Closure is a popular term borrowed from Psychology. It refers to a conclusion, a resolution of a traumatic event or experience in a person’s life, such as a relationship breakup, the loss of a job or home, or the death of a loved one. Frequently, those recovering from a failed love affair yearn for closure. We’ve all heard about “closure”, that sense that you’ve put a nagging conflict or loss behind you. It’s a relief if it happens because it means you can move on with your life.
The term became popular in the 1990’s due to use in the popular media. It describes something that is highly desirable but also quite vague. Those in emotional pain are said to need it, and many more hope to achieve it if they can figure out what it is and how to get it. The ‘need for closure’ is a phrase used by psychologists to describe an individual’s desire for a firm solution as opposed to enduring ambiguity, the possibility of interpreting an experience in two or more distinct ways. Closure describes the way scattered and troubling feelings can resolve themselves in coherent and stable mental patterns.
How do you recover and put the sadness, guilt, regret and overall bad feelings to bed? Especially when negative emotions can so easily haunt you?
Closure means different things to different people, comfort, satisfaction, but also, more worrying, it can mean ‘payback’, or revenge, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned”. Today, it is taken to mean much more — coming to terms emotionally with tragedy, or rapidly ending the misery caused by grievous loss.
Those who think we can manage our feelings about tragedy are usually deceiving themselves. The idea seems to be based on a belief that we can sort our feelings into separate chapters that won’t leak into each other. Nothing in human experience supports that notion. Consciously seeking “closure” can be a way of trying to shorten the length of time it normally takes to soften the edges of grief. Everyone can sympathize with this desire without believing that the techniques clustered around the term closure will help.
Writing has long been an outlet; the therapeutic value of writing has long been recognized. In a series of experiments, volunteers were asked to write about something they feel remorseful or unfulfilled about. Then, some people were asked to seal this self-disclosure in an envelope and turn it in to researchers, while others were simply asked for the disclosure. When queried later, those who had sealed away their misery felt better than those who hadn’t. So the self-help suggestion of say, putting all the photos, gifts or memorabilia of an ex into a box and sealing it forever is actually quite a helpful one, as it turns out. My attic is a closure repository.
Why do we talk about relationship breakups and death in a similar context? One woman said, ‘I’m not the only person to have been through a divorce. When my first marriage ended after 17 years, I thought I handled it well. It was an amicable parting, and we maintained a friendly relationship. But then a few years later my sister’s husband died unexpectedly. My grief brought up new emotions, and I felt sad and angry and hurt as I relived the divorce in my mind. I realized through this experience that although I had moved on, I hadn’t really gotten over it; I didn’t have closure. I saw the parallels between my sister’s loss and my own, and I actively sought to come up with a formula through which we could both alleviate our pain’. She continued: ‘We are invested in our relationships with other people. We spend our time, and emotions, developing a kind of bond with a person, sometimes without realizing it. We give of ourselves, through our love, our friendship, our concern, and our efforts’.
When we are faced with what seems to be the “end” of a relationship, we may feel loss, grief, anger or pain. We might even feel relief, or freedom. We may question the purpose for this change, whether it is abrupt or expected, and the necessity of it. The change may or may not be our choice, or our desire, but something we must learn to live with. The uneasiness may nag at us for years as we struggle to understand. How do we get that “closure” that our hearts and minds so desperately seek so that we can move forward with our lives’?
You might express closure as part of a rule or law of relationships. We are here to help each other, a matter of equal give and take. In an unbalanced relationship change must take place, either habit or viewpoint.
We feel the same emotions; we share the same experiences. This connection bonds us, and gives us a relationship with each other. A mother in any part of the world can relate to another mother she has never seen because she knows what it means, and how it feels, to be a mother. We are all born the same way, and have to learn how to walk and talk and find our way in the world. We face challenges and heartache, no matter where we live, or how we live. Our connection cannot be broken.
We may not even know that we are doing it, but just by being in a person’s life, in some small way, we are contributing to the learning process, as they are contributing to ours. Our actions affect other people in ways we can’t even imagine. Even in times when we feel hurt by someone, that is an opportunity for us to learn. We might not realize it in the moment, but we help each other by going through experiences together.
Closure is different than grief. Grieving is looking back; closure is about looking ahead. We want to let go and move on. This is what closure is said to give us. We may have gone through the grieving process and still not have the closure we seek.
Is closure the equivalent of forgiveness? Maybe in some instances. When we forgive we are freeing ourselves from the bitterness of the offense, or in other words, finding closure. The act of taking an unpleasant experience, and then putting it away so we never have to deal with it again. There is so much to be said about what we expect when something unpleasant happens to us. We cannot undo the bad but we want it to go away as quickly as possible.
In keeping with the trend of the day, most of us will seek out closure, however unattainable it may appear. Some of us will do so by going to a professional who will attempt to walk us through and away from the event; or perhaps reach out to those who have walked in our shoes in search of a solution. Still, there are many of us who will try everything in between, which could include monetary compensation to soften the bumps on the long, elusive road to closure. We’re all seeking truth, justice and the pursuit of love, happiness and this phenomenon called closure.
Understandable enough, but when something bad happens; something life altering and unforgettable happens, is it really possible to close that door? And couldn’t an occasional acceptance of our situation suffice for the closure we so desperately seek?
The media sometimes highlight a personal tragedy, and the efforts of friends or relatives to bring the criminal responsible to justice. If and when their efforts, their entirely understandable efforts, result in a conviction, that is sometimes labelled ‘closure’. In reality, the loss of a loved one is hardly compensated for in this way, and those who have been through such an ordeal often admit to feeling empty at the result.
Closure is actually a perfect concept. I will call it too perfect. It’s about neatly tying up loose ends. It is a model of life as a series of events and relationships, all linked together in some sort of non-random way, and therefore encourages us to believe that events are pre-determined, ‘meant to be’. Experience tells us however, life is not perfect, sometimes it is simply not possible to tie up the loose ends, as if our life were a novel, and we had the ability to determine the final chapter. This is the dark side of closure, and for those who haven’t the circumstances to feel completely satisfied with how things turned out, and that must be the vast majority, is it not satisfying enough to feel that we did our best?