Disenfranchised grief is the kind of grief that is not socially acceptable. In the normal course of the grieving process, in say, the loss of life of someone you cared for deeply, your social support system recognizes your loss, empathizes with you and aids in your recovery through this difficult time. Having someone who understands your pain of loss can help immensely in your recovery from grief.
Yet, there are those whose pain is not recognized by their social support system, and they are left to grieve alone, without support, and often bottle up huge feelings of loss, which left untended to can cause mental, autoimmune and other physical resources to deteriorate, leaving the sufferer vulnerable to illness, disease and premature death.
Even though your pain of loss is very real and warranted because your authentic love and connection were so great, the loss of it is almost too much to bear, and though your heart is bleeding, others do not recognize or validate the pain you’re going through.
Let’s say you had a love affair with someone who was married to someone else. Your love was deep, meaningful and true. If he or she passes away unexpectedly, you will likely not be able to mourn publicly nor communicate your sense of loss because your love was hidden from public view. And there are other examples of disenfranchised grief.
Alternative lifestyle relationships which are based on love and respect but hidden from public view are a source of disenfranchised grief for those who conduct their affairs “in the closet.” If a partner dies, you are left alone, without support, with no one to understand your grief.
I’ve had clients whose older brother or sister passes away. Their sense of loss was incredibly tragic, yet their societal support system looked at this just as a normal part of the life cycle, “so what’s the big deal?” They were unable to garner any support for their grieving process.
Step-relationships can have a weakened social support system in regards to grief as if to say that the relationship between a step-parent, stepson, stepdaughter, or step-sibling is not as close or meaningful as a blood-relation. This can be especially difficult in broken homes with ex-step relationships at risk and socially misunderstood or disregarded as being insignificant. (Ex-steps are often not invited to funerals of their former step-relations nor are they regarded as “family.”)
Marital status does not dictate the tenderness of one’s heart, even though societal resources often do not recognize your sense of loss when a former lover, ex-husband or ex-wife passes away. Just because the relationship was unable to continue, doesn’t mean your love for that person is invalidated.
If your loved one dies of AIDS, it might be difficult to have that conversation with others who do not understand or may be judgmental.
Other types of disenfranchised grief of often associated with miscarriages, abortion, or sometimes when your relationship with someone who has recently lost someone of significance is so great, that you, too, feel the sense of loss.
Healthcare professionals often feel the loss of patients who pass away, yet because they are professionals, “in the business,” their grief is invalidated by society.
Also, the loss of a pet might be just as painful as the loss of a family member, yet people who do not have a deep connection with a pet could barely understand your sense of loss.
Some have experienced an overwhelming sense of loss over the death of a celebrity, which would be difficult for garnering social support for the grieving process.
Disenfranchised grief is not just as it is associated with the loss of life, there are other forms of loss which are just as traumatic and painful and initiate the need to grieve or mourn, but certain types of loss may not be recognized by your social support system.
Your son or daughter (spouse, a family member, or close friend) is diagnosed with a mental disability. This can be a traumatic life tragedy, but you find it difficult to fully express your sense of loss and to grieve as you might need to.
You may feel an overwhelming sense of loss in a failed marriage, a recent diagnosis of failing health, the loss of a significant investment or business. Even the sense that dreams that were once within your reach are forever gone.
Regardless of the source of your grief, how disenfranchised you might feel, know that you are entitled to your grief, no one has the right to take that from you and nothing makes your grief unacceptable. Just because others do not understand how you feel, does not invalidate your reasons for feeling the way you do.
Assert a proactive stance, embrace your sense of loss, find ways to express it in healthy ways for as long as is necessary for you. You might not be able to grieve publicly, but you still have the right to do so, in your own way, in your own time, without offending others.
Your grieving process should be validated by others, so find others with whom you can share your grieving process with who will support you. You might find a group of people who are going through the same kind of loss or seek out a counselor or coach to walk with you along this difficult part of your journey.