What is “ambiguous loss”?

What is ambiguous loss?

What is “ambiguous loss”?

Losing an irreplaceable person or object is called “loss”. When we experience a “loss”, a grief response appears immediately afterwards. Over time, we gradually recover from that grief. Grieving is very natural.


“Ambiguous loss” refers to a situation where the loss itself is ambiguous and uncertain. Dr. Pauline Boss defined this “ambiguous loss” as “a loss experience that remains indistinct and cannot be resolved or settled.” She says that, unlike normal loss, those who are experiencing ambiguous loss “cannot move forward” because of endless sadness.


Additionally, in an ambiguous loss situation, we often lose track of “who I am”.

When a husband is missing, a woman may wonder “Am I still wife or not?”.  If a farmer is unable to work due to the nuclear power plant accident, they may ask, “Am I still a farmer or not?” …

In ambiguous loss, one’s identity and role are said to be threatened.



What is lost due to “ambiguous loss”.

  • Loss of a relationship and attachment that existed prior to then, due to the absence of a loved one
  • Loss of the certainty of your future, with losing your loved one’s future
  • Loss of a sense of being in control of your own life
  • Loss of future hopes and dreams
  • Loss of your identity and your role as a wife or child
  • Loss of confidence that the world is a safe place