Often times, when we experience physical or emotional trauma, we feel a sense of ambiguity. In these experiences, we are often looking for something that we call “closure”. “Closure” is “a bringing to an end” or a “conclusion.” We want a sense of finality to our experiences and are often left feeling empty when this doesn’t happen. This can be especially true with any sort of abuse.
I recently read a book by Dr. Laura Schlessinger (2007) about just this. In her book “Bad Childhood, Good Life” she discusses how despite having a “bad childhood”, everyone still has the ability to have a good life, just like the title suggests. Dr. Laura explains that there isn’t this thing we call “closure.” It’s a misnomer for what’s really important for moving on. She calls it “resilience.” She says it’s not about waiting for your life to somehow get better, but making your life better by becoming resilient. Then closure no longer seems important.
Ok, so are you having trouble accepting this from “Dr. Laura”? Fair enough, how about some research to back it up? Here ya go.
Resilience Factors & Strategies
A 2006 study looking at resiliency among female adult survivors of childhood sexual trauma shows similar findings. These characteristics were factors in their ability to move on:
- Ability to interact positively and effectively with others
- Verbal ability
- Capacity for emotional intimacy
- Optimistic/enthusiastic outlook on life and relationships.
Coping strategies also helped determine effective resilience.
- Being able to self-soothe
- Keeping busy
- Healthy distrust
- Setting limits and boundaries.
Dr. Laura and this study don’t agree on whether forgiveness is necessary to move on. Dr. Laura discusses how forgiveness doesn’t usually come and when it does, it is still the person’s choice to be satisfied with that. According to the study, 9 out of 10 participants were able to move on after that. I feel that although forgiveness can be helpful, you still have to be in a place of acceptance and strength to let go of the emotional baggage that has built up.
Building Resilience in Teen Girls
So what does this have to do with where your daughter is at? I have seen these ideas in play with effective treatment. Often times, girls and their parents are wanting closure. They want to have a new and happy future. The best families and individuals I have observed are those who focus on ways to be happy now. They manage their emotions, develop goals, and dream big. I worked with a girl that had experienced a fair of amount of trauma and had been to several different treatment programs. In coming to Sunrise Residential Treatment Center, she was determined that this would be her last stop. She started making goals for college, relationships with her family, and different hobbies and interests. She wanted to make things right with her last school because she wanted closure, but until then she was going to make her life worth living. In the process, she became less enchanted with finding closure and more focused on making amends for what she had done. Before even taking the step of “closure”, she felt that her life was pretty set. She and her family felt strong enough for a safe and healthy return home; the trip to her school was the cherry on top.
I believe that both of the before mentioned perspectives focus on developing a sense of identity and coping skills to deal with trauma. Ok, here comes my shameless DBT plug. I feel this all ties back to DBT principles. The motto and theme of DBT is about developing a life worth living and that is what resilience is all about. Closure seems too mystical and you could be waiting a long time for it to come. That’s where radical acceptance, managing the intense emotions, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation skills come into play.
The work towards resilience isn’t easy. But setting goals for a life that you want despite your hard times is going to make things a lot easier to move on.
Schlessinger, L. (2007). Bad Childhood Good Life. Harper.
Bogar, C. B., & Hulse-Killacky, D. (2006). Resiliency Determinants and Resiliency Processes Among Female Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse. Journal Of Counseling & Development, 84(3), 318-327. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6678.2006.tb00411.x