Ambiguous Losses

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An ambiguous loss is a loss that occurs without the certainly of an outcome. Ambiguous losses do not provide a defining end point, like death. First identified by Dr. Pauline Boss, these kinds of losses occur because people cannot get some kind of meaningful understanding from their experience. Some examples of ambiguous losses include infertility, the disappearance of a family member, or even an estrangement from a child.  Living with a family member who has Alzheimer’s creates a powerful grieving that persists and is not easily understood or settled, thus an ambiguous loss.

As this Pandemic and our discussion about racial justice disrupt our traditional activities, we can think of some of this discomfort as an ambiguous loss. Life as we know it has and will change dramatically…and we don’t know how, as of yet. We sometimes refer to it as the “new normal”, (which is a term I do not like), but it does help us to think “is this what our new life will be like?” One client told me he just feels confused and uncertain about thing to the point where it has affected his sleep.

If you are finding yourself a bit out of sorts (aren’t we all?) consider that you may be experiencing some elements of grief and loss and that some of our resilience strategies can help mitigate some of these feelings. Some ideas to try out:

  1. Name It: Go ahead and give that feeling a name whether it is confusion or happiness; uncertainty or pride. Our feelings are fluid and identifying them is very explanatory and satisfying and helps create some immediate understanding of our experience which can then help create some meaning.
  2.   Normalize: It may seem crazy to think about all this as being some kind of typical situation but it in fact has become a kind of interlude or maybe a significant transition for our culture (will we return to offices; will most medical appointments be by Zoom?)  We don’t know yet, but going with the flow creates a “we’re all in this together, creating our new future” mindset, which helps settle things down a bit.
  3. Finding the Good: Although there is much tragedy to be found in the Pandemic and in the fight for racial equity, there is also much to learn. I’ve been asking, “what has the Pandemic done “for” me rather than “to” me? These events have changed me and finding the good in all that can only help to move me forward. For example, my Resilient Mindfulness sessions have come about because I feel the need and I think many of my clients feel the need to have some quiet time in their day to reflect. 

Recognizing and respecting our feelings and thoughts can help mitigate many of the concerns about these uncertain times. Taking time to strengthen our resilience will get us through all this with some grace and ease.

© Richard Citrin 2020


  • Our next Resilient Mindfulness program will be Friday, July 24th at 8 AM (EDT). We’ll meet for a 40 minute discussion and meditation on Working With Clarity. You Can Register Here
  • You can check out some of my new short podcasts, entitled Absolute Citrin on my blog. The second one is out and is about My Resilience Teachers….who are yours?

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