It’s time to let go

Closure at its core

Enya Eettickal, Staff Writer

Have you had a conversation with a five-year-old recently? Well, as a babysitter for all my little cousins, I have. And let me tell you, it’s an experience every single time. Between their fantasies and nonsensical ramblings, hearing what’s on their minds is entertaining, to say the least. The difficult part, however, is when they stop telling stories and start asking questions. Every kid’s favorite question is, “why?” No matter what the subject and regardless of how deep your explanation is, they always continue to ask why. I used to be annoyed by the routine of answering their unanswerable questions until I realized that I might not be so different, and neither are most adults or people our age. While we may not explicitly ask “why?” at every turn, the adult equivalent is looking for closure. 

Before you read any further, I’d like to clarify one thing—closure is important and healthy. That being said, there’s a human tendency to stretch what we define closure as. That extended version of closure is more of a problem than a solution and is what I will examine in this article. 

The Cambridge dictionary defines closure as “the feeling or act of bringing an unpleasant situation, time or experience to an end, so that you are able to start new activities.” People often look for closure when relationships, friendships, jobs or traumatic events come to an end. People want the details they didn’t get beforehand to try and see the whole picture; they want to know how certain circumstances played out and how certain decisions were made. And most importantly, they often want to know why: Why did someone leave; why did someone treat them poorly; why did someone switch their behavior. People want to know if it was something they did, or if it was beyond them. It’s a natural instinct to look for someone to hold accountable as a way of moving on. 

That’s why closure is important. Living in the past and dwelling on past interactions and relationships keeps you from growing and forming new, healthier relationships. Getting answers to some of those questions are undoubtedly helpful in getting to a place where the past can peacefully stay in the past. Furthermore, it’s just a miserable way to live—constantly haunted by what-ifs and questions of what you could’ve done differently. 

The problem some people run into, specifically when seeking closure from someone else, is that they use closure to mask other intentions. First, some people say they’re looking for closure when, in reality, they’re really looking for reparations. They may want revenge, an apology or simply to lash out at the other person. The thing is, looking for closure means looking for answers as a means of ending an unpleasant situation. I can almost guarantee that hurting someone who hurt you is not ending any unpleasant feelings, and will only exacerbate the pain and guilt involved in the situation. 

That can lead to the other misrepresentation of closure, which is extended interactions. This iteration of fake closure can also occur without the reparations stage. There are people who will use closure as an excuse to keep meeting and talking with the person who caused them pain or ended their relationship. If you keep having to call or text this person to determine what happened and why, you’re not truly looking for closure. You’re just prolonging what should be the last interaction so that it never has to end. It’s important to remember that we can be hurt by people who are not inherently evil or ill-intentioned. Sometimes, someone may simply want no contact for their own mental health or well-being, not because of who you are. And in this case, the person seeking “closure” may be denying the other person involved the right to separate from the relationship, and it’s disrespectful to any boundaries they’ve drawn.

Both reparations and extended interactions lead to the biggest problem with misrepresenting closure—forcing a bad ending. This is something I see particularly frequently when a healthy relationship ends and one of the people involved has a history of unhealthy relationships. Some individuals have a tough time accepting closure—meaning sensible answers and thorough explanations—because they would have to acknowledge the end of that relationship and have to move on. If they haven’t had healthy relationships in the past, the idea of leaving a healthy relationship with a pleasant ending is a hard one to understand. They’ll sabotage the ending as a way of forcing themselves to move on. They’ll either cling till the other person has to get abrasive with them or develop negative feelings towards the person—at least until they feel like it’s toxic enough of an ending that they should run away. 

On the other hand, if the person you’re seeking closure from is unhealthy or toxic, they may intentionally deny you of that—such as allowing or encouraging further interactions but not answering anything with clarity or sincerity. They may also try to blame you for why a relationship wasn’t working or force you to believe that you both need each other. Basically, they will do anything to inhibit the relationship from concluding. 

There are clearly several ways that closure can go wrong. So, what’s the solution? Simply, we just have to go back to the actual definition of closure and remember what exactly we are looking for and why. When you remember that closure is about finality and ending a chapter, it’s easier to spot when someone else is trying to prevent that, and it becomes harder to meet with someone with closure as the justification repeatedly. Remembering that closure is about peace and moving on is a great way to check yourself when considering revenge or lashing out.

However, the biggest thing you can take away from the definition of closure is that it does not mention anything about a second party. The harsh truth is that no one owes you closure, and honestly, no one else can give it to you. They can answer all your questions or give you all the explanations in the world, but if you’re simply unsatisfied with the response, there’s no guarantee that you’ll get closure. Continually seeking closure from someone else is proof of that. If you don’t like the answer to “why,” reasking it won’t get you a different answer the next time.  If you take revenge on someone, you may have caused them to feel something, but that doesn’t resolve or heal any of the hurt that you’ve had. The reality is that the only person who can give you closure is yourself. Closure is a feeling more than it is anything else. Certain acts can lead to closure; other people can help you find it, but you have to choose it for yourself at the end of the day. You have to decide to move on, find answers that make sense to you and think about situations until a reason registers for you. You, ultimately, have to choose to let go. 

So, when kids ask, “why?” I just answer, “because that’s how it is” or “because I feel that way.” And while that may not satisfy them at the time, I’m hopeful that they’ll eventually understand and accept those realities as they grow and develop, learning to navigate the world. I’m hopeful because those answers have been given to me over the years as an anxious high schooler and overthinking college kid. And while it didn’t make sense at the time, as I’m learning to give myself closure, those answers are starting to be a source of peace instead of confusion.