Monday, November 28, 2011

What is Closure of a Relationship

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. 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.


  1. Great post.

    And a question. How do you deal with other family members, especially siblings, talking about your parents? Or them asking "So are you speaking to your mother/father?" Many of my relatives do not understand the estrangement.

  2. You don't owe anyone an explanation-- and shouldn't feel compelled to explain yourself. You have your reasons for the estrangement, and those reasons are yours. You own your feelings, experiences, perceptions, and memories, and you shouldn't feel compelled to justify your actions unless you WANT to.

    I don't discuss my parental situation with my siblings or other family members. Each of their choices is theirs alone-- and mine is mine alone. If they don't understand estrangement but can still support you in your decision, that's okay. If they don't understand estrangement and don't support you in your decision, they may be part of the no-contact package.

    Estrangement / no-contact is a tough decision with a foundation of dysfunction, toxicity, negative emotion, or more. So if a relative (or otherwise) is not supportive of your decision that's been based on you not being treated properly, then they are part of the cycle of negativity themselves.

    Again, you don't owe anyone an explanation-- you only owe yourself happiness, peace, and positive life experiences. Hope this helps :) Thanks for your comment.

  3. Just found your site again. This post helped me. Please stand by as I learn to sign in. Thanks, Denise

  4. Boy I am really struggling with "closure" right now, do you send a holiday card to your bpd mother after four months of no contact? Would it be cruel not to? On the other hand would she take a card as a signal to start calling me again? Honestly I couldn't take it.

    I went to a psychologist/friend last week begging her to tell me how to get these annoying memories to stop. You see I'd been so close to "the painting" I had paint up my nose, and now that I stand back from 50 plus years, well there's some odd stuff coming up. Like apparently she lost it before I could even talk and then kept it relatively together until I left home, my college and early adulthood years spent listening to her incredibly convoluted self-victimhood. Anyway, I still feel guilty for abandoning her and when a guilty image pops up of my mother dragging around her house crying, boom I get a strange "Ah Ha" moment where I suddenly feel righteous indignation, a feeling which stops the guilt but which in itself is not exactly peaceful.

    Hope you're all sitting down, this is what the doctor said, "those memories come up as justifications for letting go because you don't really believe yet that it's ok to let go". So I have to affirm to myself over and over that it's OK to let go. I know it seems so obvious right? The second thing the doctor said, and I love this, is that the way for me to shrink and dissolve those negative memories is to fill myself with beauty. I knew that! Just had to hear someone put it into words.

    Any input or response is welcome on my end. Especially interested in preverbal experience, it wasn't sexual or physical, it feels "energetic" if you know what I mean. Like I was blasted with guilt or shame, perhaps accompanied by shouting. Gratitude for your blog and postings, Peace, Denise

  5. Wow - my husband and I really needed to see this today. We just came from the wedding of his younger brother and went through the ringer with relatives wanting to know why we are being so mean to his parents and keeping our daughter away from them. Then we came home to a barrage of emails. Of course his mother plays the victim very well and his dad backs her up, so we look like the mean, nasty people.

    She is text book borderline personality disorder and my husband has always been the bad child. Thanks for this very informative blog - it really helps us to know that we aren't alone in having problems like this.

  6. Excellent post and thank you for this-I also have a difficult time wrapping my brain around the word "Closure." It's one of those words that's just barf-worthy when you're dealing with a nacrparent. And another of those words that's just plain nuts IMO.

    Closure happens (as you've stated) when we recognize not just intellectually but emotionally these parents were incapable of being parents. Period, the end. It had nothing to do with us personally- although paradoxically it has EVERYTHING to do with us personally. The ability to disengage-as painful as it is-gives us the space and place we need to bring the experience/reality together with our emotional and societal expectations. And yes, it's painful. Making "peace" with ourselves and not feeling obligated to JADE is essential, IMO.

    As we gain in self-confidence, we make peace within ourselves. How one operationalizes "closure" is as personal as we are. And "tying it up" with a bow isn't gonna happen, IMO. And that's fine. Life is messy and incorporates all kinds of grey areas. However, "grey" is about "maltreatment" (and I use that word, because 'abuse' is a bit too triggering for some folks.)

    As an old lady, I'm just gonna say this: "Closure" is found on some "Lifetime" Movie. (IE: Not real.) How we get there isn't gonna be pretty, nor is it going to follow Kubler-Ross's "Stages Of Grieving." Grief is an on-going and evolving state. Just as we evolve, so will "Closure."

    And how right IMO you are: "Closure happens when you finally put the past to rest......." but respectfully, looking back will occur. Not because we doubt our decision, but because it is a part of our history and informs us in the present in ways we couldn't imagine. This is neither "good" nor "bad." It's Lessons Learned.

