The Tyranny of Closure

It’s important to “get closure” according to many in the coaching and counselling worlds. Closure is the key to being able to move on. A failure to achieve closure is as likely as anything to hold you back in your personal journey. If you cannot get closure on those past relationships, pains or events then you won’t be able to move forward. It’s all about “letting go of the past”, you see.

Why? Why must people let go? Why, when a loved one dies, or a relationship ends, must a person be encouraged to let go of that person? What’s wrong with allowing the person to keep the pain? That pain is the living memory of the person that is lost. Why do we want people to forget the person?

I was recently told a very touching story about a person who, following the sudden death of her partner, was encouraged by friends to take sleeping pills and anti-depressants in order to help her through the difficult time. Her moving response was that long sleepless nights and weeks of crying were possibly the last thing she would ever do for her husband, and why would she not want to do that for him?

I’m not arguing against closure wholesale. There are certainly many events and people that sail through our lives and leave an impression on us that hurts or in some way needs resolving: the careless insult that goes unchallenged and festers in a debilitating way until it has been brought to the attention of the perpetrator; the humiliation by a superior at work that leaves and unfair stain on our reputation that needs to be righted; the girl or boyfriend that we dumped callously because we didn’t know a kinder way to do it, and about which we have felt shame ever since, or conversely, the old flame for whom we still hold a torch and wish to know again.

Life is a series of meetings and partings. By the end of a life there will have been hundreds or even thousands of loose ends: last thing that went unsaid; school friends that we drifted away from without properly saying goodbye to; feelings that went unexpressed. It would not be possible to get closure on all of them, or even many of those that we feel are important.

I once took part in a personal development weekend where all the participants were encouraged to contact a person with whom they had not found closure in order to put the relationship or matter to a rest. I did this. It was difficult for both of us and unsatisfactory for me. Closure had happened without my realising it. What I ended up doing was re-opening something.

I think this is because many coaches and therapists confuse closure with acceptance. Acceptance is being still with the pain. Acknowledging it, giving it space. Living with it as a permanent feature. It is the need to remove all pain that drives us to want closure, but it’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Closure does not always bring a resolution, and even less often does it bring the outcome we are looking for. And if it doesn’t bring a satisfactory outcome, it’s not closure.

Acceptance, on the other hand is about letting go of the need for closure and embracing the fact that life is full of happily resolved events and relationships as well as unhappily unresolved ones.

The two, closure and acceptance shouldn’t be confused any more than should the notions of forgiving and forgetting. To forgive is one thing because it brings inner peace. To forget is quite another because it makes way for the repetition of an atrocity. In the same way acceptance brings inner peace, while closure, sometimes, means the possibility of continued but forbidden pain.

One Response to The Tyranny of Closure

  1. Marius says:

    Wonderful writing. Thank you.

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