Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised Grief

When people hear about grief, for many, the automatic assumption is that someone has passed away. We hear about the grieving process and learn about the stages of grief that one may be experiencing at different times as one mourn loved ones. We understand that grief is something natural that occurs after suffering a loss. Still, we hardly ever think about other losses that happen in life. Such losses can be associated with significant life transitions, such as:

  • Growing up and leaving a family home.
  • Becoming empty-nesters.
  • Dealing with unexpected medical diagnoses.
  • Losing a pet.
  • Ending a long-term relationship or friendship.
  • Losing a job.
  • Retiring.
  • Starting a family.
  • Emigrating and so many others.

Kenneth Doka, an expert on grief, authored the book Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing hidden sorrow, in which he defined this kind of loss as disenfranchised grief. He explained that disenfranchised grief is a type of loss that is neither acknowledged nor supported by society. As a result, the person experiencing grief cannot or is unable to express their feelings and obtain the help they need to cope. In other words, social norms discredit their suffering. Families and friends of people who lost family members to death by suicide, addiction, and extramarital affairs may suffer this form of mourning. Disenfranchised grief is as valid as “regular” grief as it is a response to losing someone or something significant in our lives. When that happens, we need to be able to talk about it and share our experiences and pain so that we can begin healing.

Grief does not happen as a linear process, and it manifests itself differently for every one of us. Crying, sadness, anger, apathy, withdrawal from others still around, and a general sense of loss are common grief reactions. Consider sharing your loss with someone you trust or seek professional counseling to start learning how to write your loss into your life’s story.