    Again, great post and many thanks.

  7. What a phenomenal post-thanks for this! I have referred others to your blog and particularly the post on "What To Expect After NC." This post is going to be included with that referral.

    Time, distance, introspection, educating oneself and doing your grief work ultimately does allow for freedom and acceptance. It doesn't make what the Cluster B parent(s) DID in any way acceptable. However, it does afford the adult child who has made the very difficult decision to terminate the relationship a profound sense of peace.

  8. You are so welcome :) "Time, distance, introspection, educating oneself and doing your grief work ultimately does allow for freedom and acceptance" ... very well put! Thanks for stopping by! All my best!

  9. Love how you stated, "It (closure) had nothing to do with us personally- although paradoxically it has EVERYTHING to do with us personally. The ability to disengage-as painful as it is-gives us the space and place we need to bring the experience/reality together with our emotional and societal expectations." Amen!

  10. Denise, You said, "Anyway, I still feel guilty for abandoning her and when a guilty image pops up of my mother dragging around her house crying, boom I get a strange "Ah Ha" moment where I suddenly feel righteous indignation, a feeling which stops the guilt but which in itself is not exactly peaceful." Anytime that I start to feel **weak** and think those thoughts (she's dragging around her house crying), I find out more of the horrible things she's saying about me. She's just as mean, angry, and lashing out as ever. So, think of what brought you to this situation-- it certainly wasn't something healthy and happy correct? Remind yourself of what you put up with prior to now-- and is that past acceptable? As children, we want to have unconditionally loving parents. So, we know how we feel which is disconnected with the way our parent(s) act. Therefore, you feel guilty because you are internalizing how you feel (wanting a healthy and mutually satisfying relationship). The reason you don't is because of dysfunction and toxicity. I don't know if I am getting my point across but it's easy to romanticize a relationship-- especially as time goes on the bad things seems to dissipate where we fondly remember good times. Therefore, feeling guilty is a result as you think of the good times and romanticize the situation. Keep yourself grounded with the facts and the history. Try to extract the emotion out and then reassess. Believe in yourself and how you feel. Denise, feel free to email me. I feel for you. Hang in there! Everything you are feeling is normal considering the circumstances. Hugs!

  11. I can't believe I have just found this blog. I have suffered the worst roller coaster ride for over 25 years that came with my BPD mother (untreated, mind you), and this blog would have helped me a great deal. So, know that this is helpful for many people! Sadly, my mother took her life this past December 4th. Of course she did it with all the drama that accompanied her on a daily basis - she went out in a full tornado, complete with letters to my sister and I stating that she hopes we carry the guilt around forever, etc.. The guilt of continually trying to have a healthy relationship with my mother (ie, child) to no avail and still be thrown under the rug by her- even after her death? She was the sick one, not I, and although I currently am struggling with my feelings of guilt of what I didn't do, I know that I will move past this WITHOUT GUILT. I did nothing wrong, I tried to do everything right, but it still wasn't enough for her. Nothing would have been enough for her, In regards to closure, this is what I am most struggling with right now. There was no healthy or kind closure, in words, email, letter, etc... from her - only cruel, hateful words that she knew would bring me to my knees. If you are looking for closure, you will never get it from a person who has BPD, even as they pull the trigger to end their life cursing you for their misfortunes. The closure I am just now understanding must come from within ourselves by closing our own door and allowing ones self to be free of verbal abuse and continual drama that drains every ounce of your being. Give yourself the gift of closure and allow yourself to move forward with those in your life that offer you joy, peace and love. That is my wish for us all this new year.

  12. Oh Holli-- my heart aches for you. I am sure you will find freedom from the guilt... it all takes time. Have you read this post yet? Perhaps you can find some parts that are helpful. You said, "The closure I am just now understanding must come from within ourselves by closing our own door and allowing ones self to be free of verbal abuse and continual drama that drains every ounce of your being." ... amen Holli. Happy New Year-- may your wish come true <3

  13. I am so glad to have found your blog! My mother is BPD and her husband (my adopted father) is NPD. We have been NC since 2005, when my mother exploded at me during a visit and - for the first time in my 35 yrs - I neither fought back nor kneeled at her feet. Instead of chasing her to the airport with begging apologies, I let my mother go. I did not feel guilty about our relationship ending - more like relieved and validated - but I still struggle with the fact that I lost my sister in the process. She is bipolar and the "all bad" one, whom I always protected. I continued to be close with her for 4 years after going NC with my mother. I supported her in myriad ways and never mentioned my mother's BPD behavior for fear that it would be too much for her. Then, two Christmases ago, my sister suddenly cut me off. My mother convinced her that I had "broken up" the family, enlisting her in a campaign to denigrate me, which apparently had been going on for years (duh!). It has been hard to reach a sense of closure, if that is what it is, about my sister. Before I could really let her go, I grieved, sought therapy and educated myself about our family dynamic, including my own issues. I still miss and worry about her at the holdiays, but I know that she is caught up in something perversely destructive that I have to distance myself from. And I keep reminding myself of that and what I stand to lose if we are in contact again. Here's to everyone dealing with their own variation of closure. Have a happy, healthy and peaceful New Year.

