If you are reading this, there’s a good chance that you are going through something difficult and desperately want to feel better. You’ve probably come across a host of articles telling you that you don’t need closure to move on and, while that may be true, it’s not the reassurance you are looking for right now.
As I’ve explained to my former clients, sometimes just having a plan for overcoming a painful moment in our lives can put us on the right track towards healing. When you lack direction, it’s easy to get lost in your emotions. You might even feel like you’re drowning in your own sorrow.
Through my work in crisis intervention, I have found that the following steps really help to get things back on track. How long it takes depends on the situation and how ready you are to let go and move on. While you might be anxious to see immediate results, don’t rush it. Finding closure is a process. Take your time as you work through the issues and be kind to yourself along the way.
Acknowledge how bad things are
It’s a trend in our society to downplay how bad things have become in our lives. We scroll through Facebook and see people’s “highlight reels” and compare them to our own realities and we end up feeling worse. If you are struggling to get through the day and everything feels like it’s a mess, you owe it to yourself to honor this moment in your life. Don’t sugarcoat or gloss over it.
This is one of those times when someone else’s opinion can’t matter. Be honest with yourself and acknowledge all of the ways in which the situation feels horrible. Give yourself permission to dwell on it for a few hours (or even a full day). It’s okay to admit that your life sucks right now and remember that, no matter how great someone’s Instagram profile seems, their life sucks sometimes too!
Fully allow yourself to feel pain
We are so often told to hide our real emotions, to “toughen up.” We aren’t supposed to be angry, depressed, jealous, or sad. Those things are negative, right? Instead, we are expected to maintain this neutral veneer for fear of being labeled dramatic or “emotional.” That’s completely unrealistic.
Here’s the thing. We are emotional beings. We are hardwired to have feelings so denying them just makes us act crazier. The best thing you can do for yourself is to fully allow yourself to experience whatever you are feeling. If you have a good friend who will listen without judgment, unload on them. Just let it all out! If you prefer to keep whatever’s bothering you to yourself, there are other ways you can process your emotions.
Express your hurt
Take some time to journal every single day (or more, when you need it!). Don’t think about what you are saying. Just let it flow and write it down as it comes to mind. Don’t restrict yourself in any way. If the tears come while you’re doing this, allow them to escape your body. Don’t judge any of this, let things unfold naturally.
Another option is to use guided meditation. Download a meditation app and choose a session that provides support for working through difficult emotions. Be mindful of what you are feeling by internally saying things such as “I am sad. I feel my sadness in my chest, throat, and stomach” (or wherever you feel it). Be curious about what you are experiencing in your body and then try to soften those sensations without denying yourself the right to feel the pain of your situation. It might sound strange, at first, but when you try it, you will probably understand why it feels so good.
Whatever mode of expression you chose, keep it legal and safe while making it entirely your own. If listening to music and dancing (or sobbing… or sobbing while dancing!) works for you, then do that. For a decade, I lived right next to a corn field. Whenever I felt extremely upset, I’d drive along those crops and just scream at the top of my lungs while I listened to U2. It’s specific and odd, I will admit, but it worked and no one was harmed in the process. Man, I miss those corn fields!
Take responsibility for your role
This is a tough one for many people. Who wants to acknowledge that they played any role in the creation of their own suffering? The truth is, though, that in most situations, you were, at the very least, an active participant. Now, to be clear, if you were the victim of an assault or a similar attack, you can’t blame yourself. What happened to you is not your fault. You may still, however, find some healing by working through the other steps in this article.
For everyone else, take some time to think about what is happening and be brutally honest with yourself. Is all of your anger and frustration truly directed at the other person, or people in the situation — or are you also upset with yourself? Again, journaling might help provide some clarity.
Once you have a better understanding of what has truly happened, you may need to make amends. So often, we believe that finding closure is about assigning blame to others, but sometimes it’s about apologizing for something we have done. If you find yourself in this situation, be heartfelt and direct when asking for someone else’s forgiveness. If it feels forced, you may not be ready to say sorry, and it’s better to wait until you are.
