Reality Check: What is closure, and how does one get it?

Whether you have wronged someone or someone has wronged you, healing sometimes involves closure. Closure implies putting the event behind you; “closing the door,” so to speak.

How does one get closure?

Rachel was Emily’s best friend, but no longer. In a misguided attempt to be popular, Emily betrayed Rachel by gossiping; spreading tidbits that Rachel had shared in confidence. Emily knew it was wrong; she’s sorry and she has apologized. But Rachel is still angry! Now both girls are nursing hurt feelings.

Both Emily and Rachel believe that they need closure to “move on with their lives.”

Who decides what closure is and whether it’s been achieved?

Emily says, “I need Rachel to forgive me so we can go back to how things were. I’m really sorry; I’ll never do it again. I wish she could accept that and move on.”

Rachel says, “I don’t trust Emily; she betrayed my confidence.  I’d like to have the relationship we used to have, but I’m not sure I can ever forgive her. I wish she could undo what she did.”

There’s a similarity in those closure wishes: both girls want something that they can neither cause nor control.

Emily has chosen to have her sense of closure depend on Rachel’s action—she wants Rachel to accept what she did and love her anyway.

Rachel has chosen to let her sense of closure depend on the impossible—that the event be undone.

Might there be a more effective way for Emily and Rachel to resolve their hurt feelings?

Emily has no control over whether Rachel will ever forgive her and be her friend again. While she may wish to continue to regret her actions and endlessly apologize to Rachel, a question for Emily is, “At what point will you decide that you’ve done enough?”

She may decide that she needs to attempt to clean up the mess by making amends. Or, she may decide to change her perception of “popular” and remove the temptation to gossip about her friends. Whatever Emily’s decision, she can be sure of closure only if she chooses something under her control.

For Rachel, one question is, “Do you want to hold on to your hurt feelings?” If not, then Rachel may choose to think of an action that she (not Emily) can take to relieve her hurt. For example, she might write a letter to Emily, or choose to never disclose her secrets again.

Choice theory says the only behaviour we can control is our own. If we allow our sense of closure to depend on what someone else does or doesn’t do, then we relinquish power over our feelings to someone else.

No one can turn back time, so neither Emily nor Rachel will get exactly what they wanted. However, they could choose a new perception and look at this event as a lesson. If they learn that it’s a mistake never to be repeated, they could emerge stronger and more connected than ever.

Have you ever sought closure for some event?  How did you get it?

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