The MYTH of Closure

………“closure” as a form of accounting for grief or catastrophe can come to impact people’s lives in ways that are not always positive”

Grief is a concept, used in talk, so that people can tell stories and make narrative sense of grief. But the current use of closure, has little to do with the way Gestalt psychologists originally used the term.   Although there are numerous definitions and interpretations of “closure“, it usually relates to some type of ending. Closure typically implies that something is finished, ended, closed. Finally you can move on.” This is not what Max Wertheimer, an early Gestalt psychologist in the 1920s meant. For early Gestaltists, studying perception, “closure” referred to how discrete elements are  as wholes. For example, the term was used to discuss how “gaps” in perception and sensory stimuli were “filled in” by the brain (e.g. the optic nerve creates a blind spot in the eyes field of vision. Yet the brain works so that we still experience the visual field as intact and continuous).


Sociologically and psychologically speaking, the kinds of things that “closure” is supposed to remedy or as an end state to be achieved by grievers, has little reality. Grief or trauma has no clear ends, nor is, for example, grief a bad thing or something that can’t be integrated, in a healthy way, into one’s life.  “Closure” has become a “need” to be met.

The danger of how “closure” is most frequently used is that it sets normative standards on how people “ought” to feel. As a “feeling rule,” to quote Arlie Hochschild, it tells people what kinds of emotions are important, sets normative expectations on how long sadness or grief should be experienced,   and how to regulate the expression of public grief, traumas, etc. in public settings. In this sense, “closure” is one more way to rationalize and sanitize what are often quite reasonable emotions are re-packaged as “tidy, feel-good endings.”


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