Closure is always something I’ve struggled with. After a series of very abrupt abandonments by friends in my formative years, closure is something I’ve always desperately wanted yet felt was impossible to get. That resulted in me carrying every broken connection I’ve ever had with me, like lead weights strapped to my back.
Recently, I’ve been learning how to put those weights down for the first time. I’ve been learning how to get closure. Here are the three steps I’ve identified so far.
Admit that you are, in fact, hurt.
It can be hard to admit that we’re hurt. Perhaps we feel that admitting we’re hurt implies weakness on our part. Or we feel that being hurt this long after something happened implies a character flaw on our side.
These things may or may not be true, but it doesn’t matter. If you feel hurt, you feel hurt. Ignoring that pain won’t make it go away; it just means you won’t see the effect it has on your life.
It is deceptively simple to identify if there is anything you still feel lingering hurt over.
When you’re at parties and sharing horror stories from the past with friends, do you feel compelled to share the story of how so-and-so hurt you?
Do you find yourself unable to trust and connect with people, for fear that a previous hurt will repeat itself?
When you think of your life story, do you find yourself defining it around moments you’ve been hurt by others?
Once you’ve identified your hurt, let yourself feel it. No matter how silly or embarrassing the emotions, let yourself feel them fully. Typically, hurt feelings are trying to tell you something about yourself, and you can’t move on until you acknowledge the lesson.
Forgive who hurt you.
Forgive doesn’t mean forget, and it doesn’t mean ‘become friends with.’ Let’s consult the American Heritage dictionary on the word forgive:
forgive (fər-gĭvˈ, fôr-)
v. To excuse for a fault or an offense; pardon.
v. To renounce anger or resentment against.
v. To absolve from payment of (a debt, for example).
In this case, I don’t mean the first definition. Ultimately, there’s no excuse for hurting someone else.
What I do mean is the second and third definitions. We need to forgive who hurt us, i.e. we need to renounce our anger and resentment against them, and stop holding them accountable for what they’ve done. They hurt us; it’s over. Letting it continue in our minds doesn’t make it not have happened, and it doesn’t make them anymore sorry or remorseful. All it does is make us more hurt.
This forgiveness can’t be conditional, either. It can’t be dependent on whether the other person feels sorry or not. The simple fact of the matter is that a lot of people who hurt you are never going to feel sorry. Many people will either think that they did nothing wrong, feel churlish and unwilling to apologize or forget that whatever happened between you even took place at all. If you wait for anyone who hurt you to feel sorry to move on, you will never move on. Plain as that.
Say your final words to them.
It can be hard to find closure when you know the other person is out there in the world with a totally different perspective on what happened. The fact that two people can have such vastly different understandings of what happened can make moving on feel pointless.
Or perhaps you’re not in a position to say final words. Perhaps the person who hurt you left your life decades ago; or perhaps they passed away. Even if you can’t say your closing thoughts to them, you can still say them.
My new favorite way to do this is to ‘eulogize the relationship.’ What I mean by this is that with the objectivity that time gives, I honestly assess the positives and negatives of a relationship. Then I provide that in a summary of the relationship, usually a page or two long. At the end of this eulogy, I determine a closing attitude towards the relationship I will have from that point forward. Ideally, that closing attitude is a peaceful one, ensuring that thoughts about the relationship won’t plague you from that point forward.
These are just my beginner’s thoughts on closure. If closure is something you are good at or have a lot of experience with, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the responses. If you know any good books or articles about closure and moving on, please recommend them (again, in the responses).