Did you ever receive unpleasant remarks from people while you were mourning the death of your pet or penfriend? Did you notice people saying things like “common it’s nothing to feel said….you didn’t lose a child or family member” Did that make you feel even worse than before? If yes, then my friend you are experiencing disenfranchised grief!
What is Disenfranchised Grief?
When you lose something or someone close to your heart, grief is inevitable. The emotional experience is natural and can look different for everyone. The grieving process varies from person to person. Grief encompasses more than intense sadness after the death of a child or a family member. When society doesn’t validate your own grief, it is known as disenfranchised grief.
Disenfranchised grief is the term first coined by Dr. Kenneth Doka in the 1980s. The grief and loss expert defined the term in his book Disenfranchised grief: recognizing hidden sorrow as “the grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported.”
In short, it means your grief doesn’t fit the larger society’s norms, rules, and rituals dealing with death and loss. So, people do not acknowledge or validate your grief and barely support you that in turn prolongs your emotional pain and intensifies the grieving process. You can say that the griever’s “right to grieve” is denied.
Causes of Disenfranchised Grief
Disenfranchised grief stems from different types of losses and below are broad categories:
1. Stigmatized loss
Losses that surround stigma include –
- Death by suicide
- Death due to drug overdose or some sort of addiction
- Estrangement with a loved one suffering from severe mental health problems.
Taboo causes of death! People will not support or openly acknowledge the grief that stems from such losses. Instead, they may judge or criticize you, which leaves you to grieve alone. There are complex cases where the griever too invalidates their own grief – for instance, grief after an abortion – because it is the consequence of their decisions.
2. Unrecognized relationships
Your grief is disenfranchised if your relationship does not attain the same recognition or importance as compared to other relationships. Also when you keep your relationship private, it’s hard for you to mourn publicly when your partner dies. Some examples of unrecognised relationships are:
- LGBTQ+ people
- Open or non-monogamous relationships
- Friends with benefits and no one of your involvement
- Ex-partner or someone you were dating
- Death of an unknown sibling or absent parent
- Death of an online friend or pen pal
3. Insignificant loss
Losses that are deemed insignificant by others or considered insignificant in comparison to other people’s losses include-
- Relationship breakups or estrangement
- Loss of mobility
- Loss of possessions or favourite childhood dress or toy
- Dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
- Loss of freedom, safety, independence
- Death of pet
- Adoption that doesn’t go through
- Death of mentor, teacher, patient, therapy client, friend’s child or coworker
4. Non-death losses
Death is considered a major type of loss in every culture. But a loss that is not due to death can also impact your mind severely and grief may be disenfranchised due to a lack of acknowledgement, support and few outlets for expressing yourself. Some of the non-death losses also include those considered as insignificant losses –
- End of relationships like divorce
- Breakups with friends
- Loss of job
- Loss of your home country
- Estrangement from family members.
5. Grief that doesn’t align with social norms
Society has set its own rules about grief and how people should or shouldn’t mourn their losses. Society’s expectation of grief is influenced by mass media, film, magazines, and some influencers. People may expect you to
- Visually show sadness by crying or in other ways
- lose your appetite
- sleep a lot
- Avoid social events
- Your boss may expect you to be productive even if you have recently experienced a loss
- Some of your friends may expect you to get over a break up just in few weeks