What Is Ambiguous Loss? 

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Have you ever felt this sense of loss — almost like grief — for something (or maybe someone) that isn’t gone? If something came to mind and you feel conflicted or strange or even struggle to identify what it is you’re feeling, well, it may be just be ambiguous loss.

Struggle to Identify Ambiguous Loss

What Is Ambiguous Loss?

In a nutshell, ambiguous loss is described as a loss you feel around something where there’s a significant likelihood you won’t reach a clear sense of closure — or even a clear sense of understanding. 

It’s the kind of loss that leaves a person searching for answers and, thus, it feels very complicated, confusing, and it can actually delay the healing process; resulting in unresolved grief. 

Examples of Ambiguous Loss:

  • Your kids are about to leave the nest and you feel this strong emptiness, even though they’re still living at home and the house is full.
  • You have a conversation with a friend and it’s clear the friendship is no longer what it once was. And you’re never quite sure why.
  • Zoom parties and online get-togethers during the pandemic — which can leave you feeling like you’re not really socializing at all. 

These ambiguous loss examples are far less severe than, of course, those that might relate to:

  • Living with someone with Alzheimer’s (where the loss is related to someone physically present and psychologically absent).
  • A child who has gone missing (where the loss is related to someone who is physically absent and psychologically present).


So, before you know what’s going to happen exactly or what the future looks like, your brain is left with this uncertainty. 

Ambiguous Loss Stems from Uncertainty and Confusion and Lack of Closure

And uncertainty triggers the amygdala of our brain — hard-wired to take anything that’s uncertain and perceive it as a threat.


To protect us!

Hence, when these emotions kick in, this area of the brain, like executive function, helps us to create scenarios or plans to be able to protect ourselves. 

In other words, when we feel that ambiguity, we’re supposed to feel:

  • nervous
  • uncomfortable
  • out of control

That is literally what we’re hard-wired to do. And I hope knowing that gives you a sense of peace.

For much more related to this topic, like:

  • Why we crave closure
  • What is ambiguous grief vs loss
  • The importance of giving yourself permission to grieve

Check out this episode of The Chalene Show now:

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