In Gestalt psychology, when any aspect of life is left hanging, it is called unfinished business. Unfinished business is when there is an interruption in a relationship or in our life, ranging from minor to traumatic, that also carries emotional content.
I was first introduced to the concept of unfinished business several years ago, while attending a coaching class at NTL. As the facilitator began talking about “unfinished business”, the concept immediately resonated with me. I have always been a finisher. I take pride when I finish projects, I’m happy when I’ve gotten through the holiday season and checked off everything on my to-do list, I love home projects or reorganizing and uncluttering areas, I like to reorganize my workspace, and even systematize the way I work to prevent clutter.
Surprisingly, in this moment at NTL, heat washed through my body like a sudden onset fever. Tears welled up from deep within me – and, while the words spoke to me with a deep resonance, I really didn’t understand why this moment was so emotional. I had never considered what might be unfinished business in my life and relationships. These profound words sent me searching for meaning.
I realized that in our push it down, “forget about it”, “move on”, “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” culture, we are often pushing away the emotional content of disappointment, loss, and change in general.
As we age, life stages and events often catch us off guard: aging parents, our children empty nesting, illness, and our own aging process.
When we fail to process the difficult emotions of an event, we continue to carry the emotional baggage unconsciously, as unfinished business.
The way we set goals and realign our priorities at the beginning of each year, is an example how our western culture has systematized unconsciously creating unfinished business. As one year comes to an end and a new one is ready to begin, we take stock of our successes and failures of the past year. What worked (we often assume that must be a success) and what didn’t work (we often label this as failure) and “net out” the kind of year we had. We then shift right over into realigning our priorities, setting new goals, and at the stroke of midnight in the new year, we’re off and running. Or, a loved one passes, and we find others quick to judge how long we’re grieving and not moving on with our lives.
How do we prevent unfinished business in our lives? We do this through a process of navigating transitions.
Transitions have three phases: Endings, the Liminal Space, and Visioning the Future. Each phase has a unique purpose, set of tools and practices, and has its own timeline.
In endings, we allow ourselves to acknowledge and feel the emotions of what is ending. Here we mine what we’re glad to be done with, the lessons learned, and allow ourselves to feel all the emotions associated with the ending. This year I had a bittersweet ending. On one hand, I was relieved to be out from under an ongoingly stressful situation. I realized that things I had been beating myself up over were really out of my control and found peace in this new awareness. But I was sad. The situation did not have the ending I had hoped for.
Learning to come full circle with our experiences is key to truly being able to make a fresh start in our new beginnings.
For more information about closure and endings, vist our e-Shop for “The Art of Letting Go Toolkit”.
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