The myth of closure

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
After a traumatic event, particularly the death of a loved one or breakup of a relationship, people often search for meaning and "closure", writes life coach Jan Aitken.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
We've been led to believe that by finding a door in the magical wardrobe through to the Land of Closure we'll be able to accept and be healed from whatever it was that caused our hurt.

Closure has become central for explaining what people supposedly need to find in order to heal after a loss. Yet there is no agreed upon answer for what closure means or how you are supposed to find it. Closure has been described as anything from justice, peace, healing, acceptance, forgetting, forgiveness, moving on, answered questions to revenge!

I've heard it said dozens of times, "They really just need to get over it, find closure and move on."

I've never quite grasped the concept. I've never understood how you simply close the door on something and walk away, dusting off your hands while saying "Well, that's done and dusted. Now I'll just get on with my life".

What is "getting over it" anyway? How do you move on? How do you stop the feelings you've had for someone, where do you put them? How do you get over losing a loved one? Where do you find the timetable that tells you how long you should grieve a loss or still have feelings for another person?

Because I've never got the hang of the concept, I thought my processing of hurt and loss must have been a bit askew. Clearly, I've been missing something.

I was delighted, however, to find Prof Pauline Boss, who has written extensively around trauma, loss and resilience. She states: "closure is a great word when used in business deals or real estate, but it's a terrible word to apply to human relationships."

She asserts that we have been misled into believing that closure is something we can work towards step by step in a linear pattern. That it's something with a definite end. If we do the right things in the right order, we can be "cured" of our loss. The concept of closure is leading us astray.

Our need to find meaning and closure in loss is tied into our ability to create, problem-solve and improve things so we can advance as a species. But with many of life's events we may not be able to find a meaning. Instead we have to learn to live with unanswered questions and that can be uncomfortable. That doesn't allow us to tie things up in a neat package with a nice bow - it leaves things messy and raw.

So what do we do when faced with a loss? Dr Nancy Berns , author of Closure: The rush to end grief and what it costs us, has some practical ideas to help us. Mixed in with what I've learned over a lifetime of nursing and coaching, here are some thoughts on how to heal after a breakup, the death of someone important or any loss you may face.

1. Forget "closure". You can heal without closure, even though you may carry some pain.

2. If it's a breakup, then recognise the loss from a breakup and give yourself time to grieve. Don't just gloss over the loss and ignore the pain by "celebrating" or throwing yourself into another relationship. It's the same for a death; give yourself time to feel what you are feeling and grieve. Take time to honour your loved one.

3. If it's a breakup, take the high road. You've likely lost a lot and the pain can lead to anger. Try to let go of anger and the desire for revenge; vengeance is not a path to healing. As has often been quoted "remaining angry is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die".

4. Free yourself from negativity. Don't put down your ex and ask friends and family to not make disparaging remarks. Talking badly about your ex keeps you in a cycle of pain.

5. Find a friend, clergy member, psychologist or counsellor who will listen to you without fanning flames of anger. Support is vital to helping you though this.

6. Seek forgiveness and forgive. More for yourself than for the person who's wronged you. Forgiveness does not imply you condone any bad behaviour, it just helps to free you from becoming stuck.

7. Learn to live with some questions. You don't have to understand everything that happened. You may never get the answers you are seeking.

8. Identify what is missing now that you are not in that particular relationship or have your loved one with you. Find ways to rebuild your life.

9. Have hope in tomorrow without trying to erase your past. You will not always feel so bad, and you can find joy again even before the pain ends. Never regret something that made you smile.

There is no single event called "closure". Our hurts and losses don't get boxed up and put away on a shelf. They are the threads of our lives that we must learn to weave into our being and live with. They make up the fabric of who we are along with all the other threads of all our experiences.

Given time, we can heal. As a wise colleague says "healing is a process, not an event".

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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Recently, "Move on" has been applied to the Christchurch mosque shooting of 15 March.

You know what? I don't think we will. That doesn't mean we're stuck, but it may mean the 'Move on' brigade wants to draw a veil over the worst atrocity committed on NZ soil in 100 years.

THANK YOU Jan Aitken for your article. The progressive thought messing newspeak has confused us all long enough. There is no such thing as "closure" as a way of dealing with life's problems.

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