Closing with the past: why is it important?

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Joe Dispenza
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Closing with the past: why is it important?

It is common to hear about the need to "close" cycles. How does it apply to the field of emotional relationships? We talk about it in this article.

Last update: February 18, 2022

The black humor television series Six Feet Under chronicles the life of an American family at the head of a funeral home. The protagonists must deal with their domestic problems and, at the same time, maintain a serious composure to help their clients manage the grief, often difficult due to the bizarre deaths narrated at the beginning of each episode. The purpose of the series is to emphasize how much it is important to close with the past, to close the cycles of life.



In the series, mourning is presented all the more difficult the more inexplicable and strange the loss suffered. During each episode we appreciate the need for closure and the different ways to obtain it.

The end of a relationship is a significant loss for us, so in all likelihood we will experience a grieving process. This process will be easier if we have a reasonable explanation of why it happened.

Getting an explanation that is satisfactory for us will allow us to "end" the relationship in a psychologically appropriate way.

What is cognitive closure?

Cognitive closure is the need we have to find a satisfactory explanation for ambiguous or uncertain situations (Kruglanski and Webster, 1996).

When a relationship ends, we need to understand why this has happened and, in doing so, make sense of it within our vital narrative. This explanation will become part of our mental schemes and will help us better explain and predict the world in the future.


However, when a relationship ends and the other person simply disappears, denies us an explanation, we don't believe what they say or don't understand why they acted a certain way, we have the feeling that we have been suspended.


Lack of closure is an annoying feeling because not having information prevents us from knowing ourselves better and makes it difficult for us to understand the world around us.

At the end of the day, we need to integrate lived experiences, give them meaning within our personal values ​​and use them to increase knowledge that in the future will allow us to describe, explain and predict our reality with more precision.

The need to close with the past according to the personality

Although for most people it is necessary to some extent, we don't all have the same need for closure.

Depending on our personality, we will feel this need more or less urgently (Neuberg, Judice and West, 1997):

  • People with a strong need for closure they are characterized by a great intolerance to uncertainty. They tend to be obsessive people, addicted to order, rules and predictability. They need well-defined structures of reality. They can be authoritarian and dogmatic, convinced that they know the "right way" to act. They are often conservative.
  • People with a low need for closure are characterized by greater creativity, as well as a greater tolerance to uncertainty and surprise. They tend to be more impulsive and also more cognitively complex. Their greater cognitive flexibility makes them able to move and adapt in ambiguous or contradictory situations.
  • Finally, there they are also people who need to avoid closure. In this case, the commitment with one's critical sense is suspended. In other words, the person prefers not to know what happened, because he assumes that the explanation will hurt him more than just exposure to uncertainty.

What to do if you are unable to close with the past and if you need it?

Of course, we can't (and shouldn't) force others to meet our needs. When the other person is uncooperative and walks away from us without explanation, we are abandoned in relational limbo.



However, therapy teaches that adopting a healthy attitude means learn to manage one's share of responsibility in every situation. In this case we will have to manage the failure to close.


And what to do, exactly? To resolve an unexplained loss, there is no choice but to forgo the above explanation. It is difficult, it is unfair, but if we think about it carefully, we will see that it is also convenient for us.

The alternative would be to be trapped indefinitely in continuous personal interrogation. Ask us forever Why did this happen? Why to me?. At some point, we will have to stop doing it to move forward.

Through the painful journey of mourning, after dealing with emotions such as sadness, guilt or anger, ultimately our goal should be acceptance.

And to accept what has happened, we must let go of all the burdens that hold us back, including the search for answers, or explanations. Letting go will set us free.

When it happens?

Cognitive closure in a relationship occurs when we can access a plausible explanation why things went this way.


We feel the need to close with the past because this explanation helps us to grasp aspects of ourselves, of others and of the world around us.

Working to end a broken relationship allows us to make sense of the loss we have suffered and say goodbye to an important part of our life.

Unfortunately many times relationships do not end in a mature way and the closure is not complete, leaving us with no answers to our questions. In these cases, giving up the closure is a way to get rid of the ballast. Letting go of the need for explanation will allow us to move forward.

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