Accept that you might not get all the answers
Whenever something goes wrong, it’s a normal to want to understand what happened. Our minds will begin to swirl with seemingly endless possibilities in an effort to find some relief. Eventually, we will start to turn to others for help. For a time, it might seem that your questions are neverending and, while it might annoy others, you deserve to ask them. Seek out whatever information exists, process what you’ve learned, and ask follow-up questions, if you need to.
At some point, though, you will have to accept that there might not anything more to discover. In fact, you might not get any answers at all. This is one of the hardest parts of the healing process because you will have to make the conscious choice to move on despite not having all of the pieces of the puzzle. It’s one of the cruel realities of life but, once you accept that you probably won’t ever know everything, you will have overcome a major hurdle standing in the way of your recovery.
Grieve the loss
Grief will come in many different forms depending on what you’ve lost. Maybe you left a job that you’ve had for a long time. Perhaps, you’re going through an especially painful breakup. You could also be grappling with the sudden death of a loved one. There are so many things that we will go through in our lifetimes and, unfortunately, many of them will be difficult.
Think back on all of the ways you were happy before this situation happened. Reflect on all of the positive feelings and memories. Browse through pictures, read letters, and laugh about funny stories. Then, take a moment to grieve the fact that this chapter in your life has come to an end. This step can take a little longer, which can be frustrating, but you shouldn’t skip it, or cut it short. You will know when you are ready to move forward.
As a side note, if you find that you are exceptionally distraught or unable to deal with the pain of your grief, there is no shame in speaking to a professional. Any one of us can end up in a situation that seems overwhelming. If you need help getting through it, don’t hesitate to ask for it.
Take inventory of your life
After you have worked through your emotions and acknowledged any ways that you may have contributed to the situation, take inventory of your life. Pay particular attention to any patterns that may have helped lead you to this point. Are there any changes that you should make in order to emerge from this moment better than you were before?
It’s amazing how often we will keep negative people and habits in our lives because we either don’t want to take the time to deal with them, or haven’t even noticed how bad things have become. When you are at your lowest, and fighting to regain equilibrium, take notice of improvements that need to be made. At a time like this, when you are rebuilding, it’s an excellent opportunity to usher out anything that no longer serves you. This can be painful in its own right but, once it’s done, you will probably feel relieved.
Say goodbye to the situation
Once you have worked through the process of letting go and feel ready to move on, it’s time to say goodbye to the situation. Don’t be alarmed if the idea of letting go feels scary. It’s normal to want to hang on as long as you can but, at some point, you will know that it’s time to go on with your life.
It might sound a little silly but creating a ritual to release your pain, forgive yourself (if need be), and officially move on can be incredibly cathartic. This is a deeply personal moment so, ultimately, you will have to decide what works best for you. Some people find that burning their journals, pictures, or other mementos is symbolic. There’s just something so freeing and purifying about fire! (Of course, only burn things that belong to you and, of course, do it in a safe way.)
Whatever way you choose, just be sure to end this chapter in your life in a way that is truly meaningful so that you can put this moment behind you and get excited for the future.
Refocus your energy and close the door
When we are going through a tough time, it can consume every spare moment we’ve got. It can be hard to get work done, eat properly, or even sleep. Once you have worked through the emotions, you might find that you’ve got more time on your hands. It might even feel like there’s a void waiting to be filled.
This is a great time to refocus your energy and bring a greater sense of positivity into your life. After all, that’s what finding closure is all about, right? While it might feel good to fall back into familiar routines, it’s also an excellent opportunity to try new adventures. Enroll in a cooking class. Sign up for a 10k race. Go back to school. The sky’s the limit!
You don’t have to reinvent the wheel but there’s something truly empowering about the idea of emerging from the ashes of a horrible experience, and going on to become stronger and better because of it. Most importantly, allow yourself to close the door on that painful chapter of your life and move forward. You will soon discover that it’s entirely possible to ride those winds of change all the way to the top!