Ambiguous Loss

As Aimee Lee Ball writes in her column for The New York Times, the term liberated me. Ambiguous loss is a case of a person disappearing from your life without any explanation.

It can be a case of missing person, children leaving home, lovers leaving with no reason stated, but it can also be a situation where the person is physically still present in one’s life but they are not there, not the way the used to be – when someone changed dramatically, when a person falls sick (Alzheimer, other mental illnesses), parents age, etc. I.e., a person becomes emotionally/psychologically unavailable.

Some details on this state are described in this paper.

The important psychological issue with ambiguous loss is, well, its ambiguity. You don’t know whether you’ll ever have that relationship you used to have. In case of an actual, ordinary loss, reality keeps reminding you that something you once had is gone, for good, and there is no way to get it back. All the questions have answers, and the answers eventually lead you out of initial denial and help accept the loss, and move on.

Ambiguous loss leaves space for hope. As Pauline Ross put it, ambiguous loss freezes the grief process. It prevents closure. She lists the two types of ambiguous loss, which I have no idea who discovered but everyone seems to agree on those:

Type One. Physically absent, psychologically present (e.g. close people lost in natural disaster with their bodies never found).

Type Two. Physically present, psychologically absent (e.g. immigration of family members, close friends).

Further reading.

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