Do You Actually Need Closure?

Do You Actually Need Closure?

Shutterstock / Wondermind

Your Tinder fling leaves you on read after your fourth date. Your job sends you an email with a vague reason for laying you off. Your longest friendship fizzles out even though you’ve tried texting and calling. Whenever things happen that we don’t understand, it’s 100% human to look for closure, says therapist Benu Lahiry, LMFT, chief clinical officer of Ours.

We’re wired to want to make sense of things, agrees therapist Tina Setteducate, LMFT, coauthor of BreakUp & BreakOut. And a lot of what we try to understand usually involves other people in some way: family, partners, friends, co-workers, anyone we have a relationship with, Setteducate says.

If you’re here, you’re probably dealing with some unresolved emotions or questions that make it hard for you to accept that something is really over. You’re searching for that elusive ~closure~. Welcome, friends! We know how it goes, and we’re here for you.

Ahead, we talked to mental health professionals about what closure is, how to find it, plus why you may not even really need it to move on after all.

What is closure?

Closure is “the act, achievement, or sense of completing or resolving something,” according to the American Psychological Association. Oftentimes, that resolution looks like saying your piece or getting answers about why something happened, says Lahiry. Basically, you feel like you have unfinished business and can’t move on unless you address it. Like, maybe you left a job without getting to tell your manager just how awful he was, or your ex ended things without giving you clarity as to why (or if there was someone else). Maybe you just want to know that you and a friend you lost touch with are cool. Makes sense!

Shit happens. People ghost or…pass away. Or someone thinks  they’re being clear, but you still have stuff you wanna ask or say. When this happens, the desire for closure can be so intense because it’s hard to accept something when there’s so much uncertainty and question marks left. You may feel like you don’t have any control over the situation—and that the only way you’ll get control is through closure, says Setteducate.

You’re stuck in this uncomfortable limbo, where you’re ruminating over things you have left to say or figure out, says Lahiry. And all that rumination can drain you of the mental energy you need to take care of yourself, she says. Talk about exhausting!

To someone on the outside, you might look like you’re moving on with a new job, a date, or just your everyday life. But because you’re still hung up on the past, it’s hard to put your 100% into those things. “You’re not fully present in any sort of important dimension in your life,” says Lahiry. You’re not actually moving on—and that can leave you feeling super confused, sad, or anxious, says Setteducate.

How to find closure.

We typically think of closure as a long-winded text to an ex in which you air your grievances and ask for answers. And, sure, that’s one way of doing it (more on that in a sec). But sometimes you can’t go straight to the source—like if you and your ex went no-contact or if you have lingering questions for an estranged family member who passed away. So, because you can’t control factors like this, you’d have to pivot and get some type of resolution on our own, says Lahiry. Both are paths you can take.

First, let’s talk about talking it out (when possible). If you’re feeling completely blindsided by a situation or just think you’re missing info that can help you get a clearer picture of what happened, it may be worth reaching out to the other person involved for answers, Lahiry explains. At least if you get clarity about why your partner dumped you, you might be like: OK, well they weren’t the right person for me anyway. Or: Ah, maybe I do need to work on X, Y, Z.

That said, talking about what went down can do more harm than good if you aren’t willing to hear things that might hurt your feelings, Lahiry notes. So, it may be best to skip it altogether if you don’t think you’ll be able to handle that.

To help you decide if it’s worth reaching out, you can role-play with a friend or therapist, practicing how you’d respond to different things the other person might say, suggests Setteducate. If you get really worked up over this pretend convo, that could be your sign that reaching out for a real chat might make you feel even worse. But if you’re fine with how things went, you just got some good practice in for the real thing.

When it comes to reaching out, get in touch in whatever way feels most comfortable, Lahiry says. Call them, meet up for coffee, shoot them a text. Send a carrier pigeon! However you reach out, be clear about what you want and why, like, “I want to understand what happened from your point of view, and I feel like I need this to feel better and move forward,” says Setteducate. You can also share what things looked like from your side to see if there’s a disconnect. Say, “In my perspective, this happened. Do you agree?” suggests Lahiry.

So what happens when they don’t respond (or you can’t reach out in the first place)? Try to focus on your own perspective, says Setteducate. “If we assume what the other person’s thinking, sometimes we’re right and sometimes we’re wrong. But we know what’s true for us,” she notes. You can think or journal about any of the following: What did I like about the person or situation? What didn’t I like? What did I learn about myself? What do I want to take into the next stage of my life? Is there anything I need to forgive myself or the other person for? This is a very final way of making sense of the situation without the other person and acknowledging that this part of your life is ending, Setteducate says.

If you have stuff you still want to get off your chest, you can record that in a voice memo or write it down in a letter, suggests Lahiry. “It’s a simple way to get all of your thoughts and feelings out without having to hold them in and ruminate over them,” she says. Sometimes even ripping up and throwing away the letter can give you enough closure because it signifies getting everything out of your system for good, says Setteducate.

If all that solo introspection feels unsatisfying and not very closure-like to you, we get it. Unfortunately, closure isn’t always possible. Which brings us to…

What to do if you can’t get closure.

Oftentimes people want closure to stop spiraling, to feel hopeful, and to just feel better overall, Setteducate says. In fact, they often conflate closure with the relief from pain. But it’s possible to get that relief even without tying everything together in a neat little bow, notes Setteducate. You don’t actually need all that stuff to move on or get to a place of less pain.

A lot of it has to do with accepting, grieving, and taking care of yourself. FWIW, even if you did know all the answers to every question, you’d still have to grieve a part of your life that’s over—whatever it is. For example, you might know exactly how your ex-partner’s feeling, but you’d still have to confront the hard truth of being alone, says Setteducate.

Grief isn’t linear and it looks different for everyone, so there’s no step-by-step process you can follow. That said, one thing you might want to try is letting yourself feel your feelings instead of avoiding them. Give yourself permission to fall apart by yourself and in front of others, says grief and trauma therapist Katherine Hatch, LCSW. “Pain is something that might be around for a long time. By allowing it to be part of us instead of working so hard to numb it out, we can begin to see how our lives can grow around the pain,” Hatch says.

Some people previously told Wondermind that they like to celebrate someone they’ve lost or do things the person used to enjoy as a way to grieve them. But obviously it depends on the situation. If you’re going through a breakup, for example, sometimes you need to physically cut ties by getting rid of their stuff or deleting them on social media, says Setteducate.

To help you accept the reality of any big change, you can also plan for the future. Setteducate suggests journaling or talking to a therapist or loved one about what you want your life to look like moving forward. Do you want to date? Do you want to apply for a new job? How do you want to fill your time with things that make you happy? You can hang with friends, get back into old hobbies, and make plans you’re looking forward to, suggests Setteducate.

Of course, if you feel like you need extra support, you can find that in therapy. A mental health pro can help you work through the grieving process and the feelings of sadness, anxiety, and anger that come with it, says Setteducate. And they can help you be more OK with not  getting the answers you’re looking for, she says.

That said, don’t expect to feel solid right away. It can take months for your heart to acknowledge what your head already knows, says Hatch. “The heart doesn’t accept unwanted change quickly,” she explains. “And it takes time for it to come to know and learn this massive change on a daily basis.”

Wondermind does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a replacement for medical advice. Always consult a qualified health or mental health professional with any questions or concerns about your mental health.