July 20, 2015

Rethinking the Past

Yesterday I came to the conclusion that my past is not something I need to run from but rather it is something I need to embrace. So often, I think people fear living in the past, living in regret of past mistakes, and as a result, they never come to experience any closure on the choices they made 10, 20, 30 or even 40 years ago. I read once that closure, emotional closure, related to past experiences is part of the process of life, of learning to let go and move on, and to not allow the past opportunity to control or define you. Furthermore, closure implies acceptance, and it is the act of accepting the past, that enables us to move forward in life. Brenner (2011) states, "Closure means finality; a letting go of what once was. Finding closure implies a complete acceptance of what has happened and an honoring of the transition away from what's finished to something new. In other words, closure describes the ability to go beyond imposed limitations in order to find different possibilities" (para. 1). Whether the past contained mistakes made through poor choices or events or circumstances that seemed to be thrust upon us (a death of a loved one, a divorce, etc.), the closing out process, the ritualistic expulsion of our memories, of objects, and of meaningful artifacts, can be difficult and painful for us to do. Yet, psychologists suggest that this process of letting go can actually bring positive results and open doors of opportunity for future experiences. Thus, "Finding closure allows you to move into your future, unencumbered and optimistic" (para. 13), in order to move forward, we must close the door on our past.

Not everyone agrees that emotional closure should be the end goal of grief. Sociologist Nancy Berns suggests that closure is a myth. She writes about the pop psychology beginnings of the term "closure" in her book titled, "Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us." Bern states that closure is a made up concept, and that because grief is uniquely personal and individualized there should be no pressure to end the process. She states, "The idea of closure [is seen] as a new emotional state for explaining what we need and how we’re supposed to respond to trauma and loss. But closure is a rhetorical concept, a made-up term . . . .Closure is not something that we can simply find or something we need. It’s a frame used to explain how we should respond to loss" (as cited in Dehrer, 2011).

Berns is suggesting that grief is a fluid process, one without a specific end. I understand her view, and I do think she is right in part. I think that no one who experiences grief should be made to conform to a set period of time or made to feel as though their feelings are not valid just because they are still grieving their loss some 1, 5 or even 10 years after the experience. What I think is wrong, however, is this idea that it is okay to remain stuck in grief, that it is "normal" to stay tied to the past long after the event has ended. This to me, and granted I am not a psychologist, seems to suggest that there is no value in moving on, in looking forward, or in approaching life with an optimistic outlook.

It is an interesting topic to consider, and when thinking about the fact that "closure" is a term with almost no legitimate psychological backing, it does make one think about whether or not closure even exists (Bandes, 2008, p. 2; Berns, 2011). Yet, not withstanding critics, there are some practitioners who suggest, no who argue, that closure is vital to successfully ending the painful process of emotional healing. Bandes (2008) writes about the nature of our emotional responses, and states that they are sociologically complex. Her view is that "emotions are not formed, experienced or expressed in a vacuum" (p. 6), thus suggesting that cultural heritage as well as personal experience often influence the way we process our emotional states. In short, because of the very nature of emotional experience, it is difficult to characterize one way or to suggest an approach that can enable an individual (a victim of a crime, as she asserts) to find closure.

Therefore, considering the tenability of emotional processing, it is clear that closure or a sense of finality is something that many scholars feel is unlikely to exist let alone become a psychological panacea to help victims and individuals overcome their emotional baggage and pain. Yet, while I agree that "one size doesn't fit all" in the case of closure, I do believe that the Bible clearly addresses this idea, and encourages it as a means to enable individuals the ability to move past certain experiences. The Old Testament law, for example, included a number of regulations (see Leviticus) that were permitted to allow individuals to receive "pay back" as a means of victims rights. Clearly, God concluded that relationships, while messy and difficult, needed a system of regulations that would permit individuals the opportunity "to forgive and to forget."

As I think about my life today, I am wondering how much of my life is stuck in "N." I mean, have I really let go of the painful experiences of my childhood, my marriage, or my former life? I think in many ways, I have moved on. Yet, I still blog about these experiences, and I still share them with others, and even though the pain is lessened, and the past dimmed, I still wonder how much of my former life I am holding onto because of my fear of the finality of closing that chapter. I know that my experiences have shaped my character, and in many ways, the person I am today is a result of those experiences. So whether or not I have closed each chapter, I still find that much of what I am, of who I am, is the result of my former life.

