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When You Can't Get Closure

How to move forward after conflict.

Resolving a conflict is easy if both parties recognize each other’s perspectives. The acknowledgment of that understanding is a game-changer. Authentic apologies for sentiments spoken in anger and frustration flow effortlessly if each person feels heard and understood regarding why they feel the way they do. In fact, the actual resolution of the conflict seems less important when both parties feel listened to and have acquired new insight about one another.

Yet, there are a number of people in the world who have trouble seeing an alternate perspective if it differs from theirs. Instead, they continually repeat their own perspective, refusing to consider the other party's viewpoint on the grounds that they are right and the other person is wrong. This is frustrating. Life is not black and white and neither are relationships.

Moreover, when one person attempts to understand the other person’s perspective and the effort to understand is not reciprocated, it causes frustration and escalates the conflict. Often, the individual who is unable to entertain a perspective that differs from theirs distorts and broadcasts the data they’ve collected during the conflict, attempting to paint the other party as the “bad guy.”

Thus, the conundrum. Not only is closure out of the question in this scenario, which zaps a person's peace for weeks, but a person is unfairly framed as the villain. In essence, one individual in the relationship is punished for daring to disagree and having an opinion/feeling of their own. Ugh.

Many clients initiate therapy because they are stuck in this painful position. Good-natured people who simply want to feel understood and are capable of truly putting themselves in someone else's shoes are left feeling ashamed, confused, angry, and alienated.

What should a person do?

  1. Recognize the person’s character limitations and refrain from banging your head against the wall. Do not attempt to explain yourself any further because the other person will never get it. In addition, this person may distort this material and use it against you.
  2. Accept that you will not get closure. This is the power that the interpersonally impaired person wields. They refuse to resolve conflict productively, intentionally leaving the other party feeling uneasy about it for weeks.
  3. Distance yourself from this person. Do not sever the relationship, but rather keep the correspondence light and fluffy. Getting close to someone who is incapable of productively resolving conflict is like kissing someone with mononucleosis. It's not smart.
  4. Invest in your own life. Continue moving forward. Cancel out the gossip the party spreads about you by putting love and compassion into the world.

As a parent, raising a child who can resolve conflict productively is important. Be certain that during a conflict or power struggle, you are upholding the rules and expectations while acknowledging you understand your child's perspective. For example:

“I understand that you want to go to Jenny's lake house. You don't want to be the only one not going. I get it. It is super hard to feel left out. But Jenny’s parents are not going to be there the entire time, and if an accident happens, there is no adult there to help. You have every right to be mad at me, but I love you and it's my job to keep you safe.”

If a child experiences a parent understanding their perspective during a conflict, they acquire the ability to do it too. Understanding another person’s perspective, allows you to remain close to the ones you love and grow in ways you never thought possible.

More from Erin Leonard Ph.D.
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