What is Ambiguous Loss?


Have you ever experienced a loss in your life, that wasn’t an actual death of a friend or loved one?  This feeling and experience is called Ambiguous Loss.  Ambiguous Loss is best described as a loss that isn’t concrete.

Ambiguous Loss will often lead to you experiencing the Stages of Grief. The stages are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and (eventually) Acceptance.  Some of the most common causes of Ambiguous Loss are job loss, divorces, miscarriages, illnesses, and trauma.

Here are some examples of what Ambiguous Loss may look and feel like:

A new client starts therapy because a loved one disappeared in a drowning accident.  The body of this loved one was never recovered.  However, the family is moving forward and having a memorial service.  This client is struggling to make sense of this loss because there is no body to bury.  How can this client find closure?

A client comes into a therapy session because of an unexpected job loss.  This client is struggling to find hope in anything.  Maybe they are depressed, feel anxious, and are overwhelmed.  They can’t make a decision about “the next steps”.  They struggle with feelings of rejection and are fixated on past decisions made during their career.

An individual comes into therapy, and describes feeling unsettled and depressed after experiencing a miscarriage.  They may have never met this little one, nor held them in their arms.  There’s no name given, no funeral arranged.  Yet the grief and loss is real.

It’s important when you experience an Ambiguous Loss to process the grief just like you would if a loved one passed.  Allow yourself to feel your feelings, and recognize that you are grieving.  Understand that grief ebbs and flows.  Seek professional help if you feel stuck or unable to move forward.  Most importantly, give yourself grace that you are hurting—and that’s okay.

Written by Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW

*Christy Fogg, MSW, LCSW is a licensed therapist at Journey to Joy Counseling. Christy enjoys doing marriage/couples counseling, individual counseling, premarital counseling. She also provides family counseling, teen and adolescent counseling.

Journey to Joy Counseling serves the Indianapolis area, including Carmel, Fishers, Noblesville, Zionsville, and Westfield.