Common ways for handling grief include journaling, talking to friends and family, and creating memorials for your departed loved one. But what if you’re experiencing disenfranchised grief? Disenfranchised grief happens when there is loss outside of culturally acceptable norms. This leads to invalidation and isolation for those experiencing it because the people around them don’t accept, acknowledge, or understand the loss.
Here are some examples of loss that might lead to disenfranchised grief.
- Losing someone important to you who wasn’t a spouse or family member, such as an ex-spouse.
- A doctor losing a patient; workplace culture expects medical professionals to “deal” with loss.
- Losing someone to death or jail who harmed you or others.
- Losing someone to conflict with the police.
- Not grieving in a socially acceptable manner, such as not having big emotions.
- If a loss was caused by a societal taboo, like a drug overdose, miscarriage, murder, or suicide.
- If you’re grieving a loss others minimize, such as losing a pet, a breakup or divorce, or losing a job or friendship.
What is Disenfranchised Grief?
Disenfranchised grief occurs when society and the people around you don’t validate or acknowledge your loss. Because disenfranchised grief is about the circumstances surrounding the loss, people might feel uncomfortable offering support. Whether this is malicious or unaware, the results are feeling incredibly lonely, wrong, and like “no one understands.” This leads to deep feelings of isolation that can compound the grieving experience and make it harder to process.
Signs of Disenfranchised Grief
Disenfranchised grief symptoms often overlap with symptoms of complicated grief. Complicated grief is about how a person responds to loss and grief. Since disenfranchised grief is about the nature and circumstances of a loss, it is possible to experience disenfranchised grief and complicated grief at the same time. Here are some of the signs of disenfranchised grief:
- You experienced your loss six months ago or longer.
- You experience powerful feelings of longing and loneliness that distract you from your day-to-day life.
- You regularly or consistently feel like your life isn’t worth living since your loss.
- You are still feeling like you’re in shock or numb.
- You are going to extremes, either obsessively avoiding or seeking out reminders of your loss, such as objects or special places.
- You are obsessed with the situation surrounding your recent loss.
How to Navigate Disenfranchised Grief
- Therapy or counseling
Given the inundation of invalidation that someone with disenfranchised grief is experiencing, having a compassionate professional offer validation and support can be healing and helpful. Disenfranchised grief displays the power and effect of systemic invalidation, of constantly being told or feeling wrong to feel the way you do after a loss. Flipping that script on its head and instead being validated by someone, especially a professional, can offer a great deal of relief. Grief support groups, whether online or in person, can be an excellent way to share thoughts and feelings, witness other people dealing with loss and receive support.
- Inner work
Personal work you do on your own can also be helpful, such as working with your thoughts, beliefs, and coping skills. Many resources are available online and in books for handling grief, especially disenfranchised grief. Commonly recommended tools for working through grief are journaling, creative outlets, and spending time in nature.
Using rituals to acknowledge and honor your grief over your loss can support your journey through disenfranchised grief. Common rituals associated with losing a loved one include an ash scattering, planting a memorial tree, or making a piece of cremation or memorial jewelry. Writing letters to the person you lost (whether through death or other circumstances) and burning them is a very cleansing ritual.
This is the most obvious, but possibly hardest, suggestion. It can help if we think of grief as an extended illness. There may be a better time to do excessive or high-energy self-care items like majorly changing your diet or starting a new, super-intense exercise regimen. When we’re sick, we take care of the basics: food, water, and cleanliness. If you’re struggling with daily things like brushing your teeth, know that it’s ok that you’re responding this way and that many, many other people have been where you are now. Sometimes giving ourselves permission to do the bare minimum or just one thing can help move us out of inertia. Another tactic is to celebrate your wins, however, small your inner critic is making them seem. If internal criticism arises after a solid self-care step, don’t attach and focus on telling yourself you did a good job and it’s ok that you’re struggling after a loss. Eventually, doing things like taking a long walk or cooking healthy food will feel better to do.
If you’re suffering from disenfranchised grief, do your best to find support, express yourself, and give yourself internal permission to grieve. Remember that normal grief is complicated, and what you’re going through is harder. The more you can offer yourself the validation society is denying you and find others who can do so as well, the better you can heal.
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