Defining Closure Psychology
By Nadia Khan
Updated November 13, 2019
Reviewer Ann-Marie Duncan
When a relationship ends, or when a loved one passes away, we often hear about the need for "closure." But what is closure anyway? The closure psychology definition is a person's desire for a direct answer to a question that, once answered, leaves no room for uncertainty. When we say a person has a "need" for closure, we're saying that the person is motivated to seek out the answers they need to clear up any doubts they may have so they can move on.
When a person seeks closure, he or she is motivated by the benefits that receiving that closure can provide. For instance, the closure can give someone a feeling of control where there wasn't one before, and it can provide a stronger foundation on which the person can take action.
Consider the following example: Amy and Sean break up by way of a text message sent to Amy by Sean. Amy thought everything was going well and is completely blindsided by Sean breaking up with her. Sean refuses to text her anything further, ignores her phone calls, and avoids seeing her whenever possible. Amy seeks out Sean because she wants closure insofar as 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 officially move on.
Closure Psychology: Psychology Related To Tendency
According to experts in the field, 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 upon being presented with an initial answer that seems close to what would make them feel better. This, in turn, can create bias.
Biases are created when a person cherry-picks the information that would support the answer that he or she expects or desires most. The person then forms a judgment based on the information he or she is sticking to, and that answers his or her question - even if, in actuality, it is nothing more than a coincidence. The person will feel a sense of closure and be able to move on from the situation, even if the conclusion reached is, in fact, incorrect but seemed logical enough in the end to a person so in need of closure.
As can be expected, the intensity of a person's need for closure depends largely on their personality. For instance, someone with an intense need for closure is used to being in control and prefers things to go as planned or predicted. This person is distressed by the idea of uncertainty and tends to be more closed-minded. He or she believes that success depends on a person having the rules spelled out for them and there is a sense of order present in the process.
Conversely, someone with a relatively low need for closure tends to be more creative and open-minded and is 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 the alternatives. These people are also more likely to enjoy spontaneous activities and keep friends who are, for the most part, 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, unsurprisingly, can also tie back to political and social conservativism.
The Need To Avoid Closure
The exact opposite of the need for closure is a person's need to avoid closure. The need to avoid closure is born from a person's desire to avoid commitment. In other words, someone who is practicing avoidance of closure is seeking to avoid having specific questions answered. A person may avoid closure because he or she is afraid of the answers they might find. However, there is also the non-specific need to avoid closure, which is the fear of receiving the answer to a question, no matter whether the answer would have a positive or negative effect.
Why Closure Is Necessary For A Broken Relationship
The best advice a person can receive in the wake of a bad break-up is: "only you can give yourself the closure you need." Without proper guidance, however, this may seem insensitive at best, and impossible at worst. How does a person find closure when he or she does not fully understand the reason for the break-up, and therefore cannot reconcile it psychologically? It can be especially difficult to move on from a decision that you were not the one to make, and that has a profound impact on your life. This is why closure is difficult to obtain after death as well.
To achieve closure after a relationship ends, the person must be able to understand why the relationship ended and no longer feel any emotional attachment to, or pain and anger toward, his or her ex. Only when closure has been achieved can the person can go to form new and - and this is key - healthy relationships.
What's interesting is that we need to know the reason for a break-up because we understand everything around us as a kind of story, and it's difficult to give a story a proper ending when it ends right in the middle - and when 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(s) for the break-up, 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 in 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 is 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?"
How To Give Someone Closure
Perhaps you've been on the receiving end of a bad break-up, and you don't want to do that to someone else. You realize that 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 that they need?
First off, 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 over 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 with them.
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 simply 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 are suffering from a bad breakup or the loss of a loved one, and you feel like you simply cannot move on without some closure, consider reaching out to one of our BetterHelp counselors for help.