Grief and mourning are a natural part of life. We lose people, pets, jobs, homes, and much more throughout our lives. This is the simple truth about living. You cannot live a fulfilling life without going through these losses, and most people acknowledge this.
However, there are some situations where your grief may feel tainted by guilt or become belittled by your loved ones or society as a whole. This is generally called “disenfranchised grief.”
According to an article on NPR’s Life Kit about the subject, the term “disenfranchised grief” was coined by Dr. Kenneth Doka in 1989. The term is meant to give a name to the feeling of loss or grief that others do not understand or support.
Most of us have experienced this type of grief at some point in our lives. If we have not already experienced these feelings, we will likely experience them in the future. This is because even as a society, we tend to have different views on what is “acceptable” grief and what is not. Of course, there is no right or wrong time, relationship, loss, or anything else to grieve. We are all unique individuals and because of this, our grieving will be different as well.
Here, we’re going to dive into some common examples of disenfranchised grief as well as some tips on coping with these feelings.
How Disenfranchised Grief Can Happen
While any loss can lead to disenfranchised grief, depending on where you are and what is or is not “acceptable,” there are generally 5 different ways that can lead to you feeling as if your grief is not accepted, understood, or valued.
1. The loss was “not worthy” of grief
Many people associate grief and mourning only with losses like death. But we go through so many losses throughout our lives that aren’t simply captured in this narrow lens.
Some losses that can leave us mourning but feeling unrecognized by our loved ones and society are:
- Loss of a home
- A recent diagnosis of an illness
- Loss of safety or independence
- Loss of possessions
- Loss of a job or place of work
- Loss of a pet
2. The loss was in a stigmatized or unrecognized relationship
There are few worse feelings than wanting to mourn for the loss of someone you cared for but not feeling like a part of the group who is “acceptable” to mourn.
Your grief may fall into this category if you have lost a:
- Partner that was not known to be your partner (this is especially common with LGBTQ+ individuals who are not out yet but lost a partner)
- Casual friend, co-worker, ex-partner, or friend with benefits
- Online friend or long-distance friend
- Person you never really knew, like an estranged family member or unmet sibling
3. The loss was a result of a stigmatized event
Certain types of losses are stigmatized in society and this can make you feel uncomfortable or guilty for grieving the loss, especially if you do not think others would understand.
Some stigmatized losses include losses due to:
- Death by suicide
- Miscarriages or a stillborn child
- Estrangement from loved ones
- Loss of a loved one who is in prison
4. You feel unrecognized as a griever
All of us mourn for the loss of our loved ones, but at times it can seem like we have less of a right to mourn for individuals that we weren’t as close to as others were.
This is, of course, untrue and we all have a right to mourn and grieve for the loss of anyone we had a meaningful relationship with. But, if you are experiencing guilt or lack of acceptance for your grief over the loss of an individual who was not an immediate family member or romantic partner, this may be the reason for your feelings of disenfranchised grief.
5. You react in a non-socially accepted method of grieving
When people grieve, our society expects certain reactions. We expect to see crying and visual displays of sadness, loss of appetite, taking more time to rest and sleep, and even withdrawal from social events.
When people react in non-conventional ways — such as anger, increased busyness, utilizing alcohol or drugs to cope, or a lack of emotion — the people around them get confused or assume that the individual is not grieving.
Tips for Coping
There is no right or wrong way to grieve a loss. Oftentimes the mourning process is complicated and messy. This is normal, natural, and nothing to be ashamed or upset about.
But, if you are having a hard time processing your grief — especially if you feel like your loved ones or society is not supporting you during this time — we have some tips you can consider.
Recognize All Losses Are Valid
First off, recognize your feelings and the loss, and understand that what may not be important to society as a whole may be important to you. This is completely normal. We are all different and your losses — no matter how big or small they are — are valid.
Find the Root of Your Grief
Natural symptoms of grief — like numbness, feeling overwhelmed, and having trouble focusing — are all also common symptoms of anxiety and depression. It is important to get to the root of your grief and address it so that you can best recover.
Talk to Someone Who Understands
Finding a friend, family member, or another individual who understands the feelings you are experiencing can be instrumental in helping you to cope with your loss.
Look for someone who:
- Understood your relationship with the person, pet, or object you lost
- Experienced a similar loss
- Will validate your experience — not belittle or minimize it
- Will listen to you empathetically
Conduct a Ritual for Honoring the Loss
Most disenfranchised grief losses are non-conventional. This means that there may not be a socially acceptable and established tradition or ritual for the loss. These rituals allow us to more effectively process the loss and move on from it.
If there is no ritual for the loss you have faced, you may want to consider creating one of your own. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive. The goal is to give yourself the time and space to grieve the loss and put it to rest.
Ask for the Things You Need
When we feel alone or isolated from others it can be hard to ask for what we need. But, your loved ones want to support you. Even if they may not share your feelings of grief, or even understand them, they will want to support you so that you can process the grief and recover from it.
If you do not want to talk to your loved ones, you can consider finding a support group or a therapist to talk to — which brings us to our final tip.
Reach Out to a Therapist
Our final tip is to consult a professional therapist or counselor. Talking with a therapist can be a great way for you to have a safe and non-judgmental space for you to talk about your loss and your feelings. Additionally, a therapist will be able to help you find the personalized guidance that you may need to process your grief healthily so that you can recover and move on with your life.
So, if you feel that you are experiencing grief for the loss of someone or something that is not socially recognized, you may want to consider reaching out to us at Love Heal Grow so you can get the guidance you need to honor the loss and process and let go of your grief.