Complicated Grief vs Disenfranchised Grief

Difference Between Complicated Grief & Disenfranchised Grief

The loss of a loved one can be one of the most traumatic experiences of the human condition. Each loss is as unique and varied as the one-of-a-kind relationships we share with the departed. The grief process can be a diverse, multi-layer journey filled with unexpected twists and turns. After all, human beings are complex creatures—no two are truly alike. No matter how often a person encounters grief, each instance presents its own set of challenges, setbacks, and triumphs. To many onlookers, grief can appear to be just a “temporary period of sadness to be gotten over;” however, it’s much more involved than that. In this article, we’ll break down two misunderstood versions of grief: Complicated grief and disenfranchised grief.

What is the Difference Between Complicated Grief and Disenfranchised Grief?

With grief, there can be as many different versions as shades of grey. Complicated grief is an intense, prolonged form of mourning that impedes a person’s ability to move forward with their life. Some of the most notable symptoms of complicated grief include an inability to accept the loss, persistent feelings of sorrow and despair, and an overwhelming preoccupation with the departed. On the other hand, disenfranchised grief is grief that fails to be recognized or validated within a social context. A person experiencing disenfranchised grief may not be supported due to cultural norms, societal stigma, or the nature of their relationship with the departed. In essence, complicated grief focuses on the emotional response to a loss, while disenfranchised grief deals with the external factors that affect how grief is perceived and acknowledged by others.

Similarities Between Complicated Grief and Disenfranchised Grief

Even though there are stark differences between complicated and disenfranchised grief, there are also some commonalities. Both types of grief can be very isolating experiences, leaving grief-stricken individuals feeling unsupported or misunderstood during their grief process. If not properly addressed, both could contribute to the development of mental health issues. While disenfranchised grief may focus on the social reaction to a person’s grief, there can certainly be an emotional effect, just like complicated grief. A person suffering from either version of grief can be subjected to intense sadness, guilt, anger, loneliness, and much more. These shared emotional responses highlight the universal nature of grief, regardless of how it's categorized.

When a person experiences a loss, they typically experience symptoms associated with normal grief in the first few months, such as shock, denial, sadness, anger, guilt, and shame. Over time, normal grief symptoms begin to fade away. However, complicated grief shares many of these same symptoms, making it hard to identify initially. Instead of fading away like normal grief, the symptoms of complicated grief linger and get worse. It’s like being in an ongoing, heightened state of despair. If the bereaved is encountering these symptoms with no relief in sight for roughly six months to a year, they very well could be suffering from complicated grief. As complicated grief continues to drive the grief-stricken person further away from their normal life, family, friends, and supporters may begin to disapprove of their grief process, just like with disenfranchised grief.

Dealing with Complicated Grief and Disenfranchised Grief

Coping with complicated grief starts with facing and acknowledging the feelings associated with the loss. There are several ways a grief-stricken person can go about addressing their feelings. Reaching out to trusted family members or friends can be a good place to start. With their support, the bereaved can have a safe space to express their feelings and emotions. Support groups with a focus on grief can also provide valuable guidance. Being surrounded by those also suffering from complicated grief can be an uplifting experience. Professional help, such as therapy or counseling, can give the bereaved helpful tools to navigate the grief process and develop healthy coping mechanisms.

With disenfranchised grief, a more nuanced approach may be needed to help process the loss. The societal or cultural factors that isolate the bereaved may make it difficult to receive support from family or friends. For instance, a person experiencing the loss of a pet, such as a cat or a dog, may not be supported by friends who don’t understand what it means to be a pet owner. The grieving pet owner may feel abandoned in their grief. Not only does the grief-stricken person feel unsupported, but their feelings about the loss are rendered invalid. Creating spaces for open conversations about loss, fostering empathy, and challenging societal norms can help dismantle the barriers preventing acknowledgment and validation of certain types of grief.

Whether complicated or disenfranchised grief, grief-stricken individuals need to give themselves permission to grieve. The path to healing is a unique and non-linear process. Through patience, self-compassion, and self-care, it’s possible to find peace and joy in life once again.

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