Closure seems like a **buzz word** but it's something that I feel and I know others would like to feel closure as well. Whether the closure relates to an estrangement with a family member, end of a romantic relationship, or any other relationship that has come to an end, closure is a goal for peace of mind and being able to live in the here-and-now.
Sometimes a relationship ends with no loose ends and no unanswered questions-- you simply move on and the relationship is final. Other relationships are not so cleanly ended. For example, in the situation with my mother and Dad, they are my parents and ending a relationship with a parent is not so simple or clean. Add in the manipulations, confusion, guilt-trips, brain-washing, and abuse that comes along with a mentally ill parent (ie: personality disorder such as Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) with my mother or Narcissistic Personality Disorder (NPD) with my Dad) and finding closure is even more convoluted.
So, do you need to have closure? Not in order to move on, no. You can move on with life in a positive, healthy, productive, and happy manner without closure-- meaning, questions may still be left unanswered but you remove yourself from the abuse, negativity, unhappiness, and more in order to improve your life, find happiness, and have peace.
However, without closure, you may still have that little voice in the back of your head wondering what the person is up to, why did the person treat you this way / that way, when (if ever) will they change so that a mutually beneficial / healthy relationship is possible, or you may play out what happened in the past over and over in your head. In other words, although you may not have found closure, proceeding through life in a direction away from the relationship that ended occurs but you still think of that person and have questions floating around in your mind about them, the past with them, or 'what ifs'.
During the first part of the estrangement / no contact / break-up, you may be angry, sad, pensive, or empty. As time goes on, you will find strength in being able to see the whole picture. When you are in a relationship, you are too closely entwined in what is happening to see the entire perspective. I like to explain 'relationship perspective' this way: when you are in a relationship, it's like your nose is pressed up against a huge painting so all you see is what is directly in front of your eyes. The dynamics of the relationship are so much more but all you can see is what your nose is pressed up against. As you take a step away from the relationship (aka: the painting on the wall), you will see more and more of the painting. The further you step away and as more time passes, the more you can see the entire picture surrounding the relationship. You will suddenly start to see things the way others from the outside see. The perspective changes: you see details you didn't see before, insignificant things become less and less important, and significant things become more pronounced.
As time passes and your perspective changes, you start to see more and more clearly what happened to you:
- In one respect, this clarity could cause greater pain initially as how you were treated and what transpired in the past becomes more evident. But this is necessary in order to move on-- if you were operating under false assumptions about the relationship, these truths that become apparent will help to guide you to strength and conviction of how you are going to conduct your life. Therapy will help during this time, as well as talking to a close confidant who can provide validation, support, and a listening ear.
- In another respect, the clearer perspective can immediately give you the boost you need to find closure in the relationship. Truth is power. Being truthful with yourself and your past will give you the power to move forward through life and away from your painful past.
Once I was away from my parents and was able to reflect on what happened, writing certainly helped to bring everything out into the forefront. Starting from as early as I could remember, I wrote everything down from my perspective and memory. Additionally, talking with those who were involved in my life during the abuse by my parents was validating and freeing. Lastly, I researched and read and researched and read some more. The more I wrote, talked, researched, and read, the more I understood. The more I understood, the more I accepted what happened to me. The more I accepted what happened to me, the more closure I gained. At this point, I am not looking back, and I am at peace with where I am in my life relative to the estrangements with my parents.
Don't get me wrong. I went through 5 year cycles of estrangement with my BDP mother from when I was a child up until the last estrangement in 2004. I gave her second and third and fourth chances-- so closure of the relationship didn't happen until this last estrangement which had a great deal of experiences as the foundation. And in regard to my Dad, we had a precarious relationship since his 2nd marriage 30 years ago. So with both relationships, the end wasn't a quick and immediate occurrence-- and closure didn't happen quickly.
During each estrangement with my mother, I analyzed, soul searched, and dissected how we got to that point. So with each estrangement, more and more knowledge of my mother was acquired which ultimately gave me the strength to find closure with the last and final estrangement. With my Dad, I also analyzed, soul searched, and dissected our relationship and his narcissistic behavior-- and the final straw was how he was treating my newborn baby, my husband, and me. Closure with him was easier as his behavior was increasingly intense rather than Dr. Jekyll / Mr. Hyde like my mother. My Dad was consistently self absorbed and malignantly narcissistic.
Formal steps for finding closure are as follows, however, remember that each and every one of us comes from unique sets of circumstances (abuse, family situations, personalities, etc) that these are simply a guideline:
- Grieve the loss of your relationship and allow yourself to feel the pain of the estrangement / no contact / break-up. Don’t avoid the hurt by distracting yourself from the reality because you can’t heal and move on until you’ve grieved.
- Refrain from contacting the estranged. No contact means just that-- no contact. No contact means no contact on the phone, text, via social networking, spying online, emailing. Contacting the person will not change how you got to where you are in the relationship. Recovering from the grief is a difficult process that takes patience. Contacting your estranged may temporarily alleviate the pain, but contact is simply postponing the inevitable.
- Spend time alone to reflect on the relationship's positive and the negative aspects. Be honest with yourself and don’t solely focus on the affirmative components of the relationship because you love / miss the person.
- Alter your perspective to include a positive outcome. Think about all that you’ve learned through the painful process and recognize that the agony will subside as you move on and look forward to what’s ahead in your life.
Former therapist, grief counselor and life coach Susan Elliott suggests: "Don't mistake grief for love. It's normal and natural to grieve any loss...even if the relationship was the worst in the world. Don't let your grief cause you to second guess your feelings. Part of the grief process is ‘review and relinquishment’ where it is necessary to process through the relationship. Unfortunately this review comes in the form of having the (estranged) on your mind constantly. It's a 'working through' and it doesn't mean you're not going to get over it, or that you still love the (estranged). It means your mind is doing the work it needs to do to process through it and get over it."
So as time goes on and you can intellectualize exactly the abuse you went through, how awful the treatment was from your parent(s) / family member / estranged... but you still miss having a mother to celebrate on Mother's Day or you wish for a loving and warm relationship with a parent or you may think you should consider giving the person a second chance since life is so short and you believe in forgiveness. Has closure been achieved? Not in my opinion. The missing and the wishing wouldn't be a part of your thought process if closure has been **officially** achieved. Acceptance has been achieved as you are proceeding through life with the understanding that the estrangement / no contact is in effect-- but closure hasn't occurred as thought patterns are swaying toward wanting to spend time or reconcile with the person.
In many ways, an estrangement of a parent or close family member is essentially like grieving the death of that parent / family member. In order to successfully work through the grief of a parent’s death, individuals need to be open to dealing with their emotions completely, to express them honestly, and discuss them with someone who can provide support. Only through this process will a person be able to resolve his or her grief which also applies to parental estrangement.
Closure happens when you can finally put the past to rest and not look back. Closure happens when you are content with the here-and-now. Closure happens when you can be at peace with what happened and move on directly into the future confidently. May you find the closure you are seeking.