Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

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Therapy Can Work

Katherine Rabinowitz, LP, M.A., NCPsyA

Licensed Psychotherapist & Psychoanalyst
Union Square, Greenwich Village, New York, NY

Closure: Accepting That It’s Over and Letting It Go

Closure: Accepting That It’s Over and Letting It Go

It’s important to have closure in any relationship that ends –
from a romantic relationship to a friendship. You should always have
a sense of clarity at the end and know why it began and why it ended.
You need that in your life to move cleanly into your next phase.

~Jennifer Aniston

What exactly is closure? Yes, when they shut down lanes on the highway for construction and the sign says “lane closure ahead.” But that’s not what we’re talking about. In most cases we use it to refer to the end of a relationship, whether a romantic one, a friendship, or a falling out with a family member. But also other kinds of loss: a job, a death, a home, a financial setback benefit from a sense of closure.

This post will focus on relationships, the most common situation to which the term is applied, but the principles addressed here can be used for any type of ending. The end of something typically leaves you with a sense of loss. There’s a hole in your life. Something was there before, and now it’s gone. We want an answer. Why?! Why did this happen? Was it my fault? Could I have done something differently so it didn’t happen? There’s no universal answer, as all situations are unique.

Even the need for closure at all varies from person to person. Some people are easily able to let something go and move on in life. Others cling to the past, holding on to what used to be, hoping against hope to get it back again, and have no wish to achieve closure, because that means letting it go. It feels unresolved, and nearly always very painful, especially if it was unexpected and came out of the blue. But these painful feelings won’t last forever. You won’t always feel this way.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to take responsibility for yourself and achieve closure – to do what you have to do to move on. It does no good at all to stay mired in the past and obsess on all the coulda’ woulda’ shoulda’s. Yes, of course, it’s important to give yourself permission to grieve the loss, especially after a death, and there’s no given or set time in which this must happen. If the relationship to the one you’ve lost was close, it will take longer, and you need not listen to someone who says “ok, it’s time to get over it and move on.” The determination of that period rests with you, and it doesn’t always follow a set and predetermined pattern. The passage of time usually alleviates the deepest pain, which fades when new circumstances arise to replace the loss. Some are irreplaceable, but that doesn’t mean that acceptance of the loss is impossible.

When the loss is of an intimate relationship, and the breakup wasn’t your doing, and came unexpectedly, you’re likely to feel thrown for a loop. How? Why? What did I do? If you were the one who chose to end it, there will still be a sense of loss. Something was there and it’s not there anymore. So what should you do?

Besides understanding that the responsibility for moving on is on you, there are steps you can take to accelerate the process or at least make it more tolerable. The broader concept is acceptance of the loss once you’ve allowed all the emotions to surface and be felt: sadness, anger, self-pity, bitterness, loss of identity. Once they begin to diminish (and it’s crucial that you allow that to happen unless it comforts you to dwell in those feelings), you can begin the process of moving forward. Here are some suggestions of a general nature:

• Decide to let go. Whatever it takes, you can, and the choice to is yours.

• Focus on the positives. There are some, but it may take a while to find them.

• Don’t obsess. It does no good and uses up too much badly needed emotional energy.

• Don’t hope for reconciliation. If it’s meant to happen, it will.

• Don’t beat yourself up and take all the blame. It may not have been all your fault.

There are also more specific things you can do that might even feeling satisfying, even if they’re hard.

• Stop reaching out and begging for one more chance. If you do and there’s no response, give up!

• Stop checking your phone, and above all block access on social media. You don’t want to see the         pictures of the new relationship. It will ignite the pain all over again. Purge it all.

• Give back or throw out anything that belongs to your ex. Any physical object or reminder in your         space will set you back. You can do it through an intermediary if directly is too painful.

• Set boundaries! With yourself and with your ex. No calls, no texts, no email.

• Create some kind of letting go ritual: write a letter that you don’t send but that expresses your         feelings, burn the Valentines and birthday cards, release balloons with your emotions written on         them, or anything that adds a tone of finality to the letting go process.

Once you’ve gotten rid of most of the rancor and sense of loss, the focus needs to be on the present and the future. In the present, do things to take care of yourself. Incorporating regular exercise into your routine is huge. It creates those feel-good endorphins in your brain. Talk to people – your friends, your family, your therapist. Tell them how you feel. Soothe yourself in whatever way works for you: a bubble bath, a binge-watch of your favorite series, even if you’ve seen it 27 times. The 28th will be even better. Go out. For a movie, a comedy show, a trip to the zoo with some borrowed kids. Read that book you’ve always wanted to read and has been sitting next to your bed forever. Hang out with your friends. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it’s something that makes you feel good.

Then focus on what’s next. Figure out a way to expand your circle of friends. You’ve probably met everyone you’re going to meet in your current group. If there’s something you enjoy doing that meets on a regular basis, join a group that does it. A friend of mine does rowing in the river. Another sings in a chorus. Someone else makes pottery at a studio every weekend. Join a hiking club. A biking club. Take a course in existential philosophy (or something else…). Go on a trip with a group. Go to poetry readings and don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation with the person next to you. It might not be the love of your life, but it could become a new friend, and that friend has friends, who have siblings, co-workers, or friends from forever. You never know who you’re going to meet unless and until you get yourself out there.

The most important piece here is getting out of your comfort zone. Yeah, I know, it’s hard. But just because it’s hard doesn’t let you off the hook. Otherwise, you’ll stay stuck in the past, dragging around memories of what might have been. Give yourself that closure, in whatever way works for you. Take back control of yourself, your needs, your future. Because you deserve it.

Closure means you don’t carry the problem or the pain.
You address the issue, then you slam shut the book and put it away.

~Dr. Phil


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