Are you actually AVOIDING closure?

Posted on April 29, 2011

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This month we’ve been talking about closure-why you need it and how to get it. I’ve even give you two activities that have worked incredibly well for many clients who’ve been struggling to achieve it.

But… maybe you haven’t done them. Maybe you’ve been putting them off. Maybe, just maybe, you’re avoiding closure.

Why would anyone avoid closure? you may be wondering. In my work with clients, what I’ve found is that people often avoid closure because they are afraid of moving forward.

Yes, they may be nervous about the inevitable grieving process that accompanies the acceptance of loss, yes they may be scared to admit that they really are single, yes they may want to cling to the past and not admit that a relationship really is over. But beneath this anxiety is always a fear of moving into the unknown.

Once you admit that a door is closed, that a relationship is over, you have to find somewhere else to go. You’re going to have to start all over, with someone new, in a different relationship. It is actually this fear that paralyzes people into not letting go. People use closure-avoidance to avoid the feeling of not knowing because they think that uncertainty is frightening.

If you believe you fall into this category, if this seems like something you may be doing, let me offer you some coaching strategies that may help. You can use one or all of these if you need to. Most people find that by honestly answering these questions they are able to get just the shift they need to be brave enough to start the process of letting go.

1. Ask yourself: What would I be thinking about if I were not thinking about my ex or past relationship? 

This is a variation of the question the renowned psychotherapist Irv Yalom asks clients who are entertaining obsessive thoughts. Often, our obsessive thinking about the past and our exes acts as a  dysfunctional shield that prevents us from facing other, more uncomfortable thoughts and feelings. But once we face these, we are then challenged to deal with them, drastically reducing the power the obsessive thoughts previously had.

One client of mine realized, after honestly examining this question, that she was using thoughts of her ex to avoid making a big career change; another realized her obsession with an ex was a way for her to avoid grieving the loss of one of her parents.

2. Ask yourself: What will I gain by letting go of this relationship? And then make a list.

As human beings, we have a perceptional brain handicap-we hate loss and will do almost anything we can to avoid it (even if it’s totally irrational). Neuroscientists call this “loss aversion” (our brains actually actively work to avoid facing loss) and they’ve noticed that this is the same phenomena that tempts people into making poor financial investment decisions.

So with this simple question, I’m asking you to shift your perception to one of gain, rather than loss. Instead of focusing on what you’ll lose if you let go of your ex-partner, start listing all of the things that you’ll gain. This will actually create a new, creative neural pathway in your brain that often inspires hope for the future, rather than dread.

3. Ask yourself: Who am I without this relationship? 

So many of us (women especially) define ourselves by our relationships. Many times, when we lose a relationship, we feel that we’ve actually lost part of our own selves, part of our identities. So start exploring who you are without the labels you put on yourself while you were in the relationship. Many people are pleasantly surprised by what they find when they start this journey.

One former client, who always believed she was the quiet, mousy one in her marriage, realized that she was actually quite ambitious and funny. When she let go of the role she had been placed into during her relationship with her ex-husband, she discovered a whole, new side of herself.

4. Figure out what’s exciting about uncertainty.

Let’s face it- we humans really fear the unknown. Yeah, we complain about the boringness of routine and predictability, but when it comes time for some change, many of us balk.

Start thinking about what’s exciting about not knowing what’s going to happen next. I’ve noticed in my own life that uncertainty usually accompanies some of the best adventures I’ve ever had. Finding the good in not-knowing takes some of the fear away.

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Posted in: Letting Go