  14. I am happy to find your blog. I too have a mother with BPD and am going to get a restraining order against her tomorrow morning. Her psychotic episodes have increased to every couple of months since my pregnancy, though they were always at least once a year before that. I had my daughter in June and I have been the victim of her rage again and again. She has successfully blown a job opportunity for me, contacted my boyfriends ex wife, contacted many friends on my Facebook, written inappropriate things on my Facebook wall, called me a cxnt and more the past week. She has text me and emailed drunk every night telling me how awful I am. I have blocked her from every outlet. She has even gone so far as to change her cell phone number to get around the block. I want so badly to have a healthy relationship with her and to just have a mother. Your blog, however, had helped me affirm I have made the right decision. Thank you.

  15. From Denise to Holli, Anonymus, and me:
    Holli, Anoymous, and Gretel Ella,

    I am rooting for all of us, the only ones I know who have no contact. After being phone stalked by mother at Christmas, I had to write a letter to her for my own protection explaining that talking to her triggers painful stress reactions in my body and that it would be inhumane for me to endure it. And that I need time alone for healing and to do the homework my doctor gives me. I stated that the most empowering and respectful thing for both of us is no contact. Shaking and smoking, but I got it in the mail. Yes, I know she won't understand but I feel like I've been given a stay of execution!

    Holli, I don't know where you are but here there is free grief counseling, no matter what the circumstances, from Hospice. Even if your relative did not die in hospice, you get the free stuff and they know what they are doing! My heart goes out to you. You are living one of our greatest fears.

    I am getting boatloads of therapy and also seeking validation as a person by volunteering at nursing homes with a comedy troupe. Wishing all of us a relatively peaceful new year! Love to y'all! Denise

  16. Courtney-- how did obtaining the restraining order go? Everything in place? Been thinking of you!

  17. It's been 8 years since my mother & I became estranged. I know what you mean about trying to stay strong as well as feeling sad. Totally normal as she is your mother... but once you're further away and time passes, strength comes from seeing everything so clearly & feeling the relief and peace from being away from the dysfunction and toxicity. Hang in there... don't be manipulated or led to feel guilty. Stick to your guns. All my best... let me know how you're doing.

  18. I have learned that closure isn't between you and the person you are ending it with, it is all within. What an enlightening experience it was, to deal with it on my own terms, too. And empowering. YOU shape the dynamic. YOU control the outcome. Very strengthening. And I don't need that last-ditch appeal for closure anymore. I finally realize that it is what it is, and I don't need more than that.

  19. @Courtney. I am so sorry for what you have gone through. I KNOW you will feel the strength of your choice in the years to come. I know all too well how it feels. And when I finally took that step, I found a new freedom from the situation that I have NEVER felt before. Good for you, and may God keep you strong.

  20. i am so thankful to have been directed to this blog from another blog that is being closed now. it is so meaningful tome to find this very post at the top.

    i have been estranged from my biological family for many years. i still struggle with the fact that such a decision included my sisterd espite the fact that i would have liked to try to make a relationship work with her. but as you said:

    "I don't discuss my parental situation with my siblings or other family members. Each of their choices is theirs alone-- and mine is mine alone. If they don't understand estrangement but can still support you in your decision, that's okay. If they don't understand estrangement and don't support you in your decision, they may be part of the no-contact package"

    she both did not understand and did not support my estrangement and inf act actively put me in danger by continuing to pass on any information she could glean from me to my parentss.

    it hurts because i feel i failed her. she was my little sister and i couldn't be the parent she needed though i tried very hard. i feel i failed her as an older sister. but if she as an adult, made that decision , i can't get her out of an environemnt she actively wants to stay in. i believe her wishes are out of brainwashing and not her real desires but...i can't force it. so at least i would have liked to leave contact open if there ever came a day she realizes how destructive those people are.

    instead...because i was a wreck andcouldn't deal with the constant threates to my safety, i realized she had to be cut out too.
    i had to do it for me,
    but i feel so terrible for it.
    so selfish.

    it's a struggleto deal with this.

    thank you for having this place. thank you so much.

