Disenfranchised grief is grief that is not publicly acknowledged, accepted or mourned by society. It occurs when society fails to recognize the importance of the loss or need to grieve, despite the grief’s valid breadth of emotions and personal impact. As a result, one grieves privately, feeling as if they cannot share it with others.
Table of Contents
- What causes disenfranchised grief?
- What are the effects of disenfranchised grief?
- How do I cope with disenfranchised grief?
- Seeking Support for Disenfranchised Grief
What causes disenfranchised grief?
Disenfranchised grief can be brought on by the loss of a pet, an unmarried partner, a relationship that was kept private or anyone not “blood-related.” Losses outside of death can also bring on disenfranchised grief, such as the loss of a limb, an Alzheimer’s diagnosis or the loss of a job.
When society accepts one’s grief, the mourner is allowed to feel the full extent of their emotions and work through the necessary stages of grief as part of the healing process. They’re offered sympathy and potential leave from work.
When society is dismissive of someone’s grief, however, they are often told to “move on,” “get over it,” or “you’re lucky to have your health.” These sentiments can be incredibly hurtful and insensitive to someone who’s grieving, making them feel as if their grief is invalid or misplaced.
What are the effects of disenfranchised grief?
Family Health Psychiatric and Counseling Center (FHPCC) writes that when people experience disenfranchised grief, they’re not allowed the freedom to find help, or feel undeserving of the support necessary to grieve properly. Instead, many experience emotional and psychiatric disturbances and retreat from society.
FHPCC writes that those coping with disenfranchised grief tend to abuse substances as a coping mechanism and may find difficulty building connections. It can also make it even more challenging to process future losses, since these feelings of guilt or inadequacy in their grief prevented them from building healthy coping mechanisms.
How do I cope with disenfranchised grief?
Regardless of what society thinks of a specific loss, grief is valid and should be felt to its fullest extent. Mind Path Care Centers writes that it's crucial to validate your grief regardless of how much time has passed.
Without judgment, ask yourself what you need to process the grief. This could be a memorial service, a private service, or a ritual, such as creating art that memorializes your loved one’s life. Get creative and find rituals that resonate with you by both acknowledging your grief and honoring the memory of your lost friend or family member.
Validating your grief with yourself will also help shield you when society is dismissive. Daja Mayner, MSW, LCSW for Mind Path Care Centers notes that acknowledging what you need to grieve will help you communicate your needs with others. In this way, they, too, can help you when they otherwise might not have understood.
By checking in with yourself and charting your grief journey can also help you recognize if you need support. Therapy specializing in grief counseling can help you find useful mechanisms that you might not have discovered on your own.
Seeking Support for Disenfranchised Grief
If you find that your grief seriously impacts your ability to perform vital daily functions or experience suicidal ideation, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit their site for an online chat.
You can also visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) site for a list of resources. The information provided above is not meant to replace expert medical or mental health advice. If you or someone you love is having difficulty coping with loss, please reach out to a qualified mental health professional
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