Messy things out there: the need for closure

In recent years, the term ‘closure’ has become popular. People want closure after a painful breakup with a partner, for instance. That seems to be the situation in which the term is used most often.

I can strongly identify with the concept of desire for closure – but for me, I seem to want closure in situations that other people wouldn’t think twice about mentally dismissing. The desire for closure thus seems heightened in me. I will give some examples of situations in which I find myself needing closure:

  • When someone snaps at me: I find myself then confused with this person, and wary of them, unless they explicitly explain that they’re in a bad mood and they didn’t mean to snap
  • When someone is rude to me: I find myself confused as to why the person doesn’t like me and it feels like something is ‘undone’ and needs doing up
  • When I start several projects that will take a while: although I like starting projects, I find myself overwhelmed, because these projects are all ‘open’ and on display in my mind, rather than neatly tied up

I think, with projects, part of the need for closure lies in the fact that I can only focus on one thing at a time. So if I have more than one unfinished project, then when I am focusing on one of them the others disappear from my awareness, but I know that there are unfinished, messy things ‘out there’.

Maybe with people it’s also to do with only being able to focus on one thing at a time – because if a person has snapped at me or been rude to me, but is at other times polite to me, then there is ambiguity, and there seems to be something unfinished – something I don’t understand – which is another ‘messy thing out there’.

For instance, yesterday my neighbour seemed to get a bit annoyed with me. I don’t know for certain if she was annoyed, but when I analysed the words she said to me, it seemed like she was. This confused me, because I normally get on fine with her. From observing people in general, I observe that people do often get a little annoyed with each other, and then it passes, and they don’t see it as a big deal. So I know in theory that this is normal. But in practice, I am confused, because I can’t judge exactly why my neighbour wanted to express annoyance with me, and whether it will go away or increase, and whether there might be other things that she was annoyed about but didn’t say, or whether actually she was just in a bad mood and it had little to do with me. So I feel uncertainty now about my neighbour. She is now unpredictable.

So, to use my analogy of my mind being like a library, with a desk on which only one book can be open at a time , I can’t simply close the book that is my neighbour, and put her back in into the shelf she sits on, as a closed book, all neatly filed and ready to take out when I see her. It’s like she is open, and no longer fits in, because she’s changed, and there might be something wrong. Logically, I know that most probably there isn’t anything wrong, but still, the possibility is in my mind, because her behaviour wasn’t quite the same as usual. So she is a book, left open – a ‘messy thing out there’.

Obviously life involves many ‘messy things out there’. There are always tasks to be done – if I wash my dishes today, I know that I will have to wash them again tomorrow, for instance, so there is never any closure on washing dishes! And of course, in any relationship, whether with friends, neighbours or colleagues, people get annoyed with each other sometimes. In theory, I can analyse this and know it’s normal, but there is part of me that finds it very difficult – the feeling of being in the middle of unfinished and confusing things.

Perhaps this is also because being on the autistic spectrum involves what is known as ‘weak central coherence’ – a difficulty with seeing and making sense of the ‘big picture’. If you can understand life in terms of the big picture, then the small details are less important, and closure is only seen as necessary for things that fall into the ‘big picture’ category. But if you can only make sense of the world by seeing the details and building up from them to eventually see the big picture, then the details are incredibly important, becuase they are the building blocks on which understanding is formed. If you are confused by a detail, then you are confused overall.



  1. I personally identified with this entry more than just understanding it. Closure is very important for me on large projects. Surprisingly, one was my summer job. I felt like it was something to be completed, and it really frustrated me until I knew my exact final workday. I haven’t done much schoolwork this summer because I closed the school book and opened the work one. Now that work is finished I think I’ll be able to easily transition back to school and catch up on the work I should’ve done in July!

  2. I related to this as well. I have the same thought process when I am writing. If I’m still working on a story, it’s an open book. And unless I put it into the “Not Going to Finish” or “Come Back Later” folder (yes, these folders exist, because I am too afraid to ever delete a story) I think that I *have* to work on it.

    I also related to needing closure when someone is rude or annoyed with you. It’s especially frustrating when you *do* ask them and they don’t ever remember why they are upset with you!

  3. The library analogy is similar to one of my metaphors for project-focus: having a piece of machinery disassembled on your workbench, with all the different types of parts laid out in places you can remember only so long as you don’t get interrupted. If you have to come back to the project after a break, it can be much more difficult to put it back together.

    Even worse is having to start on another project before finishing the current one, where you have to move the all that scattered stuff out of the way to make room. The carefully laid-out components, oriented in such a way as to remind you of where they came from and how they go in, and grouped by layer of disassembly, all get shoved into a box where all that information gets lost. When you finally get back to that project, it can take days of experimentation and research to finally get things back where they belong, and there are usually missing pieces and leftover pieces and it’s a miracle if the thing still works properly.

    • Ah – your metaphor is a bit different from mine, but is one that also applies to me. I do find things much harder to get into if I’m returning after a break. Could be why I often leave projects to the last minute and do them almost continuously for a couple of days, only stopping to eat and sleep. And having two projects to do simultaneously is very confusing.

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