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What Is Ambiguous Grief?

What Is Ambiguous Grief?
What Is Ambiguous Grief?

What Is Ambiguous Grief?

Grief is never really cut and dry. Everyone experiences it differently and goes through the stages at their own pace. But there’s a difference between grieving the concrete loss of someone (or something) and ambiguous grief. 


Ambiguous grief occurs when there isn’t any type of closure to a loss. It’s unclear, and there isn’t a sense of permanence to whatever you’re losing. An example might be knowing a loved one is in prison. They’re not permanently gone, but their presence in your life is vastly different than it used to be, and it can feel like you’ve lost them. 


Let’s take a closer look at ambiguous grief, and how you can cope with the feelings of uncertain loss. 


The Stress of Ambiguous Loss

 No one can put a cap on the pain of grief. When you lose someone to death or a significant loss occurs in your life, it can be devastating and the pain can be long-lasting. But, some might argue that ambiguous loss is even more stressful. 


When you lose someone or something permanently, you can work through the stages of grief and eventually find acceptance and closure. That’s harder to do when the loss doesn’t feel as concrete or tangible. Even worse, there usually aren’t any rituals you can do to find that closure (like a burial), and most people won’t even know you’re dealing with a loss, so you can’t always rely on support from family and friends to help you through. 



What Are Some Examples of Ambiguous Loss? 

Maybe you’re going through an ambiguous loss right now but haven’t been able to put a label on it. It could be something like a breakup or divorce, racism, moving to a new country, dealing with a loved one who has gone missing, or the loss of mobility or a body part. 


Research has shown that even pandemics can create ambiguous grief. Think back to the COVID-19 pandemic. It changed nearly everyone’s lives in some way. Even if you didn’t lose anyone to the virus, there was so much uncertainty and fear that you could have experienced grief from the loss of normalcy. Maybe you lost your job or had to start working from home. Maybe you didn’t get to see your grandparents for over a year.


While these things were meant to keep people safe, there’s no doubt they took a toll on the mental well-being of many.  


How to Cope with Ambiguous Grief

Ambiguous grief can make you feel uneasy, stressed, and even anxious. Thankfully, there are things you can do to cope with your confusing loss and better understand how to feel about the situation. 


Understand that your feelings are valid.

No matter what you’ve lost, don’t let others shame you. Or try to convince you that what you’re experiencing isn’t real. If you’ve never heard of ambiguous grief before, now you can put a name to the type of loss you’re experiencing, and that can help you realize that it’s not just something you’ve made up or need to get over quickly. 


Try to avoid sweeping generalizations and absolutes about your situation.

Multiple truths can exist about the same thing, and if you look at your loss as something that isn’t permanent and try to find a positive perspective, it can help with your grief. 


Find things to be hopeful about.

Don’t get stuck on the idea that you need some kind of “closure” to move on from this grief. Instead, do what you can to keep moving forward while acknowledging that the loss is still there. 


Moving On

You don’t have to go through the effects of ambiguous grief on your own. If you’re struggling to make sense of it and you’re not sure how to move forward, feel free to contact us for more information or to set up an appointment. 




Through Therapy Collective

Our team of culturally competent therapists is here to offer a warm and safe space to help you navigate life’s hardships with a sense of encouragement and empathy. Find out more >

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