We often discuss wanting closure on a difficult relationship in order to heal. But, what is closure and how do we get it?? In order to understand these concepts better, I will use the fictional case of “Alice.” Alice has an ex-husband, John. He would often lose his temper by yelling, name-calling and swearing at her. Alice never knew what would trigger John’s anger. She constantly walked on eggshells around him, but it made no difference in his lack of anger management. She left the relationship but feels stuck in intense anger and sadness. She mourns the loss of having a partner to walk through life with and feels he has stripped her of the opportunity to be happy. She stops herself from dating because she worries she will get into a similar relationship. Now, let’s explore closure by keeping Alice in mind.
What is Closure:
Often, we believe that once we no longer feel hurt, sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger, etc. toward a person, that will be the moment we gain closure. I say – good luck with that! Closure is about no longer feeling stuck and overwhelmed by these emotions, while also accepting there will be times these feelings resurface. Trying to deny ever having these feelings again is likely unrealistic. For example, Alice may move away from feeling her entire life has been put on pause by John, she may have found a new partner who is able to manage his emotions and communicate effectively. However, let’s say it’s the day of what would have been her six-year wedding anniversary to John, it’s natural that some of these emotions may resurface.
We also often believe closure comes from another person. That if we can talk it out with the person who wronged us, then we will gain closure – often erroneous. Closure comes from within us, it is work we do to think and act differently in order to no longer feel stuck in these emotions. Let’s think of Alice again. John is not someone she trusts anymore, so any explanation or apology he offers is likely going to fall flat. Whatever his explanation is, is likely not going to be the driving force to closure, because it will be meaningless in the face of her very meaningful pain. Additionally, he may never offer an apology or explanation, so Alice will be putting her ability to move on in John’s hands. The only person you actually have control over is yourself!
How to Gain Closure:
There are many ways to gain closure, and the way you choose to do so should be based on your own unique needs and sensibilities. Here are some things to try, if you’re trying to get unstuck from overwhelming difficult emotions.
Permission to Feel Difficult Emotions: Ignoring, repressing, or criticizing emotions often just keeps them festering within us, so allow space for your emotions. Notice feelings by labeling them without judgment. This provides space for these feelings in order to release them. For example, Alice may notice she is feeling hopeless and sad. She can label these emotions while not criticizing herself for having them.
Empathic Understanding and Forgiveness: If you have felt wronged by an individual, try and understand how that situation came to be. Understanding someone’s actions can assist you in forgiving them. Forgiveness is for you, not for the other party. For example, Alice may recognize that John came from a hostile home where his father often communicated aggressively. Let me be clear – empathic understanding and forgiveness does NOT equate to okaying someone’s behaviour. It is simply understanding it in order to heal from it.
Learn: Identify the lessons you can take from the relationship and seek self-forgiveness. We often ruminate in our own guilt, shame and self-blame. Have empathic understanding for yourself in order to gain lessons from the situation and be able to make different choices in the future. For example, Alice may recognize that she saw the red flags of John’s behaviour prior to getting married; however, she was being reactive to her fear of being alone. She so much wanted to be in a relationship and feared being single that she ignored the difficulties.
Overall, closure is a process, not a distinct final destination. If you hold the belief that you are never going to feel difficult emotions about the situation again, then any time those emotions arise it will likely feel like a failure on your part. Be kind to yourself in order to assist your healing!