A Type Of Trauma Where Closure Is Not Possible
Ambiguous loss is a loss that occurs without a significant likelihood of reaching emotional closure or a clear understanding.
This kind of loss leaves a person searching for answers, and thus complicates and delays the process of grieving, and often results in unresolved grief.
Some examples of Ambiguous Loss are:
- a romance scam
- a marriage scam
- death of a loved one or friend to a rapid disease, such as COVID
- termination of pregnancy
- the disappearance of a family member
- death of an ex-spouse
- a family member being physically alive but in a state of cognitive decline due to Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
An ambiguous loss can be categorized into two types of loss:
- physical, or
Physical loss and psychological loss differ in terms of what is being grieved for, the loss of the physical body, or the psychological mind.
Experiencing an ambiguous loss can lead to personal questions, such as, “Am I still married to my missing spouse?,” or “Am I still a child to a parent who no longer remembers me?”.
Since the grief process in an ambiguous loss is halted, it is harder to cope or move on to acceptance from this type of loss experienced.
There are various types of grief that can occur due to the type of ambiguity experienced and corresponding therapy techniques to address certain types of grief. The overall goal of trauma therapy in cases of ambiguous loss is to overcome the trauma associated with it and restore resilience – in other words, to cope with it effectively.
The term “ambiguous loss” was first used in the late 1970s by Pauline Boss, a researcher who studied families of soldiers who went missing in action. From 1973 to 1977, Boss used the term “boundary ambiguity”, but she later replaced that with “ambiguous loss”. SCARS began applying the term to scam victims in 2015.
Types of Ambiguous Losses
An ambiguous loss can be physical or psychological in nature.
A physical ambiguous loss means that the body of a loved one is no longer around, such as a missing person or unrecovered body from war, but is still remembered psychologically due to the chance of coming back, for example in missing person cases. This also applies in cases of trafficked persons, since the person disappears from the perspective of the family and friends.
A physical ambiguous loss can occur across generations, such as in the families of victims of the holocaust, and can cause as traumatic distress as Posttraumatic stress disorder.
The second type of Ambiguous Loss is where a person is still physically there, but is psychologically absent. This happens in cases where the brain is affected, therefore affecting the behavior or well-being of the individual. Psychological ambiguous loss does not just occur to the family and friends of the person affected. Psychological loss can happen personally in terms of one losing a sense of who they are. This can stem from having a traumatic brain injury and not knowing who they are, causing a lost feeling and uncertain identity issues.
With Scam Victims
This is a strange combination of both physical and psychological Ambiguous Loss. Romance scam victims, especially, experience physical loss if they had seen and talked to a physical person, or may only experience psychological loss if they were only in emotional contact with a fake person or impersonation. This can be compounded by the fact that not only did the person (real or fake) disappear at the end of the scam, but they may never have really been there.
The grieving process for an ambiguous loss differs from regular mourning in that one is unable to gain closure due to unresolved grief.
In cases of a psychological ambiguous loss, the grieving process can be especially difficult. This is because someone that suffers from it is unable to accept it or even admit that there is a problem. Most cannot confront their situation in the first place in order to deal with the problem without professional support and/or therapy.
One key factor in getting over an ambiguous loss is resilience. In the normal grieving process, people obtain some form of closure after dealing with a loss. In an ambiguous loss, closure does not exist, and should not be sought after in this case. But, especially with scam or financial fraud victims, this can be almost impossible to convince them of.
Resilience and hope are important in the case of an ambiguous loss because paired together, they are able to allow the individual to come to terms with the loss and continue moving forward in life.
One way to tell that someone is resilient in a case with ambiguous loss is that they actively seek out help when they know it is needed. This should include competent support and trauma counseling or therapy – though sadly, most often it is a deep[erate search from amateurs or other sufferers who do not understand the issues or how to help others. When someone that has ambiguous loss seeks help from the wrong people it often results in increased trauma and potentially lasting psychological damage,
Uncontrollable factors such as culture, age, socioeconomic status, and genetics are all factors that contribute to resilience or the lack of it. Most think that trauma and ambiguous loss often co-exist together and if the trauma is not dealt with it can trigger unresolved emotions. However, ambiguous loss is itself a type of trauma.
Therapy and counseling will address a case of ambiguous loss by restoring resilience, and reconnecting with the loss and the relationship with whom the loss is associated. Competent support then helps the person maintain their resilience and continue their learning and recovery progress.
Three Types Of Grief
The difference between regular grief and grief from an ambiguous loss is the type of loss creates the type of grief experienced.
Grief in ambiguous loss can be both beneficial and difficult. Since the grief in an ambiguous loss differs than the linear stages of grief there is no internal pressure to move on or achieve closure. This internal pressure allows for people to remember the lost loved one and move on with relationships and life. But in the case of ambiguous loss, such as with scam victims there are significant distractions that prevent grieving, such as the mistaken belief in justice and revenge.
There are three specific types of grief that can develop from the type of ambiguous loss.
Anticipatory grief occurs before bereavement, before mourning after death occurs, and upon realizing that death may be imminent for a loved one, anticipatory grief sets in.
This type of grief is common among families who have a loved one living with Alzheimer’s disease. The grief becomes anticipatory due to the knowledge that the loved one’s mental state will only become worse, so the grieving process can start very early.
In the case of scam victims, strangely this can happen upon the realization that there has been a scam or receipt, but before the relationship actually has ended. This can set in almost instantly with the realization and discovery. It can have a profound impact on the victim’s ability to end the scam cleanly and make good decisions during that process.
The second type of grief that can develop from an ambiguous loss is disenfranchised grief. It is also known as unrecognized grief because it often occurs in the loss of a beloved pet and the grief is not taken as seriously as with a real loved one, family member, or friend.
This can also occur with scam victims after the scam has ended when a victim refuses to grieve since it was never a real person anyway. Partial grief processing is common in these cases and the victim becomes stuck in anger.
Frozen grief is the third type of grief, it is a result of the ambiguity of death because of the physical or psychological disappearance and therefore one’s grief is frozen since they do not get a chance to let grief run a normal course.
This is very common in the victims of financial fraud and scams since the grief is partly based upon the disappearance of the criminal that cased the victim’s trauma.
How To Recognize & Recover
Trauma is not an easy thing to deal with and usually requires professional help.
SCARS recommends that all scam victims find a local trauma professional to help them. Additionally, we recommend our professional support & recovery program.
To find a local trauma counselor or therapist we suggest these worldwide resources:
Do You Need Help?
If you are a victim make sure you read our 3 Steps Guide for New Victims here: https://romancescamsnow.com/dating-scams/scars-3-steps-for-new-scam-victims/
Remember that SCARS offers free support & recovery programs. You can apply to join at https://www.facebook.com/groups/SCARS.Avoidance.Information.Public.Group (Spanish language support is also available).
In addition, SCARS publishes a complete line of low-cost Scam Victim Self-Help Books at http://shop.AgainstScams.org