I am blogging about closure today because I feel like this is something the Lord has laid on my heart. I have been very transparent with my experiences, and I have not shied away from the hurt I felt as a child, the victimization I experienced at the hands of others during my childhood and teen years. I have been open about the pain in my marriage, and the struggles I have had coming to terms with the reality and the truth of my responsibility in the choices and patterns (behaviors) I engaged in. Still, there is part of me that knows that I have moved on, that I have made great strides forward, and that I am now at the point where I am ready and willing to begin a new chapter in my life.

How long must one grieve for the loss of a relationship? What is an acceptable amount of grieving?

In my case, several friends and family members questioned my grieving process. They felt that I was too quick to give into the loss of my marriage, that I resigned myself to the finality of the decision, and that I didn't "try" hard enough for reconciliation. I certainly grieved, privately of course, and I did publicly share some of my emotional turmoil as I processed the truth of my marriage ending. Still, I suffered condemnation from well-meaning individuals, Christians, who refused to consider the details of my life as being satisfactorily "sanctioned" for divorce. What is more is the fact that I as meet with other divorcee's, I find that their experience is similar to mine. Many share the fact that their church refused to counsel them, to help them, or to support them as they dealt with their divorce. Many turned their backs on them, refused to acknowledge the process, and later treated them as "different" because of the fact that they were now single. It is true, and it is a shame that this happens in our Churches, but it does, and it does so frequently.

I wonder if this is why the Lord has allowed me to blog so openly about the painful discoveries I made, and the process I have experienced as I learned how to live as a single person again. I have no doubt in my mind that the Lord intends me to counsel others, simply because I have experienced the pain and the sorrow of seeing a marriage come to an unexpected end.

Moving On

I was reading online today about "closure conversations" and how many psychologists suggest that couples who are breaking up have such a conversation. The idea is to recognize the end of the relationship, and to ritualize the closure so that the individuals can move on freely and engage in other relationships without fear of guilt or shame. It is an interesting idea for sure, but I wonder how many people are adult enough to handle having such a conversation. I mean, I cannot imagine having a conversation with my ex-husband in order to "move on." We pretty much did this already, but let's say I decide to move across the country, and I am planning on getting married again, would this be a necessary step for me? Would I have to have a "closure conversation" to let my ex-husband know that I am moving on with my life?

Hmmm. I am not sure. I guess it does make sense, really. How else would he know that I was moving forward unless I took the time to tell him about it. I guess I could post my status on Facebook, mark my relationship from "single" to "in a relationship." I am sure that would cause some heads to turn (LOL!) I see young people do this all the time, and I wonder about it. What would my family think? What would my friends say? Would they congratulate me or would they grill me for details?

When it all comes down to it, I believe strongly in the providence of God. I believe that God orchestrates the details of our life, and that He is intimately aware of the goings on in it. As such, the Lord cares for us, and has us well covered, so whether we are struggling to put our life back in gear after a loss or whether we are trying to let go of long ago pain, the Lord is there with us. He is holding on to us, and He is helping us learn to trust Him so we can move forward.

My life has been mixed up for a long time, but now I see with great clarity and focus. I am expecting good things to come from the changes the Lord has allowed in my life. Some of His providential care enabled me to avoid calamity, and some enabled me to endure as I processed through the painful experiences and learned lessons from them. In all, God has kept me in His great care, and He has surrounded me with His mercy and His goodness.

Today, as I think about moving forward, starting to drive forward toward what I believe is the new life the Lord has in store for me, I remember the past, but I no longer hold on to it. I let it go, all of it, and I let it live in the past memories and pages of those long closed chapters. I am writing a new book, a new story, and the details are emerging every single day that I am alive and walking in His word, His wisdom, and His way. God is good, so very good to me. I look forward to the plans He has for my life, and I embrace the opportunities He is bringing to me. He is the author and finisher of my faith, and as such, He is authoring these details, these next steps. May God be praised forever more, and may His Name be lifted high. For He alone is worthy of our praise!


References

Berns, N. (2011). Closure: The rush to end grief and what it costs us. Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Brenner, A. (2011, April 6). 5 Ways to Find Closure From the Past | Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-flux/201104/5-ways-find-closure-the-past

Dreher, C. (2011, September 4). The myth of closure - The Boston Globe. Retrieved from http://www.boston.com/lifestyle/health/articles/2011/09/04/the_myth_of_closure/

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