How to Get Emotional Closure

Do you still carry around bitterness and anger from being bullied in high school? Or perhaps you're consumed with vengeance and hatred for someone who wronged you?  

In order to find emotional closure on some event in your life, Dr. Phil recommends that you identify and execute your Minimal Effective Response (MER). Notice that MER includes the word "minimal." Your MER is the least thing that you can do that allows you to get emotional closure. The concept of MER seeks to satisfy your need for resolution without creating a whole new set of problems. It aims to conserve your resources. An example of what MER is not is when you hear people who are in pain plotting major events to embarrass someone, when all it would take for them to feel some emotional resolve was an explanation and apology.

Getting emotional closure means that you can "close the book" on your situation and its associated pain. You can put that book of pain on the shelf and you will no longer have to take it down and read from it on a daily basis.

In thinking about your MER, analyze your alternatives for action using this four-part test:

1. What action can you take to resolve this pain?
2. If you were successful and achieved this action, how would you feel?
3. Does the feeling you will have match the feeling you want to have?
4. Remember the word "minimal": Could there be some other, more emotionally or behaviorally economical action that would give you the emotional resolve you want to feel?

For example, let's look at the story of Rhonda, a woman in her early 30s, who, starting at the tender age of 12, had been beaten, raped and sexually exploited by her biological father. Once this heinous behavior had begun, Rhonda's sense of self-worth " all of her hope, optimism and esteem " was shattered. Through her father's actions, she had been assigned and browbeaten into a role, and with a broken spirit she accepted that fictional self-concept and the painful life script that came with it.

As if to add insult to injury, her father had recently passed away. As a result, Rhonda was a caldron of emotions. On the one hand, she was relieved that this evil man no longer walked this earth; on the other, she felt guilty that she wasn't sorry. Also bubbling around her emotional pot was a sense of rage and frustration that he had died without ever having been held accountable for his actions.

Rhonda could consider her possible MERs by asking herself, "What is the least thing I can do in order to feel vindicated, to feel justice, feel liberated from this emotional prison that I'm living in?"

Her father had died, but maybe she knows the whereabouts of one of his "buddies" " who had also raped her. Maybe Rhonda's MER is to go see that person and look him in the eye and say, "Don't you think for a minute I don't know what you did to me and I want to be heard. You need to know the pain you caused me. You need to know what it's done to my life and my marriage and my relationship with my children, you no-good, rat-bastard son of a bitch."

Maybe that's her MER. Maybe she needs the cathartic effect of getting that heard. Or maybe Rhonda needs to take advantage of the fact that there is no statute of limitations on molestation and go to the authorities, file a complaint, and have this SOB arrested and put in jail.

As you consider your own triggering event and the nature and degree of the suffering you've endured, what is your MER? Maybe you don't feel the need or have the courage right now to do either one of the kinds of things that were contemplated for Rhonda. Maybe what you need to do is write a letter and write down all your thoughts and all your feelings. Maybe that does it for you. Maybe you even need to mail the letter, if your event involves another person. Perhaps, like Rhonda, if you can't mail the letter, then you might need to go to the offender's grave and read it to him or her in the cemetery.

Whatever your MER is, you need to identify it and you need to do it. You need to emit that response until such time as you can say, "OK, that's it. That's enough. My lens is clean. My emotional business is finished and I am free to go back to being that person that I now know that I am."

Forgiveness is also often a part of a successful MER. It can be a difficult step, but one that may be essential to you getting emotional closure. Without forgiveness, you are almost inevitably destined to a life marred by anger, bitterness and hatred. Those emotions only compound the tragedy. You are the only one who pays the price by carrying the negative emotions with you, allowing them to contaminate every element of your current life. Forgiveness is not a feeling that you must passively wait to wash over you. Forgiveness is a choice, a choice that you can make to free yourself from the emotional prison of anger, hatred and bitterness. The choice to forgive is not an easy one, but a necessary one.

Read more about the Self Matters Action Plan, a five-step guide to change your negative, inaccurate internal responses and bring closure to painful life events.

TELL DR. PHIL YOUR STORY: Life in crisis?

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