I think that “closure” is for cupboards, not for people.

Whenever someone starts talking about “getting closure”, I’m suddenly overcome by an irrational urge to give closure: in the form of a door, with me on one side and the closure-seeker on the other.  

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAFortunately I have an intact and functioning frontal lobe that puts the kibosh on such impulses.

I have no issue with those wanting to work through griefs and grudges that cause them ongoing pain and suffering — I applaud it. Indeed, I encourage self-reflection and will gladly assist those seeking psychological help. My problem, petty and pedantic as it may be, is with the term ‘get closure’.

Part of this is probably my dislike of American self-help guff, but the main reason is that, to me, it suggests that deep hurt and psychological damage can be put in a box on a shelf in the mind and filed away forever: done and dusted, case closed.

My take is that closure is for cupboards, not for people. I prefer terms such as ‘acceptance’ and ‘forgiveness’, and adhere to the ‘forgiven, not forgotten’ principle.

Instead of trying to metaphorically lock out painful memories and throw away the key, I’m a proponent of working towards “taking the hurt out of all the pain”, allowing personal growth by purposely carrying such experiences and positively incorporating them into the sense of self.

I recently ranted about this to a dear friend who sprinkles “closure” into conversations far too liberally for my liking.

He firstly told me that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw self-help-guff-accusatory stones and then said, “‘Closure’ is just a word. Why should it grate? ‘Getting closure’ is exactly the same process as your ‘gaining acceptance’. A rose by any other name and all that.”

While part of me agrees with him, it cannot be denied that word choice matters. Particular synonyms of certain words can be annoying, in poor taste or even downright offensive.

Mind you, the pendulum swings. The political correctness police have attacked the vernacular with gay abandon (should I have said that?). Not even classic children’s books have escaped their reaches. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been banned, bowdlerised and bleeped, and Fanny and Dick will no longer climb Enid Blyton’s Faraway Tree.

While many marginalised groups have proudly reclaimed words that the PC police have been busily exterminating, others have gone even further down the PC line.

One of my roles as a facilitator of mental health training courses is to invite a patient and a carer to attend a session to share their experiences. To that end, I recently rang a patient recommended by a local mental healthcare worker, to gauge his level of interest in contributing. After I explained the purpose and task, he said: “I’d love to help you out but I’m not a patient.”

I spluttered: “Oh I’m so sorry, I was obviously misinformed.”

He carefully explained: “I’m a ‘consumer of mental health care services’. Please never refer to us as ‘patients’.”

I used to roll my eyes at some of the more extreme examples of political correctness, but I now realise my idiosyncratic word preferences are equally as ludicrous. Arguably even more so, as the words and phrases on my rancour list do not offend but merely annoy me.

So, if my ‘consumer of mental health care services’ feels empowered by his choice of words, good on him. I have no problem with his preference and look forward to his input on the day. The only thing that may grate would be if he starts talking about “getting closure”.

(Permission was granted by the aforementioned ‘consumer of mental health care services’ to write this column. His session with the registrars was excellent and sans “getting closure”)

First published in Australian Doctor on 7th  June, 2013 On getting ‘closure’


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