This is our truth, tell us yours
The concept of closure is one that has gained much popularity in both the pop psychology aisle of the bookstore and the minds of writers, both fiction and non fiction. We are repeatedly told it is the desired outcome to any traumatic event, that a moment will be reached when we close the door on one stage of our life, ready to move into the sunlit hills, the badness of the past ahead and a life full of rainbows and kittens stretched before us.
You can probably tell from my tone what I think of such an idea, of the idea of closure generally. People seem to have bought into the myth that when they reach this mythical state of closure they will be born again, all the stains of past trauma will be washed from them and they will start out on life anew. It is no coincident that the idea of closure first gained traction in the US where the concept of being a born again Christian is huge, and where the dream is seemingly to have it all or die trying. In a culture where striving is praised and failure not to be countenanced closure fits perfectly. Any bad thing can be separated off, declared over and you can move on in your ever upward march to become the next President.
When traumatic events happen they spill into every aspect of our lives, and they change us. Part of learning to live with such events is accepting and understanding that change. Understanding can never be reached if we close the lid on the past though. Like Heraclitus’ ship we are constantly changing, growing, learning, and this is a good thing! If we attempt to close off one part as finished, because it brought us pain and trauma we also close off the chance to learn from that pain and trauma. It is also very likely that the pain will leak over into the rest of our lives when we are least expecting it.
Ghats the problem with closed doors, sometimes the only way they can be opened is by breaking them down. If you have ever experienced being in the grip of unwanted emotions, especially from some event you thought you had dealt with you know how damaging that can be. It is though a result of our cultural obsession with closure. We tell ourselves and others that certain ways of feeling, that still being effected by events in the past is wrong, that we need to “get over it”. I have seen it in the opposition to trigger warnings from some people. Apparently people who have suffered trauma need to confront it, presumably in pursuit of that holy grail of “moving on”.
I wish we could show the same grace and kindness we do to those recovering from trauma as we do, or should, to those grieving. It is a central tenet of grief counselling that you will never forget the loved one, that their influence and effect on you will remain. what will happen is a coming to terms with the loss of them from your life, an acceptance. This is not closure, no door on the past is bolted against memories and pain, instead we accept we can live with the memories and pain.
How different would it be if this were the attitude towards all trauma? No demands we move on but instead an understanding that yes our lives have been changed, but that we can live with that change. The aim not being closure but accommodation and learning, with an eventual goal of saying yes. that happened and I am still here. it is a part of who I am. not separate from me.
Many thanks must go to Carter who promted many of the thoughts in this post.