Monday, 8 September 2014

Working with those who have someone missing

When I started working as a counsellor for the Missing People charity nearly two years ago, I was struck by the unique situation people found themselves in and how empathic and caring the organisation was in response.

Having a loved one missing often triggers a mixed range of emotions; some understandable like fear and the pain of loss, but others may be less familiar such as shame and guilt, which makes them harder to manage. Without any explanation or reason, many go through a stage of blaming themselves for what may or may not have happened and it is difficult to move forward from this position as there is usually no evidence to dispute this. These thoughts and feelings can vary depending on how the individual may be feeling, the response of others around them and/or recent events. The constant switching of emotions can be intrusive and disruptive; it is hard to lead a ‘normal’ life with things feeling so chaotic emotionally.

Working with people who in the main manage to achieve this has been a moving experience and I am at times in awe of their ability to cope. The determination to not lose hope creates a tenacity which appears to give individuals strength to continue in their search for information, regardless of the many hurdles they have to overcome. It feels like someone has been catapulted into an unfamiliar world and it has been a learning experience observing their ability to adapt. Dealing with the media and police are new to many and some who would like anonymity and privacy have to discard this in the interest of the investigation. Although apparently necessary, this can bring a lot of discomfort.

Within the family there may be differences in how others respond and this can create increased tensions. Unlike other forms of loss where there is a gradual move to acceptance, some feel this would be like giving up and disloyal. Many report that the feelings remain the same even after several years, they just acclimatise to carrying the pain.

There is a fear of moving on - what if the missing person returns? This can also create problems as some of those around them assume this is easier with the passage of time, and some say they no longer discuss their loved one due to this lack of understanding. There is an assumption that in some way they have ‘got over it’, and there is a sense that there is a time limit for support and understanding. At times it can feel easier for someone to separate the missing issue from certain areas of their lives and they choose to keep it private, sometimes fearing others’ judgement, but also to create a temporary sense of normality.

The physical and emotional impact of sustained anxiety and uncertainty are often underestimated. Living with the constant hope of information, looking every time you leave the house in case there is a sighting, means there is little chance of relaxation, and this can take its toll. We all identify with our roles and this is challenged by having someone missing. People may ask themselves whether they are still a parent or wife, for example. Without a resolution or reason, some find themselves questioning what they did have with the missing person and at times doubting their own judgment. This can impact both the present and future.

These are just a few of my observations from working with those who have someone missing, and naturally each individual will respond in their own way.

We cannot change what has happened or the behaviour of others, but in therapy we can explore thoughts, feelings, and responses, and hopefully work towards developing coping skills and strategies to manage the bad times.

Penned by Helen
Telephone Counsellor.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Someone is reported missing every 90 seconds in the UK. The Missing Blog aims to give a voice to all those affected by this issue.

Written by families and friends of missing people, supporters working to raise awareness of the cause, and volunteers and staff at the charity Missing People, we hope that this blog will offer a window into the issue of missing.

The charity Missing People is a lifeline when someone disappears. To find out more about Missing People and ways that you can support the charity visit

Call or text the charity Missing People for free on 116 000, 24/7 if you or anyone you know is affected by a disappearance.