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Closure for Head Bangers______________________________________________

(originally posted on February 19 , 2010) Robert McFadden

Ever feel like you’re banging your head against a wall? Like there’s something you’d give anything to get
over – some problematic relationship, unfinished business or self-damaging behaviour - but you just
can’t get where you want to be? Consider the following:

I can imagine my life as a corridor lined with doors on either side. Some doors open to good
things; others I need to close and move on.

The metaphor of closing a door to describe the idea of "closure" is highly appealing for a few reasons:

• Experience: Closing a door is a simple skill most of us practice daily; easy to identify with and
clear in its result. Familiar and effective. Imagine using this metaphor in a typical conversation
with a 17th century Inuit grandmother – how far could you reasonably expect to get?

• Ubiquity: Take the next fifteen minutes and call everyone you know to see if anyone doesn’t get
it: “What do you mean; you want to close that door on that part of your life? Want door?” This
metaphor is so ingrained culturally that it, in turn, spawns other metaphors. Consider the
“closing the door” inference in the following from a woman who lost a relative in the Oklahoma
City bombing: "There is no such thing as closure for people who lost family in the bombing. The
only closure is when they close the lid on my casket."

• Beliefs: We confabulate close bonds between words according to how they sound. Brett
Pelham’s paper, Why Susie Sells Sea Shells by the Seashore, suggests our inordinately high
tendency to forge associations of this type in key areas of our lives: the work we do, partners we
seek, and places we live. The number of dentists named Dennis, couples named John and Jane,
and men named Louis living in St. Louis are disproportionately high. “Closure” and “closing a
door”: it’s hard not to believe they are one.

• Viscosity: Metaphors, like stereotypes and characterizations, draw power from their ambiguity
and malleability of meaning. When we talk of closing the door on an episode, what exactly is the
door? Our emotions? Another person’s actions? A sequence of events? The slippery nature of
metaphor can give us the impression of meaningful engagement at the very moment we don
blinders and stumble out into the night.

It is inevitable that we will use some sort of metaphor to describe closure – that’s the nature of
language. Question is, does the metaphor deliver? Going by the grief, stress, and sense of futility
witnessed daily, the most optimistic answer appears to be “maybe”. Another way to judge the value of
the “closing door” metaphor is to consider it in the light of other alternatives.

What if we were to remodel the metaphor? Let’s say the door still works, but the “corridor” concept has
to go. Each door opened leads into a new space – perhaps a room or stairway; maybe even another
corridor. This space too is lined with doors. Let’s add a few archways and vestibules for good measure.
The point is you keep moving forward; your starting place receding in relevance. M.C.
Escher’s Relativity (1953) depicts the idea perfectly:
Another alternative would be to make comparisons with entirely different metaphors for life.
Consider Life as a Book, in which adversities may be overcome by turning a new page and starting a new
chapter. Contemporary variants might include Life as Mario (go down a new warp pipe; win a new level)
and Life as a Blog (conceive
conceive a new thought; publish a new post). These may all be variations on Life as a
Story; an approach explored by Dan McAdams in his paper The Psychology of Life Stories.
Stories On the further
reaches of this approach, we might consider including Gestalt Therapy’s Law of Closure,Closure whereby our
minds fill in the blanks
anks (i.e.: complete the narratives) of patterns we perceive as regular figures (i.e.:
simple visual stories). How easy is it not to see a circle and a square in the image below?

Here's another one: Life as a Circle. Presented in the guise of the seasons,, aging, biorhythms, or just
straight out two-dimensional
dimensional geometry, the circle may well be the mother of all life metaphors.
Adversities are simply part of the deal, with renewal offering redemption through new beginnings
tempered by anything from changing circumstances and songs of experience to just plain old good luck.
The real power of the circle as metaphor resides in linking the final moment to the first. "How did I get
here?" "What do I do this time round?" Popular variations on the circle are the co
coilil and the spiral, with
their mathematical sibling the Fibonacci number sequence

Or consider Life as Flora. The most familiar metaphor of this type is used to illustrate families – either
ancestral or evolutionary: the tree. Try revamping this metaphor into a more personally relevant form.
What, in your own life experience, are your branches? Who, of the people around you, comprise your
wind, gravity, rain and sunshine? What kind of a tree are you? Why do you have leaves? Do they fall?
Why? Where is your ideal growing environment? When do your buds flower? What adversities do you
weather? How?

Or you might want to take the metaphor in an entirely different direction, as did Charles Darwin
with this sketch for the evolutionary tree of life:

Let's switch gears completely and consider Life as an Axis of Polarities. Think of a teeter-totter with Dick
Cheney sitting on one end and the Dalai Lama on the other. As Dick goes up, so too does our need for
certainty. As the Dalai Lama ascends, so does our ability to embrace ambiguity. According to the Need
for Closure Scale, each of us has our own variation on this scenario playing within. Fear and stress cause
Dick to rise up, while compassion and curiosity buoy the Dalai Lama. Ironically, studies indicate that Dick
is least likely to be bothered by the need for closure. The first rationale he encounters - some variant of
“Pure Evil” usually does the trick - is enough to get the ball rolling. The Dalai Lama, in contrast, is more
concerned with looking at his dilemmas from as many sides as possible, lessening his chances for a quick
fix and raising the likelihood that he will be -according to Barry Schwartz - less satisfied with his eventual

Barry Schwartz speaks on The Paradox of Choice

An alternative to searching for viable life metaphors may be found in the countless traditions and
practices fostering greater self awareness. Drop the notion of “closure” completely and delve into
approaches to develop a positive, forward-moving frame of mind.Here are a couple of needles that I've
found particularly productive from three of the many self-knowledge haystacks:

• Meditation: Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche was one of many Buddhist ambassadors to make a
profound impact on the western perception of the goals and implications of meditation. You can
preview one of his introductions to the practice on-line in the first chapter of his book The Myth
of Freedom.
• Neuroscience: How does the physical structure and functioning of our bodies affect our
perceptions, feelings and thoughts? Which parts of ourselves we can change; which are written
in stone? The revelations and implications coming out of the labs and studies of neuroscience
for questions like this are – if you haven’t yet heard –astounding. Daniel Goleman’s writings
on Emotional Intelligence - particularly Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than
IQ – remain essential reading in this area. Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself, opens
startling vistas on developments in one area of applied neuroscience: neuroplasticity.
• Psychology: Cognitive Psychology – David Burns’ Feeling Good is one of the most informative
and practical books using this approach, and Transactional Analysis – beginning with Eric Berne’s
work (try Games People Play) - is worth investigating.

Connections between the many routes to self-awareness are spelled out in Jonathan Haidt’s The
Happiness Hypothesis, reframing some of the more perplexing challenges we face through adversity.
Haidt's highly informative web site for the book includes free .pdf versions of full chapters along with
other great resources. Please do check it out.

One of the greatest appreciations to be gained through both metaphor and self-awareness is that of the
interconnectivity between people, perspectives, actions, and all those other things we all too often
leave labelled off to isolated silos. “Ending things”, our pigeonholing habit insists, “and beginning things
are two completely different things.” But is this necessarily so? Rather than focusing on the product of a
particular set of actions – “this is the end; this, the beginning” – see if you can keep your eye on the
processes of which they are a part and with which they intersect. Beginnings have roots; endings seed.

Which offers the better opportunity for growth?

This article was inspired by the University of the Street Café event Living in Transition: When closure is all we need,
why is it so hard to just "let go"? on February 16, 2010 in Montreal. Much thanks to all who participated in the
stimulating conversation.