Defining Closure Psychology

Updated January 16, 2023by BetterHelp Editorial Team

When a relationship ends or when a loved one passes away, we often hear about the need for "closure." But what does closure really mean? Psychologists think of closure as the desire for an answer that leaves no room for uncertainty. When we say a person has a need for closure, we're saying they're seeking the answers and resolution that they need to move on.

How Closure Psychology Is Defined

People seeking closure are oten motivated by the benefits it can provide. For instance, closure can give someone a feeling of control where there wasn't one before, and it can provide a stronger foundation from which one can take action and move forward. The brain has a need for closure to process feelings. In principle, the absence of closure can ultimately disrupt mental processes because we naturally seek understanding and answers.

Consider the following example: Sean breaks up with Amy via a text message. Amy perceived that everything was going well and is completely blindsided. Sean refuses to text anything further, ignores Amy’s phone calls, and avoids seeing Amy whenever possible. Amy seeks out Sean to learn why their relationship ended. Amy may be over- or under-weighing the importance of aspects of their relationship, creating a false representation, or processing the stimuli of their breakup in an unhealthy way. Upon discovering that Sean is dating someone else, Amy finally gains closure. Now, Amy can begin processing emotions with the goal of moving on. The benefits of this recalibration and meaning-making process can have healthy effects for Amy’s brain.

According to experts, a person's  comes from two sources: the urgency tendency, which is the need to find closure as soon as possible, and the permanence tendency, which is the need to hold on to closure permanently, or for as long as possible. It is because of these motivated tendencies that a person may jump to conclusions that aren't necessarily correct or complete. This, in turn, can create bias.

Are You Struggling To Move On After An Unexpected Breakup?

Biases are created when a person cherry-picks information that tends to support the answer that they desire most, rather than what might actually be true. It can create an image of a person or situation that is unnecessarily positive or negative. The person then forms a judgment based on that information that answers their question – even if it’s nothing more than a coincidence. The person can feel a sense of closure and be able to move on, even if the conclusion is incorrect.

As can be expected, the intensity of a person's need for closure depends largely on their personality. People with intense needs for closure are often used to being in control and prefer life to go as planned. These people may feel distressed by the idea of uncertainty and tend to be more closed-minded. Their sense of safety and well-being often depends on structure and plans.

Conversely, people with low needs for closure tend to be more creative and open-minded and are more willing to "go with the flow." These individuals may have already made up their minds about a situation, but they can remain willing to consider alternatives. They are also more likely to enjoy spontaneous activities and keep friends who are unpredictable.

The Need For Closure Scale (NFCS)

To determine where someone's priorities lie, there is a Need for Closure Scale, or NFCS, which is used for psychological science. is the NFCS is comprised of 42 items and has been used in many studies and translated into multiple languages. The NFCS evaluates people based on two factors: their decisiveness and their need for order. To provide a more accurate representation of someone's personality, the NFCS was condensed back in 2011 down to 15 of the original items. Those who score higher on the NFCS are considered to be more conservative, which can also correlate with political and social conservativism.

Some results of the NFCS may indicate people with a need to avoid closure. The need to avoid closure is born from a person's desire to avoid commitment or confrontation. In other words, someone avoiding closure may not want certain questions answered. They might be afraid of what they'll learn. However, there is also the non-specific need to avoid closure, which is the fear of receiving the answer to a question, regardless of whether the answer would have a positive or negative effect.

Why Closure Is Necessary For A Broken Relationship

After a breakup, you are ultimately responsible for providing the closure that you need. But how do you find closure when you don't fully understand the reason for a relationship ending? It can be especially difficult to move on from someone else's decision. This is why closure is difficult to obtain after unanticipated death, as well.

To achieve closure after a relationship ends, you must be able to understand why the relationship ended and learn how to no longer feel any emotional attachment to or pain and anger toward the other person. When you achieve closure, you can better focus on forming new and healthy relationships, both with yourself and with others.

We often feel a need to know the reason for a relationship ending because we understand our lives as a story, and it's difficult to give a story a proper ending when it ends right in the middle – and we weren't the ones to end it. When someone breaks up with us, be it a friendship or romantic relationship, they are ”telling their story,” in a sense. Because they know the reason for the breakup, they have a beginning, middle, and end, but we may not have a grip to that same information or perspective. 

When we receive closure, we can restructure our stories by correcting any misunderstandings and filling in the gaps. However, when the other person refuses to help provide closure, we’re often left with questions: "How could they do this to me?" "What could I have done differently?" "Were there signs along the way that I missed that something was wrong?" "How can I trust myself to do the right thing in future relationships?"

How To Give Someone Closure

Perhaps you've been on the receiving end of a bad breakup, and you don't want to do that to someone else. You realize you're in a relationship that is not providing you with what you know you need, or alternatively, you know that you are not able to give the relationship what it needs, and you want to break up with the person and start anew. How do you end a relationship with someone while giving them the closure they need?