  21. Funny I am commenting again, but I can't even explain how I needed this right now - a totally different outlook on things here, almost a month later. I'm trying so hard to get through the grieving of a relationship (very short one, but left with NO answers as to what happened)and trying to move on despite the fact that I have NO idea what happened. NC rule is in effect, and I'm fighting the need to have answers right now. Totally out of the blue - no matter which way I flip it around. Spoken to not only people who know me, but people who know him, and not ONE SINGLE EXPLANATION. Only he can give it to me, and I am rightfully pissed off and hurt, all at the same time, trying to figure out the why part. This situation is beyond me, and it hurts like hell. I miss my ability to dissociate, because it would certainly help right now. And it sucks to realize that it isn't healthy to have a distraction, because I need to go through this cycle alone. Conundrum, indeed.

  22. i am so thankful to have found this blog. this post esp seems to have come at an opportune time. thank you so much for creating this space and including so much information. my father was npd i feel fairly certain. reading up on bpd, i am beginning to be fairly certain that describes my mother as well. they were both abusive to me-my mother mostly emotionally /verbally, my father was abusive physically , sexually, and verbally/emotionally

    i have been no contact for over 5 yrs. still really struggle with the fact that this included my younger sister who i was kind of in aparental role for growing up. i feel i failed her as an older sister. idid not want to cut her out and wanted so badly to try and make arelationship work, but she made it clear that she would pass on any information to them about me; whereabouts included. for my safety i realized that the second time (and final, permanent time) i went into nc would have to include her . i knew this had to hapen for my safety, but i still feel consumed by guilt. i feel she has been brainwashed by them and conditioned by society to try andmake the relationship work the same way as i was. if there was any way i could have maintained the relationship with her without compromising my safety, i would have but as you said in your above comment -she not only didnt' understand my decision but didn't accept it. her constant pushing for their agenda and herwillingness to share all information with them even when it compromised my safety led to my decision. still i cant shake the feling it was selfish-and a terrible failure as an older sister who should protect and care for her. i wish i could do that. im torn between wanting t o respect her and her decision and feeling that "her" decision is really coerced/pressured/forced by them.

    i know for afact that i couldn't continue to live with them in my life. the level of fear and abuse was too much for me. but i can't shake the feelings of guilt toward her

    again thank you so much for having this space for people to learn from and process their pasts and connect with others with similar experiences. you have come so far, and i feel inspired by you.


  23. Just got a letter from my mother's sister asking me to contact and forgive my mother because she is sad. She suggested going to my mother's once a week! After 8 months of no contact. Eek! I wrote her I was taking a break because I deserve it. I encouraged her to call my mother regularly if she wanted. I stated that my mother is "truly genuine one moment and playing mind games the next. Very clever yet misguided woman terrified of abandonment yet creating it over and over. Pathetic, cruel, loving, brave: what does one do with that?" Don't know if a 75 year old sister can get that but everyone in family so much smarter than me so figured it's worth a shot.
    Anyway, Here comes mother's day which is also mom's birthday. Thanks for being there everybody. I sometimes wonder if life was easier before I "knew" - I just thought I was over-sensitive bumbler worthy of more criticism than praise. Blessings, D

  24. My ex (divorced in '02) displayed BPD behaviors. The rages were the worst. I literally had pages of examples of verbal abuse. Threw them away a year later. My son, now 26 seems to be ok. But I lost my daughter when I moved out. We've now been estranged for 10 years. She cut me out of her life. I've counseled with professionals, pastors, family and friends about how to reconnect. My first 5 years of approaches to her we all rebuffed. Each time in a more hurtful manner. I finally decided to let her go and wait. I do send Birthday cards. So far, nothing. I understand from those around her that she too is displaying the anger and manipulation associated with BPD. Her treatment of me in our handful of emailed interactions was brutal. But she's my daughter. She wasn't this way when she was little. I miss her.

    On the positive side, my life has improved considerably since leaving my BPD ex. I'm remarried to a warm, caring, appreciative woman that I adore. And my work has been satisfying. Regarding my past life and the explosive rawness of my divorce, I do find peace on occasion. But there's no closure. I simply live with the open wound.

  25. The essential aspect of being able to know what is the exact reason for the end of a relationship is the clear communication and understanding in-between the two individuals regarding what did not really work out. This is what makes a proper closure very important and always is essential for making sure both the individuals move on. A closure is basically the knowing of the reason why the things that are happening in your relationship are actually happening. It is the ability to understands and accept the reality regarding your romantic partnership.