As 2021 comes to a close, I was thinking about the past few years and how much our lives have been turned upside down with the world wide pandemic that began in early 2020. I was considering all the changes that have happened to me both professionally and personally, and I was thinking about doing a podcast on the topic of “making peace with the past”.
As I was doing the research that I typically do before creating my notes for a podcast episode, I came across a podcast on the topic of closure. At first I wasn’t going to bother listening, but then I realized it might be exactly what I need to look into, in my understanding of making peace with the past.
You see, just a few months prior to this, a very good friend that I had a very close friendship with for 17 years, decided that she no longer wanted to have a relationship with me. I had asked her a question, she didn’t like the question, and she texted me that she didn’t want to talk to me, that she had been feeling a “certain way” about our friendship for a while, and she didn’t want to have any contact until she was ready to talk.
To say I was shocked was an understatement, but I decided to just give her whatever space she needed to figure out whatever it was that was bothering her. The only problem was that now I was left with a bunch of unanswered questions – What just happened? What did she mean she had been feeling a certain way for awhile? We spoke, in one form or another, every single day for 17 years, so why didn’t she say something?
As you can imagine my brain was a jumble of thoughts, questions, and scenarios, and much to my husband’s chagrin, I couldn’t stop thinking about the situation. I kept asking other friends what they thought, I kept going over the issue with my husband, and I kept reliving the story in my head, trying to make sense of it all.
Needless to say, it took me at least a few weeks to realize how much this issue was not only affecting me at home, but also at work. I would be focused on some complicated tax return and then all of a sudden I’d be distracted, thinking about how I didn’t deserve to be treated the way she treated me and about what I would say if we ever did speak again.
Honestly, I didn’t want to be consumed by this issue, but my thoughts kept coming back to the fact that I didn’t have closure – that I didn’t know what the issue was or had the chance to defend myself against some unnamed wrongdoing. I didn’t want to keep focusing on the issue, but it felt like I just couldn’t help myself.
Thankfully in my research about the topic of making peace with the past I discovered that podcast episode on closure and everything began to make sense. I was able to see what was going on, why I had such a strong need for closure, why my thoughts were also drawn to other times in my life when I didn’t have closure, but more importantly, what to do about it.
I was relieved to discover that there was an answer and once I understood it, I knew I needed to share it with the CPA MOMS Podcast audience because I’m going to bet that you’ve also had situations in your life where you wanted closure and may not have gotten it. I know I’m not alone in this – where something ended, like a relationship or a job, or maybe something changed in some way, and you were left trying to move forward without being stuck in the past.
So if you have a situation with someone or something in which you need to get closure, I’m here to tell you that it’s not only possible, but that it’s incredibly powerful. You no longer have to be conflicted or distracted like I was, because there is a way to get closure so that you can move forward.
This week I’m going to discuss why closure is an issue for a lot of us and how to get closure if you’ve been struggling.
Why closure is an issue
When it comes to the concept of closure, typically most of us talk about it in an interactive way. We’ll say something like we need to talk to an ex-lover or ex-friend and get closure on why the relationship ended, or we need to talk to our parents and get closure about something that happened in our childhood. We often refer to closure when we have some type of negative emotions involving interactions with other people.
We then believe that we need to have an interaction with the other person in order to give us closure. In essence, this thing happened, we feel upset, confused, or angry, and now we believe we need a chance to interact with the other person, or people, involved so that we can stop feeling all the negative feelings we’re carrying around like a heavy backpack.
While this makes perfect sense if we believe that other people cause our feelings, the truth is that they don’t cause our feelings, but unfortunately we’ve never been taught this fact. As children we were told things like “Don’t hurt his feelings” or “Make sure you apologize for hurting her feelings”, making us believe that the cause of our feelings are often other people, the things they do or don’t do, and vice versa.
The interesting thing is that In my life coaching training and continuing education, I learned that circumstances don’t cause feelings – that our thoughts do – but that knowledge flew out the window when the situation with my friend happened. I truly felt that her telling me that she didn’t want to talk to me and that she had been feeling a certain way about our friendship, was the reason I was feeling hurt, confused, and upset. But that wasn’t true.
What I learned from listening to that podcast episode that I found, is that when it comes to closure, we typically fall into one or both of the following categories in our mistaken way of thinking about closure – we believe we need to understand why something happened and/or we believe we need an apology or an acknowledgement for what happened.
I have to admit that I fell into both categories – I wanted closure because I wanted to understand my friend’s reasoning and, if I’m completely honest, I also wanted her to apologize for treating me the way she did. But here’s the thing I learned listening to that podcast that changed everything for me – both of those things are lies that our brains tell us.
We actually DON’T need to understand the situation more and we DON’T need the other person or people to apologize or agree with us to actually feel better. The reason it’s so common to want to get closure from other people is because we believe that other people control our feelings – we also get fixated on closure because so many of us are consumed with our thoughts about the past.
The truth is that we wind up so distracted from what’s happening right here and right now, just like I was when I was at work and at home, because we’re living in our thoughts about the past. We give the past so much power over us, believing that the past is what makes us who we are and that the past limits who we can be, so of course we’re obsessed about the past and trying to correct any “wrongs”.
But the issue is that when we blame other people for how we feel, we also then believe that they can set us free by giving us closure about something that happened. Of course there are times where after we’ve talked to someone, we feel a sense of relief from the negative feelings we were having, but that’s only because of one thing – we changed our own thoughts about the situation, not because the other person changed our feelings. That, my friends, is huge when it comes to getting closure!
