Making Sense Of… Endings

‘Endings’ is a term not often heard about until a person goes into therapy or some form of treatment. Many people understand how it relates to those things but often forget about the many and varied endings we experience throughout our lives. The end of a relationship to drink or drugs, the end of a relationship with a person… the end of a course, to a book, or even a sandwich. We also rarely think about THE ending – the BIG one – but we’ll save discussion on that until our next podcast episode.

For something to end, it must have been started at some point. In this episode, we look to the Gestalt Cycle of Experience to provide a framework, a roadmap that takes us through the different stages of beginning something to ending it. It provides a sense of the ideal ‘journey’ but usefully also gives us a sense of the many things that get in the way, the interruptions to the cycle that means that things we have started are left unfinished.

By developing an understanding of the cycle, we can better understand the impact of not finishing things. We can understand the importance of trying to finish what we start or perhaps not even starting something in the first place. Learning about the cycle can also deepen our understanding of ‘unfinished business’ and get us to start thinking about attending to it in whichever way we can.

The Gestalt Cycle of Experience

Gestalt Therapy was created in the 1940s and 50s. The ultimate objective of Gestalt therapy is to enable a person to “become more fully and creatively alive and to become free from the blocks and unfinished business that may diminish satisfaction, fulfillment, and growth, and to experiment with new ways of being”. It’s powerful stuff.

Gestalt theory explains most human behaviour in terms of the Cycle of Experience. It states that we have any number of different cycles of experience in operation at any one time but recognises that each drains our ‘psychic’ or mental energy in some way, until it is closed.

The cycle explains the various stages we go through from the beginning to the end of an experience. It also explains the various interruptions to the cycle – what gets in the way to us completing something? Understanding these blocks are a useful way to get us thinking about our own behaviours – where do we tend to get stuck? Is this a pattern in our lives? We’ll go through these stages with the example of being hungry and eating a sandwich and in red, will explore what the blocks at each stage might consist of.


🌱The fertile void🌱



Feelings, sensory. Something is trying to emerge. A need is arising.

Disassociated from body, unable to feel sensations



Becoming aware of what the feeling is, being able to articulate it, to put a name or a word to it, becoming aware of what your need is.

Core beliefs (aka introjects) – “I shouldn’t feel hungry”, “I’m too overweight”



Once you know what the need is, you can start planning. Mmmm… cheese, tomatoes…

Procrastination. Overthinking – “I could eat this, I could make that… how about I make this? Do I really want a sandwich?”



Taking action, getting up and making the sandwich.

Sitting in front of the TV and eating, working, being stressed or worried about something – ultimately being distracted and not experiencing what you’ve eaten.



Experiencing full contact with the original need, fully engaging with it.

Not allowing yourself to sit back and enjoy being full. Feeling bad about feeling full and sluggish and beating yourself up for not being productive. Going straight onto something else, moving straight from contact to contact without taking time to fully digest the experience. Addiction to the thrill of contact.



Taking the moment to experience the satisfaction after you’ve met your need. Laying down and taking a nap.

The home stretch, no real interruptions



Removing yourself from the Gestalt so you can close the loop.


This cycle can be applied to almost anything in our lives - wanting to go out, feeling bored, falling in love, reading a book, etc. A healthy individual will have many cycles operating at the same time which they will move through at different speeds, each time reaching contact and then moving on to withdrawal.

In our fast-paced Western society many of us rush through the second half of the cycle of experience. We move straight from contact to the next contact without taking time to enjoy and digest the experience. We can become addicted to the thrill of contact, unable to sit quietly and take time to really check out our sensations and needs. The result is a life full of meaningless experiences, none of which really give us what we need.

Someone who was abused as a child may well have developed various interruptions (or modifications) to contact as a way of surviving. Desensitisation may be the most appropriate way to deal with abuse in the moment. Retroflection may be the only way to cope with the anger felt towards an adult abuser. It is important to see these tactics as valuable defences that an individual developed in order to survive. Now in adulthood they may no longer be helpful, the abuser is no longer present and it may be safe to learn to connect with our feelings again and to let go of some of our anger.

The theory states that when an individual goes through the entire cycle with any particular experience, a complete ‘Gestalt’ is achieved, the loop is closed and all parts of the cycle are healthy. When there are interruptions to the cycle, we have endless unclosed loops (incomplete Gestalts) which drain our energy as they constantly clamber for attention in some way. When an individual hasn’t fully ended their relationship to a substance, the unfinished Gestalt can mean that they will experience euphoric recall or recurrent thoughts or dreams about using – thoughts which can interrupt that person’s ability to enjoy their everyday life. 


Things to think about for the seminars


  • Think about your relationship to endings. How would you describe it? If you don’t like them or find them uncomfortable, can you put your finger on what it is about them you find difficult? Where do you think that comes from?


  • What in your life isn’t finished that weighs on your mind. Is there anything you can do to finish them?


  • Think about things you are starting and whether you are at a place in your life where you are ready to see something through.