Defining Closure Psychology

By: Mary Elizabeth Dean

Updated January 26, 2021

Medically Reviewed By: 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 and resolution that 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 and move forward.

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, and finally gets the closure that she seeks when she discovers that Sean is dating someone else. 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 find closure, 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 tends to support the answer that they desire most, rather than what might actually be true. 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 may tend to be more closed-minded. Their sense of security and wellbeing 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 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 correlate 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 or confrontation. 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 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 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. Only when the closure has been achieved can you form new and healthy relationships, both with yourself and with others.

We need to know the reason for 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, 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 to help provide 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 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 good 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.

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 way to get in touch with your thoughts and emotions. 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 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. 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 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. Online therapy options like BetterHelp have been found to be just as effective as in-person therapy. In fact, all participants in a grief-online therapy efficacy study not only improved significantly during treatment, but improvement was stable and continued even three months after online therapy treatment ended.

Online therapy is an incredibly convenient option, accessible anytime and anywhere so long as you have an internet connection to get started. This 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 office or building space.

Read below for some reviews 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!”

“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.”

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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