Death and Dying

Apr 1, 2017Articles


The moment we are born, we are thrown into a precarious existence in a dangerous world; almost anything can end our earthly existence: accidents, diseases, disasters, or violence. No matter how carefully we avoid death and prolong life, sooner or later, we all die. Such is the vulnerability and mortality of human existence. Yet, beneath this everyday banality, lies a significant challenge—how we relate to our own mortality will affect how well we live and die. Self-awareness of our own demise can be our biggest threat or our greatest challenge, depending on the basic stance we take toward this inevitable reality. We can either limit our lives through death denial or fulfill our lives through death acceptance. When our primary motivation is to deny death and avoid death awareness through various defense mechanisms, we go through life with a defensive posture. This negative motivation to avoid death anxiety can negatively impact individuals and society is a variety of ways. In contrast, when our primary motivation is to discover our true self and develop our unique potentials for the greater good in spite of death anxiety, we are able to face up to our demise courageously and live an authentic and fulfilling life. This positive motivation to live meaningfully is typically accompanied by faith in some enduring dimensions of ultimate meaning. This entry explores the concepts of death anxiety and death acceptance, including relevant theories and effects, and ends by describing several ways to cultivate death acceptance as a means to a meaningful life.
This encyclopedia entry is published as Wong, P. T. P. (2017). Death and dying. In A. Wenzel (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of abnormal and clinical psychology (pp. 965-967). New York, NY: SAGE.
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