The Myth of Closure

ambiguous lossYou know the heartache of having an estranged adult child or children. They seem to be gone, but they’re certainly not forgotten.

Maybe you’ll be able to reconcile one of these days, but you can’t be sure. Did you know there’s a name for this phenomenon?

Ambiguous Loss

Back in 1999, psychology researcher Pauline Boss published a book called Ambiguous Loss. It was about what it’s like to lose people when it’s not 100% clear they’re really gone.

In her book, Boss looked at families with a loved one who disappeared and was presumed dead. She also studied families with loved ones who were physically present but mentally “not there.”

In both of these cases, it’s not possible to mourn the loss of this person, because there’s something incomplete about the loss.

In the case of a loved one who’s missing in action, there’s always the possibility that they’re still alive. And in the case of a loved one with, say, Alzheimer’s disease, they’re still alive and so can’t be fully mourned.

It’s clear that estrangement from an adult child is also a type of ambiguous loss. Boss believes there can be no closure or resolution when an emotional attachment is disrupted.

I’ve long admired Boss’s work, but earlier this year, an astute reader found and forwarded a link I’d like to share with you. A big thank-you to reader D., who sent this to me so I could share it with you.

This is a link to an interview with Dr. Boss. You can either listen to the interview, or read the transcript.

They’re both at this link:

The Myth of Closure with Pauline Boss

In this interesting conversation, Boss talks about the importance of doing these two things when dealing with ambiguous loss:

1. Holding the ambiguity of the situation consciously in your mind, and
2. Finding meaning, even in what seems senseless or meaningless

She also speaks about the generational transmission of trauma, including losses sustained by your parents and grandparents, and how they affect you today.

She touches on the potential grief of divorce as well, but notes that everybody’s different, so instead of assuming someone is grieving, she’ll ask them, “What does this divorce mean to you?” and go from there.

A Question for You

Since everyone assigns his or her own meaning to a particular loss, my question to you this month is, what does it mean to you to be separated from your child or children? Do you view it as a personal failure? A rejection that feels like part of a pattern? A punishment? Or something else?

By the way, if you’d like to listen to something shorter on this topic, check out The Reconnection Club Podcast Episode 2: Estrangement Is an Ambiguous Loss.

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