Ambiguous loss is a term first introduced by Pauline Boss, Ph.D
Researcher and Counselor
She defines ambiguous loss as:
Ambiguous loss differs from ordinary loss in that
there is no verification of death or no certainty that the person will come back or return to the way they used to be.
(Boss, Pauline. “Four Questions about Ambiguous Loss.” Web. 28 Sep 2017.
Some ambigious losses are:
Living with Life-threatening food allergies
Living with a Chronic illness or disability
Prisoner of War
As Pauline Boss notes, there are two types of ambiguous loss situations:
Occurs when there is physical absence and psychological presence.
Situations when a loved one is physically missing or bodily gone.
Catastrophic examples of such ambiguous losses include:
Missing bodies in the context of war Ethnic Cleansing
Natural Disasters such as earthquake, flood, and tsunami.
More common examples of this type of ambiguous loss:
Situations of absent parents due to divorce
Giving up a baby to adoption
Loss of physical contact with parents and siblings due to immigration.
There is physical presence and psychological absence. In this type of ambiguous loss, the person you care about is psychologically absent– that is, emotionally or cognitively missing.
Such ambiguous loss can occur from:
Alzheimers disease Aids
Traumatic brain injury Depression
Chronic Mental Illness Chronic Physical Illness
Ambiguous loss is inherently traumatic because the inability to resolve the situation causes pain, confusion, shock, distress and often immobilization. Without integration, the trauma of this unique kind of loss becomes chronic. It is a situation that cannot be fixed or an illness that cannot be cured.
It is an extraordinary stressor
It produces uncanny anxiety and unending stress that blocks coping and understanding.
It freezes the grief process and defies resolution.
It understandably encourages denial of loss.
It can lead to immobilization and more crises.
(Boss, Pauline. Loss, Trauma & Resilience. W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition, 2006. Print)
How do we live and overcome ambiguous loss?
Resiliency: Learn new coping skills
Establish: Support system, which may include friends, counselor and faith support community
Find: Additional resources to help in dealing with ambiguous loss can be found on our Resource Page.
Always know that you are never alone in your grief and in your pain.
Disclaimer: This blog post provides general educational information from a mental health professional, but you should not substitute information on this blog for individual professional advice. If you are thinking of hurting yourself or someone else, contact the National Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255, call 911 or visit your local hospital Emergency Room.