The interesting key that I discovered is that even if I understand better what happened by talking to my friend, I won’t actually feel any better because I’d still be believing that it shouldn’t have happened the way it did and that it was negative that it happened that way. Even if my friend called me up, agreed with me, and apologized, I probably still wouldn’t feel better long term because I’d be believing that it shouldn’t have happened the way it did or that it or she should have been different.
So basically the reason that closure is an issue for a lot of us, is that what we really want is emotional resolution from our thoughts about the past. We want to feel resolved and at peace – we want the absence of suffering around a circumstance; the absence of wanting things to have gone differently; the absence of believing that things would be better if they were different.
What I realized was that when I say I need closure from the situation with my friend, what I was really saying is that it shouldn’t have happened, that I need to understand why it happened, and that I possibly need to have her acknowledge or apologize for what happened. In essence, I was putting her in charge of my emotions, my ability to be present in this moment, and my ability to move forward.
I was arguing with the reality of the situation and putting my friend in charge of my relief from the negative feelings I was having. I wanted to feel better and move forward without being consumed with questions and feelings of hurt and frustration, but I was mistakenly outsourcing my relief.
If you’ve been struggling with an issue that you believe you need closure from, I’m going to help you to free yourself and be able to move forward without being stuck in the past.
How to get closure if you’ve been struggling
It doesn’t matter if the situation that you’re trying to get closure from happened recently or a long time ago, the solution is the same. When you want to get closure, the best news I can tell you is that you need to understand one important thing – that it has to come from you, because no one else can give it to you, nor do they need to. You may not realize it, but that is the best news ever.
As with the popular definition of insanity – doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results – the key to getting closure if you’ve been struggling is understanding that the only person who can give you closure is you, not the repetitive thoughts about what the other person should or shouldn’t do. The reason this is true is because, like I said before, what you’re really trying to get when you want closure is relief from the negative emotions you’re feeling about a situation, but it’s never the person or the situation that’s creating the negative emotions you’re experiencing – it’s only the thoughts you’re choosing to think about it all.
In my example with my friend, what I now understand is that I wasn’t hurt because she texted me that she didn’t want to talk to me, that she had been feeling a “certain way” about our friendship for a while, and she didn’t want to have any contact until she was ready to talk – I was feeling hurt because of the thoughts I was choosing to think about those things. What I really needed closure from was my looping thoughts about how I need to understand what happened, about how I didn’t deserve to be treated that way, and about how it shouldn’t have happened the way it did.
I was thinking painful thoughts about the situation and creating more and more pain from myself, which is why I was fixated on getting closure. I was mistakenly thinking that my friend held the key to the relief from my pain, when the truth was it was ME all along – I held the key to the relief I was seeking.
The funny thing is, even if she did go a week or two and text me back with her reasoning, I wouldn’t really have had closure because she would have said XYZ and I’d still be thinking my looping thoughts about how I really need to understand what happened, how I didn’t deserve to be treated that way, or how it shouldn’t have even happened.
The most liberating thing when it comes to closure that I can share with you is that if you have something painful from your present or your past that you’ve been fixated on, you can get closure any time that you want. You don’t have to be stuck any longer.
So how do you give yourself closure? You have to pay attention to the negative thoughts you’ve been thinking and believing about the situation, and you have to stop resisting the reality of what happened. You have to stop believing that things would be better if they had been different.
You don’t have to understand more about what happened or the other person’s thoughts and feelings, you don’t have to get an apology or acknowledgement, and you don’t even need to ever speak to the person involved again. You just have to decide to accept that whatever happened, happened.
You don’t even need to believe that “it was always meant to happen that way”. The host of the podcast shared that a helpful thought she uses when it comes to closure is “It couldn’t have happened any other way”.
Think about that – the other person or people involved had certain thoughts, feelings, and actions that created a result. At a particular moment in time, this IS what happened and the reason it couldn’t have happened any other way, is because it didn’t.
There truly is so much freedom in not arguing with reality. It really frees you up to stop the suffering, to stop the questioning and needing to get to the bottom of things – it helps you to be able to move forward, free from resentment because you understand that nothing has gone wrong.
You cannot change what happened in the past no matter how much you disagree with it, and the only reason we ever want the past to be different is because of what we’re making it mean. In my example, I originally made the situation mean that I must be a bad friend and that I must have done something wrong, which just sent my brain into an unhelpful tailspin of looking for proof of what I was believing.
So here’s what I know now – this situation happened and I get to choose how I want to think about it – I get to be grateful for the 17 years of friendship that we shared, but now I’m moving on with appreciation for the amount of time the friendship lasted and appreciation for myself and how I’m able to let things be. I’m giving myself closure because I deserve it – and who better than me, to give me what I need?
I no longer need to spin in confusion about what happened because that just keeps me stuck. I no longer need to wait for her to contact me to get closure because I can give it to myself. It couldn’t have happened any other way – our friendship was meant to last the exact amount of time it lasted. That’s the story I now tell.
My friend has her own story about what happened and why she did what she did, but that no longer matters. I don’t need to understand her reasons, I don’t need the situation to be different than it was because the best person to give me closure is me.
Now it’s your turn – where are you resisting reality? Where are you believing that something should have happened differently? Where are you expecting someone to give you closure? Here’s my advice – do yourself a huge favor and give it to yourself – I promise you it’s worth it and you deserve the peace of mind.
- I know I’m not alone in this – where something ended, like a relationship or a job, or maybe something changed in some way, and you were left trying to move forward without being stuck in the past.
- When it comes to closure, we typically fall into one or both of the following categories in our mistaken way of thinking about closure – we believe we need to understand why something happened and/or we believe we need an apology or an acknowledgement for what happened.
- The most liberating thing when it comes to closure that I can share with you is that if you have something painful from your present or your past that you’ve been fixated on, you can get closure any time that you want.