Unfinished Business

Psychologist Fritz Perls, founder of Gestalt Therapy, spoke of “unfinished business.” He was referring not to the bills we need to pay or the purchases we need to make, but to the experiences we need to process. When an emotionally significant event happens—a fight with one’s spouse, failure to land a much-desired job, hurtful comments from someone we trusted—we might be fully attuned to our reactions and deal with these until we get some sense of resolution. On the other hand, we might suppress our feelings or experience them for a time but never manage to achieve resolution. Those experiences for which we don’t find peace are added to our pile of unfinished business—all that’s happened to us that’s still pending.

Perls felt that, as unfinished business stacks up, it comes to block our way forward. We may become habitually depressed, anxious, angry, or hopeless without awareness of the unfinished business that’s responsible. Not realizing what is going on, we may try to escape our discomfort using strategies ranging from the relatively benign (social media, overwork, excessive exercise, sports) to the pernicious (drugs, alcohol, porn, gambling). All the time we are becoming more estranged from ourselves.

How do you identify the unfinished business that you’ve accumulated? One way is a life review that examines each significant relationship, each situation where you’ve invested significant effort, and each life transition with an eye to identifying whatever unfinished business may lie there. Another useful way of looking for unfinished business is to think about your resentments and regrets. What people or circumstances in your life do you have resentment towards? What did you do or fail to do that you regret? 

After identifying your unfinished business, devote yourself to bringing the feelings associated with each resentment or regret into the present. Visualizing the situation, writing about it, or looking at reminders such as letters or photos are all ways of doing this. Then work on achieving resolution. Finding hidden positives in what happened, practicing gratitude, deciding to relinquish grievances, forgiving of others or yourself, praying, and choosing to offer or receive a blessing all can be used to help you process the situation. The awareness and resolution that are needed may require expressing your resentments or regrets to someone else. A relationship with a psychotherapist can be a particularly fruitful avenue for working through unfinished business.

Author Bob Ritzema, PhD has more information available at http://beyondhalfway.com/2014/02/27/unfinished-business/