Defining Closure Psychology

By Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated May 11, 2020

Reviewer Ann-Marie Duncan

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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 they need to move on.

How Closure Psychology is Defined

People seeking closure are motivated by the benefits it can provide. For example, closure can give someone a feeling of control where there wasn't one before, and it can provide a stronger foundation on which one can take action.

Consider the following example: Sean breaks up with Amy via a text message. Amy thought everything was going well and is completely blindsided. Sean refuses to text her anything further, ignores her phone calls, and avoids seeing her whenever possible. Amy seeks out Sean because she wants to know why their relationship ended. Amy finally gets the closure she seeks when she discovers Sean with another woman at their favorite hangout. Amy now has her answer and feels she can move on.

If you're seeking closure, you may feel lost, but you are not alone. Many people have found success through self-help strategies or therapy. You can have success, too!

According to experts, a person's motivation for closure 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 tendencies that a person may jump to conclusions that aren't necessarily correct. This, in turn, can create bias.

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Biases are created when a person cherry-picks information that would support the answer they desire most. The person then forms a judgment based on that information that answers their question-even if, in actuality, it's nothing more than a coincidence. The person will 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 are distressed by the idea of uncertainty and tend to be more closed-minded. They believe success depends on clear rules and a sense of order.

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 are always 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 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 scale was condensed back in 2011 down to 15 of the original items found on the NFCS. Those who score higher on the NFCS are considered to be more conservative, which can also connect with political and social conservativism.

The Need to Avoid Closure

Some people also have a need to avoid closure. The need to avoid closure is born from a person's desire to avoid commitment. In other words, someone avoiding closure doesn't 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, only you can give yourself the closure you need. But how do you find closure when you don't fully understand the reason for the breakup? It can be especially difficult to move on from someone else's decision. This is why closure is difficult to obtain after death as well.

To achieve closure after a relationship ends, you must be able to understand why the relationship ended and no longer feel any emotional attachment to, or pain and anger toward your ex. Only when the closure has been achieved can you form new and healthy relationships.

We need to know the reason for a breakup 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, he or she can tell their story. Since they know the reason for the breakup, they have a beginning, middle, and end, but we don't. We're thrown from what we may have thought to be a safe and happy place into unknown territory.

When we receive closure, we then have the missing piece. We can restructure our stories by correcting any misunderstandings and filling in the gaps. However, when the other person refuses closure, all that's left are questions: "How could s/he 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?"

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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 the fulfillment you felt previously, and you want to break up with the person and start anew with someone else. How do you break up 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 probably the worst thing you can do. Not only is it cowardice on your end, but this is a surefire way to steal 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.

Other Solutions

Try journaling. Taking a moment to write your feelings and plans offers clarity. Try documenting your thoughts and emotions into a journal before making a move.

Start meditating. Meditation is a great time to get in touch with your thoughts. When you are relaxed and thinking clearly, it will be much easier to contemplate the best way to give or get closure.

Brush up on your communication skills. When it comes to getting or giving closure, most of the battle is how you say it. Knowing what to say and how to say it will make a world of difference in the psychology of closure.

Seeking Help

By giving the other person closure, you may still feel guilty for ending the relationship, but at least there won't be any unanswered questions. 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 fell in love with someone else, it may be awful to hear it, but they need to.

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. 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 normal, non-abusive relationships. Please seek help if you are leaving someone because he or she is physically or emotionally abusive.

If you're suffering from a bad breakup or the loss of a loved one, and you feel you cannot move on without some closure, consider reaching out to a professional counselor at BetterHelp. Read below for some reviews of BetterHelp counselors from people experiencing similar issues.

Counselor Reviews

"Mary Smith is very thoughtful and a great listener. I can tell she has a lot of experience dealing with many situations and people, which gives me comfort. She always stays on track with my concerns and goals, and always offers relavent suggestions and tools to help me to conquer issues. I definitely recommend Mary Smith to anyone who feels stuck in their toxic ways formed by difficult past experiences, but you want to overcome. I believe Mary has the skills to help someone who really wants to change for the better."

"She's been instrumental in helping me discover and unpack learned behavior I wasn't even aware of and helping me understand and establish healthy boundaries with people in my life. I can undoubtedly say that I've been feeling better about myself and more comfortable with the way I walk through the world in large part thanks to her."

Conclusion

Giving or getting closure can be difficult. When you focus your energy on doing it the best way you know how, you get the best results. A licensed professional can help get you there. Ending relationships just as healthily as you started them is important to your mental wellbeing. Take the first step today.


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