Who among us will forget the 2001, 9/11 terrorist attack in which 1,115 victims are still unaccounted for? More recently, we remember the rare disappearance of Flight 370 which brought to us an ambiguous loss; that loss, as in 9/11, which still brings anger and rage.
Beam and Dudley, who authored “The Missing” in AARP, September 2014 issue tell, “When loved ones disappear-either physically or psychology- the pain of their loss can lead to a crippling form of complex grief. To overcome it? Learn to embrace the unknown.” There’s a term for this state of frozen grief, “Ambiguous loss”.
There might be a natural disaster, war or mass killings with which to cope. Then there are the other losses; triggered by more mundane but no less traumatic life events- a parent vanishes after a divorce, a relationship with a friend ruptures, a spouse descends into dementia or Alzheimer’s. Professor Pauline Boss of University of Minnesota coined that phrase, ambiguous loss, in the early 70’s (decade sound familiar?) while studying troubled families. She wrote on “psychological father absence” in families with fathers who are “there, but not there”- physically present, but psychologically absent. Then there were fathers who were physically absent, but psychologically present; as in MIA’s in Vietnam.
Both types of disappearance trigger a kind of stressful, unresolved emotional state that is distinct from traditional grief. Sadly, it is often resistant to the usual one-on-one therapeutic treatment. One must realize that, “There is nothing wrong with the person. There’s something wrong with the situation itself”, Boss concludes.
In the professional experience of our team of therapists at Counseling on Demand, resistance to therapy does not mean that therapy cannot help. When you talk to one of our therapists, you are not only not alone, you are with one who can help with the burden; for example, Professor Boss, in offering her six steps for knowing the unknown, the big step to accepting an ambiguous loss is simply learning that there is a name for the feelings the situation has inspired: “People grab on to that and breathe a sigh of relief.” Our counselors know that name and they know what to do about it.
Here are the Professor’s other guidelines:
Don’t Blame Yourself.
Life isn’t always fair; bad things happen for no reason.
Find a New You.
If your role was defined by your relationship to the missing person, try to construct a new role.
Being sad or angry about the loss is a normal response to an abnormal situation. Don’t keep those emotions bottled up.
You can grieve for your loss while cultivating a new relationship and celebrating what you still have.
In time, you’ll become more comfortable with uncertainty and find things you can control to balance the ongoing ambiguity.
Sound impossible? No– more like difficult. You have heard the expression- We can do the difficult. The impossible will take us a little longer. That is you! Paired with us at Counseling on Demand, we can help you shorten the process. In the case described above, our job is to “put us out of a job” by putting you on your own- as you should be.
You may reach us at the address below. Use it to Skype us, use our chat line, email or phone. We are there for you 24/7. You needn’t wait for an office visit, nor leave your home or favorite private place. Your first consultation is free.
We look forward to your call.