In Gestalt therapy, we believe that individuals have a natural tendency to find meaning in their experience. Indeed, we seek completion even when we do not know the whole story. The unfinished portrait below is an example of our need for completion.
The series of dots can be perceived as the portrait of Mona Lisa. It is a human need to make sense of our world and the concept of unfinished business addresses the need to complete the uncompleted. Perls (1969) noted that our lives have an infinite number of unfinished situations. In therapy and counseling, these are often personal experiences that are blocked or tasks, which are avoided because of feared emotional responses. Mental health professionals believe that people have an urge to complete unfinished business so to achieve satisfaction and peace.
Unfinished business can range from minor tasks such as finishing an assignment, to major life events like going through a grieving process. It is not always possible to complete unfinished business. However, finding some form of resolution can help reduce the chances of becoming stuck with unresolved issues. These can translate to increased psychological distress and physical illness.
When completion is avoided, it may lead to symptoms such as lack of satisfaction, withdrawing from others, turning impulses inwards and denying ourselves from psychological support. On the other hand, unfinished business can bring certain tensions, which drives us towards completion. Incomplete tasks often take more psychological space than completed tasks. Unfinished business that is not addressed can become very overwhelming and the only option one would see is by ignoring or running away from it.
For example, dealing with grief can be difficult and although the pain lessens over time, it never goes away. The issue is created when the individual feels helpless and they accept this way of being as their new normal. Another reason for avoiding closure may be that the helplessness attached to the loss of someone significant is all that remains of the person who is gone. This is understandable and it is a way of not letting go. Getting over unfinished business does not mean forgetting the person who was lost or a particular experience. Rather, it is about letting go of the pain it causes and healing oneself. Unfortunately, it seems that the deeper one loves, the more the pain experienced when the person is no longer there. Recovery is about moving forward in life without feelings of guilt or regret.
Once one identifies unfinished business, they can explore their feelings with a supporting mental health professional. By visualizing the situation or loss, writing about it, or looking at reminders such as photos, writings and messages, allows one to work on achieving resolution. Finding hidden positives in the experience, practicing gratitude, forgiving others or yourself, or praying, can all be useful in helping one processing the situation. The relationship with the therapist can support the individual to identify and work through their unfinished business.
If you think that you can benefit from professional support on this issue you can reach out here.
Charlot Cauchi is a Trainee Gestalt Psychotherapist currently reading for a Masters in Gestalt Psychotherapy with Gestalt Psychotherapy Training Institute Malta (GPTIM) and working at Willingness as a Trainee Psychotherapist. He has experience with adult clients with mental health difficulties, anxiety, depression, loss, trauma, stress and relational issues.
Mann, D. (2010). Gestalt therapy: 100 key points and techniques. (1st ed.). Routledge.
Perls, F. (1969). Gestalt Therapy Verbatim. Real People Press.