Breaking up with someone is not easy. It may seem like the "easy way out" to break up with them over a text message or the phone, but this is generally not a compassionate thing to do. Not only is it a means of avoiding the necessary conflict and communication to healthily end things, but this is a surefire way to inhibit someone's ability to find closure. It may be hard to be honest about your reasons for breaking up with the person, but it is important to take responsibility for your actions and give the person clear reasons for ending your relationship.

By giving the other person closure, you may still feel guilty for ending the relationship, but at least there won't be an unhealthy process with unanswered questions and no understanding. If you're leaving because you feel communication has broken down to the point where all you do is fight, then tell them that. If you're leaving because you feel that you can no longer give the relationship what it needs (or conversely are not receiving what you need from it), they should hear that, too.

If you're leaving because you fell out of love with your partner, again, this may be a painful thing to have to say, but by admitting it, you are doing yourself a world of good, too. Saying this may be perceived negatively, but it can bring mutual understanding and a healthier breakup process for both of you. Maybe you didn't realize how much this was true until you put it into words, and now you can stop denying it and start the healing process yourself. Please note, however, that these tips are for those in largely healthy, non-abusive relationships. Please seek help if you are leaving someone because they are physically or emotionally abusive. The National Domestic Violence Hotline is available online or via 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

Strategies For Establishing Closure

There may be instances where you will not be able to get the closure you desire from someone else, either because they refuse to communicate with you, or they are no longer present. In these cases, there are ways to initiate healing on your own.

Taking a moment to write your feelings and plans in a journal can provide great clarity. Try documenting your thoughts and emotions before making a reactive decision. Journaling can do wonders to help you work through the situation, process your emotions, and build self-awareness. The act of writing our thoughts can help slow our thinking down, and the ability to make connections can provide the clarity we are hoping to gain from someone else who cannot or will not give it to us.

S. Meditation is another great way to get in touch with your thoughts and emotions. When you are relaxed and thinking clearly, it can be easier to contemplate the best way to give or get closure. 

Reframing your thoughts through an empowered lens can also help provide closure. Have you been portraying yourself as a victim of someone else’s decision-making? Instead of constantly wondering, “Why is this happening to me?” or “How could they do this to me?” consider what may be happening for you or within you. At the end of the day, we are responsible for our own feelings, which we can control with our thoughts. Taking the time to examine your inner dialogue can not only enable you to claim authorship of your own story – it can also enlighten you as to how your disempowered language or thought processes might have weakened your relationship. 

Online Therapy Can Help Provide Closure

If you're experiencing challenges from a difficult breakup process or the loss of a loved one, and you are struggling to move on without some closure, consider reaching out to a professional counselor at BetterHelp. Online therapy options like BetterHelp have been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy. In a systematic literature review of nine studies, researchers concluded that internet-based and mobile-based therapeutic interventions provide effective treatment for symptoms of grief in adults experiencing bereavement. Overall, participants in these trials experienced significant reductions in symptoms of grief, depression, and post-traumatic stress.

Online therapy is also an incredibly convenient option – you can attend your appointment from any time and location, as long as you have an internet connection to get started. This process may be of particular use if you’re struggling with grief and closure – sometimes, in the midst of grieving, leaving the house can seem a monumental and wholly undesirable task, even if we want or know that we need help. Utilizing online therapy can help you get out of a slump and achieve a sense of resolution without the added stress of needing to leave the house or sit in an office. Additionally, online therapy tends to be more affordable since therapists don’t need to increase prices to help account for the cost of renting out an office or building space. If you’re curious, you can read some reviews below of BetterHelp counselors from people seeking help with achieving closure.

Counselor Reviews

"Chinyere has been amazing with being supportive of me when I need it most and I have no one really else in the world to listen. She has given me good coping tools and made me feel like over time I can get through the pain I’m feeling for the loss of my fiancé. I would highly recommend her!”

Are You Struggling To Move On After An Unexpected Breakup?

“Lauren Uyeji has consistently listened intently to my issues regarding my breakup and fear of being alone, and has always responded in a timely and insightful fashion. I really couldn't ask more from a counselor. I had a therapist in the past who said barely anything and I remember getting very little from my time with him over a whole year of counseling. Lauren knows how to ask the right questions and give answers that are wise and informative. I feel like I am talking to someone that cares and is seriously considering ways to interact with the things I say. None of the questions she asks feel generic or insincere - they always are directly related to the immediate topic at hand and guide my thinking in ways that I feel actually growth. I would highly recommend Lauren to anyone seeking help with dealing with intense emotions.”

Takeaway

Giving or getting closure can be difficult. When you focus your energy on doing it the best way you know how, you may achieve the best results. A licensed professional can help get you there. Take the first step today.

For additional help & support with your concerns

The information on this page is not intended to be a substitution for diagnosis, treatment, or informed professional advice. You should not take any action or avoid taking any action without consulting with a qualified mental health professional. For more information, please read our terms of use.
Get The Support You Need From One Of Our TherapistsGet Started