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  • 6 Tips For Coping With Ambiguous Loss

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    Are you struggling to understand and cope with the loss of someone or something that hasn’t passed on?

    Do you feel hopeless, confused, sad, unable to sleep, or are you experiencing an inability to move forward as a result of being separated from who you used to know?

    If so; you may be experiencing ambiguous loss.

    Ambiguous loss is a profound sense of sadness and loss that is not associated with the death of a loved one. It consists of a lack of closure due to either physical or psychological absence. 

    Sufferers of ambiguous loss often are denied formal acknowledgment of their emotional experience, they struggle to set and maintain boundaries and have trouble identifying what to do with the way they feel as this type of grief is not widely known about or accepted.

    Not many people know that there are stages to the grieving process and therefore struggle when attempting to move through it in a way that is productive for them.

    Generally, you can expect to experience anger, denial, bargaining, and depression, while on your way towards acceptance.

    It is important to remember that grief is such a powerful experience because it represents a significant connection that you’ve had; therefore, it is crucial that we make sense of these connections in as helpful a way as possible.

    “Grief, I’ve learned, is really just love. It’s all the love you want to give, but cannot…Grief is just love with no place to go”- Jamie Anderson

    With this in mind, here are examples of ambiguous loss and how to cope:

    Types of Ambiguous Loss:

    Physical Absence

    •       Relationship termination
    •       Missing loved ones from college, military, prison, or abduction
    •       Adoption
    •       Miscarriage and Stillborn
    •       Abandonment
    •       Immigration

    Psychological Absence

    •       Depression
    •       Dementia/Alzheimer’s
    •       Addiction
    •       Workaholism
    •       Chronic Illness
    •       Brain injury

    Below are some tips for coping with ambiguous loss:

    1) It will be important to label and validate your experience: Identifying what type of grief you are experiencing will help you identify the steps that you can take to move through it.

    If you are experiencing symptoms of grief without the death of someone close to you, you may be experiencing ambiguous loss. Acknowledge that grief is a natural process and if you have not already, use this article as validation for your experience of loss.

    2)Identifying consistencies within your life can be helpful in processing the impact of loss on your life: Taking some time to think about what changed can help you better understand the impact of your loss and identifying what has remained the same can aid in providing security. As a visual person, my tip is to write both of these lists down so that you can see the impact of such a major life change and reflect on it in the future as needed.

    3)Remember to be empathetic towards yourself and others, especially as we all have different perspectives and experiences. Grief is different for everyone. Let me say that again, grief is different for everyone; therefore, comparing yourself to others will not be helpful to your ability to cope. Lean on those that are supportive and for those that do not share your perspective, attempt to understand where they may be coming from.

    4) Try to challenge yourself to become comfortable with ambiguity. Ambiguous loss presents a unique challenge in that there is no official verification of loss. It can be helpful to normalize the lack of clarity or the feeling of not knowing.

    Talk to others who have had similar experiences of grief to feel more understood. There are support groups that can be found that provide a sense of community while experiencing grief.

    A lack of clarity regarding what occurred does not mean that you cannot appreciate and/or miss what was, though it may make it harder given that some questions will go unanswered.

    5)Focus on what you can control. If you are missing a loved one that is physically absent, give them a call or schedule a visit if possible. If you no longer have contact with them, focus on caring for yourself when you have symptoms of grief. Putting your energy into things that you can change can improve your sense of empowerment and purpose in a time when hope is hard to come by.

    6) Engaging in self-care such as rest, recreational sports, or activities, and engaging with social supports can be a great way to care for yourself during your experience of grief. Invest in yourself to improve your ability to cope with relevant symptoms and to ensure that you are resilient in the face of future challenges.

    With ambiguous loss, it is possible that you become stuck in one of the phases of grief, putting you at risk for further mental illness like depression and anxiety. Utilize the important considerations above to begin coping with your unique experience with loss. If you are experiencing grief or loss, how are you taking care of yourself?

    If you continue to find yourself struggling with coping with grief and/or ambiguous loss, you don’t have to do it alone! Solid Foundations Therapy is here to help! Visit our website at www.solidfoundationstherapy.com or give us a call at 630-633-8532 today!