Signs and Examples of Disenfranchised Grief
What is disenfranchised grief? While grief is generally a painful experience, the process can be even more challenging when you can’t express your struggle.
How do you know if what you’re experiencing is “normal,” or if you’re going through something more complex? There are several common signs of disenfranchised grief.
Everyone’s grief journey is different. Grief over a loss that’s not considered a big deal by others can be excruciating. Just because other people in your life don’t recognize it, though, doesn’t mean that your emotional pain isn’t real.
Grief can cause anger, sadness, guilt, and a sense of numbness. Some of the more obvious signs you may be going through a disenfranchised grieving process can include that, in addition to all those “normal” grief symptoms, you also might:
- Have extreme feelings of loneliness and longing
- Feel like you can’t talk to anyone
- Experience shame over how you’re feeling
- Have insomnia
- Feel anxious or have intense anxiety
- Are depressed
- Experience a pervasive feeling that life isn’t worth living
- Feel in shock or numb
- Notice you’re avoiding places or things that remind you of the loss
- Begin having physical symptoms such as inexplicable pain and muscle tension
Often, feelings of disenfranchised grief are caused by several similar situations such as:
The loss of someone who isn’t a spouse, child, or parent
Society can place an invisible limit on who you can grieve — for example, most people “allow” you to grieve a spouse, child, or parent. However, our culture often doesn’t always accept or understand if you’re grieving a close coworker, ex-husband, abusive partner, or even someone with whom you were having an affair. Because of this, people who lose a non-traditional relationship might feel compelled to hide their feelings from friends and loved ones.
The death of a patient in your care, whether person or animal
Healthcare workers in hospitals or veterinary offices have to deal with losses daily. Unfortunately, losing human or animal patients isn’t always recognized as a true loss that’s worthy of grief.
A loss due to infertility or miscarriage
While the topics of miscarriage and infertility are discussed more today than they were even just a decade ago, it’s still common for a timeframe to be placed on this type of loss. For many, the loss is forgotten by others as soon as someone physically recovers. Some people don’t consider the emotional grieving involved, and this dismissal can give way to disenfranchised grief.
A loss due to stigmatized death
If you lose someone in a way that’s stigmatized in society — such as abortion, suicide, or AIDS — your grieving may be ignored.
The loss of a same-sex partner
Whether your relationship ended or your partner died, you might feel like you can’t grieve freely if you weren’t open about your sexual orientation or identity to friends or family.
Grieving over a loved one who’s dealing with mental health conditions
When a loved one is suffering from a difficult mental health condition, such as addiction, depression, or a personality disorder, grief is common. It can be hard to accept the sense of loss for the person you once knew. Many people don’t understand this type of “loss” because it’s not physical.
The loss of a home or job
It’s completely normal to grieve the loss of a home or job that you valued deeply, especially if it was unexpected or unplanned. For example, if you were let go from your job, you may feel sad about not seeing your cherished coworkers daily. In addition, if you had to sell or leave your home, you may grieve the loss of shared memories in that space.
A loss of mobility
If you’re diagnosed with a chronic health condition or have a loss of mobility, it’s common to grieve losing your former abilities and freedom and the life you once lived.
The loss of a pet
For many of us, pets are members of our family, just like children. Unfortunately, some parts of our society seem to put an invisible timeline on the allowable grief for the loss of a pet.
“The experience of disenfranchisement is no less damaging when it comes to grief and bereavement. In our society today, together with the impact of COVID, therapists should have a heightened awareness when it comes to disenfranchised grief. Those feeling unrecognized or not acknowledged with regard to the loss of a loved one or any other type of loss, such as employment or change in stability, can be common, particularly stressful times. Feeling as though your loss doesn’t fit into the norms of grief can prolong or complicate the healing process. Finding professional therapeutic support during your loss journey can help immensely.”
Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan, LCSW-C, LICSW, LCSW