Ambiguous Loss

September 30 2020

Have you ever heard the term ambiguous loss?  This term was developed by Dr. Pauline Boss to help explain the reactions people feel when experiencing grief that is marked by the inability to confirm a person’s whereabouts, their death, or their ability to come back and return to “normal.” 


This type of grief is an especially difficult type of grief.  It is confusing and difficult to wrap your head around.  Many times, there is no real “closure” or real end, which for many, is the route to healing.  The COVID-19 pandemic too, has no real end and has left people feeling a sense of uncertainty. People have been taken away from normalcy (loved ones, school, work, etc.) with no sense of when or if things will ever be the same.  Old ways of coping and self-care don’t always cut it with the type of stress that is left by ambiguous loss.  


An article by Psychology Today goes on to explain that ambivalence is a common reaction to ambiguous loss and how thinking dialectically – holding two opposing ideas in your mind at the same time, rather than focusing on “either-or”, can help people find meaning.  People can also find meaning in noticing where they were resilient, thriving, and successful.   If it proves too difficult to identify things that are going well, it can be helpful to try small activities that you know you can accomplish in order to experience a sense of mastery.  When we are successful and feel like we can complete tasks, our experiences with grief and feeling out of control lessen. 


Let’s Reflect

When thinking back through your experiences up to now, where did/do you find resilience? Sense of thriving? Success? 


If you have not had any of these experiences, what are a few small activities you know you can accomplish that you can start today to build a sense of mastery? 

Back to archive