also encourage you to think about this as God’s exclusive time with you regardless of the way it looks with others. And here’s just a spoiler: Most of the people you think are looking at you and wondering what the story is—are not looking at you. And the truth is they’re dealing with their own stuff. They really are. Come to a Solo Parent group to get that loneliness piece met.

We love hearing from you. If you want to send in a question, go to our website and you will find instructions on how to email, call, or leave a voice message. You can also head over to Instagram or Facebook and send us a question there as well. And listen, we are a community first and foremost. We learn a lot along with you, but the real magic happens in our groups and we would love for you to be a part of that. It doesn’t cost you anything. There’s no obligation. We get together on Zoom online with other single parents from around the world, and we talk about the weekly podcast episode as well as what might be going on in our lives. The transformation you’ll find as you walk through life with other single parents, knowing that you’re not alone, is astounding. So, go download our Solo Parent app. You can find it anywhere you find apps and you’ll find an online calendar for groups. We’d love for you to join any day of the week, seven days a week.