Grief is a response to loss. It’s characterized by feelings of sadness, hopelessness, depression, numbness, anger, and guilt. The goal of successful grief resolution is to reestablish emotional balance. Not everyone grieves the same things or expresses their grief in the same way. And then there’s what we call “disenfranchised grief.” (You probably know what it is, and you may have even felt it, but you might not know what to call it.)

Recognizing that loss comes in many forms has been one positive thing we’ve taken away from the pandemic. For example, loss of:

  • A prom or graduation
  • A dream wedding
  • Funeral attendance
  • Vacations
  • Family reunions
  • Other gatherings

People are more aware of “disenfranchised grief” now. Still, it’s helpful for us to think beyond the pandemic to other commonly overlooked losses. That way, we can support those suffering from them.

Understanding Disenfranchised Grief: 

  1. Grief that isn’t typically recognized by societal norms and/or lacks cultural expression.
  2. Grief that is often minimized, invalidated, stigmatized, marginalized, or misunderstood.

Disenfranchised grief (DG) leaves individuals to process their loss on their own or in secret. They lack the supportive benefits available to people whose losses are more socially accepted, expected, acknowledged, or understood. Often, people tell those in distress, “You didn’t even know them that well,” or “Move on,” or “Get over it.”

Even if we don’t understand it or agree with it, it doesn’t make the pain any less. The pain is REAL. 

Examples of losses that are frequently disenfranchised include:

  • death of an “ex,” an absent sibling or parent
  • loss of someone who was not a “blood relative”
  • loss of a co-worker or pet
  • an adoption that fell through
  • loss of possessions, loss of location due to a relocation or move
  • loss of mobility or health, loss of a body part
  • infertility, miscarriage, stillborn child
  • incarceration of a friend or family member
  • deaths due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, suicide, or overdose
  • loss of personality due to dementia, etc.

Frequently, the loss itself may not be disenfranchised, but the manner in which an individual grieves may be. 

Those around them may criticize the length of their grieving process or the form their grief takes. Societies and cultures can have “unwritten rules” when it comes to grief. People often question, criticize, or invalidate expressions outside those “rules.” These things can complicate the grieving process. 

For many circumstances that individuals experience, there is no “race for the cure,” support group, lapel ribbon, hotline, celebrity fundraiser, foundation, or “public awareness” campaign. There may not even be a Hallmark card for it. This doesn’t mean that feelings of grief are invalid or illegitimate.

Often, people don’t even know they are experiencing DG, let alone know how to work through it. 

Instead, people have a tendency to minimize or invalidate their loss by comparing it to what a person (or society) believes is a “legitimate” loss.

Disenfranchised Grief. They say if you can name it, you can tame it. It might begin by being honest with yourself, admitting you’re grieving, and not feeling guilty about it. 

Stop faking smiles. Then find some support. The people around you are probably more than willing to help you. They just might not recognize your “outside the box” loss.

Don’t be afraid to seek professional help or to utilize resources like The Grief Recovery Method.

For those of us who may know someone experiencing DG, support might begin by expanding our definitions of “loss” and “grief.” We can follow up by making ourselves available to those who are hurting and grieving. We can listen and empathetically validate their sense of loss. 

About 2.5 million people die in the United States each year. They all leave an average of five grieving people behind. Not all those grieving people grieve the same.

If we can expand our perspective on grief, we can expand our support to those who are grieving. People are hurting, and we can help.

OTHER HELPFUL BLOGS:

How to Help Your Child Deal With Grief

6 Things You Can Do to Help a Child Who Is Grieving the Death of a Parent

4 Ways You Can Help Someone Who Is Grieving the Death of a Loved One

How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving the Death of a Spouse

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