Adrian Campbell

The Unconscious Somatization of Ambiguous Loss and Unacknowledged Grief

Loss is experienced by millions of people around the world every day. Some losses are categorized as small and inconsequential, and others as earth shattering and life defining. Some are conscious, experienced primarily by the mind, and others are experienced somatically, impacting our ability to self-regulate or maintain a sense of safety (Kain & Terrell, 2018). The decision of which losses are significant enough to be worthy of grief, whether they are made individually or culturally, consciously or unconsciously, has a direct impact on those who have experienced a loss. When an individual experiences a loss with “no official or community verification that anything is lost” it becomes what is known as ambiguous loss (Boss, 1999, p. 6). These types of losses are frequently misunderstood, especially when experienced from the level of the body, making “ambiguous loss the most distressful of all losses, leading to symptoms that are not only painful but often missed or misdiagnosed” (p. 6).

The confusion of ambiguous loss inhibits the conscious processing of grief (Fowlkes, 1991; Boss, 1999). This unacknowledged grief is then forced inwards to be absorbed by the unconscious and often presents both psychologically and somatically through symptoms of depression, anxiety, chronic pain, and chronic illness. The reoccurrence of these misunderstood symptoms over time can create a traumatic situation for the individual or group experiencing them, that is akin to post-traumatic stress, both of which “can result in depression, anxiety, psychic numbing, distressing dreams, and guilt” (Boss, 1999, p. 24).

It is through a deeper understanding of the subjective experience that the loss can be acknowledged, the grief made conscious, and the path to healing made accessible once again.


Adrian Campbell, PhD, is a Certified Professional Coach, a Reiki Master, and a U.S. Coast Guard Veteran. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in electrical science and psychology, and a doctorate in Depth Psychology with a Somatic Emphasis from Pacifica Graduate Institute. Adrian is a member of the International Association for Jungian Studies, the Jungian Society for Scholarly Studies, and the United States Association for Body Psychotherapy. Her current research is focused on the importance of human connection, and the experiences of loss and grief as trauma, specifically as it relates to veteran and first responder well-being.


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