The Myth of Closure

woman in black long sleeve shirt lying on white wooden table

Wouldn’t it be great if we could neatly close out chapters in our lives before moving onto the next one? You know, resolve all relationship issues and put lingering conflicts with family to rest and take a nice predictable staircase up to enlightenment?

Unfortunately life doesn’t work like that especially because our ideas about closure usually involve a very specific response from someone else. We want answers. We want to make amends or apologies and be forgiven. Or we want someone to ask us for forgiveness. But hanging our personal growth on someone’s very specific response is never going to work and focusing on our need for that response can keep us stuck in one place focusing on one thing.

Really what we need is not closure but understanding. We need to make sense of the events in our lives, which doesn’t mean figuring out why this person or that person treated us badly. The truth is, understanding why someone treated us badly — hearing them explain it — will be an empty exercise if we haven’t worked towards our own resolution.

In theory, it sounds great. Someone comes to us and says, “I was a jerk and here is why. I’m sorry. I should have been kinder.” But very few people outside of 12-step programs are going to do that. Besides if we aren’t ready to forgive someone then his or her apology won’t mean anything to us.

We need to grieve our losses and process our pain. We need to make sense of what that bad treatment means to us regardless of what it means to the person who treated us badly. We need to learn how to live with and heal from actions that can’t be undone.

We also need to understand that making sense of our lives is an ongoing exercise. You may have resolved childhood hurts in your twenties only to have them come back up when you have children in your thirties. You may resolve them when your children arrive only to have them come back up once again two decades later when your children move out. It’s like when you read The Great Gatsby in tenth grade and you don’t get it then you dust it off years later and it’s whole different book. That’s how life is.

Once you accept that there are rarely — if ever — tidy resolutions then you can quit banging your head against the wall demanding them and start making sense of the events of your life.

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