Disenfranchised Grief: When those who care about you don’t understand what you have been through

What do you think of when you hear (or read) “grief and loss”?  Most of us think of physically losing someone we care about to death.   But what about other types of losses?  What about the loss of a pet, job, or relationship? What if the relationship was abusive or inappropriate?  The reality is that anytime we lose someone or something that has significant meaning in our lives, we may experience grief.

Losses can be something physical, relational, or symbolic, but they are always perceived as negative.

There are several psychological models for the grief process, but they all have three key areas:

  • Avoidance – Often a feeling of shock and numbness that protects us emotionally against the reality of the loss.  We naturally want to avoid pain.
  • Confrontation – The most painful part of the grief process.  It’s when we face the loss head-on. Confrontation may accompany a variety of painful emotions.  Sometimes, this area of grief, even causes us to question our support and belief systems.
  • Accommodation – This is when we begin to learn to “move on” with our lives, and integrate the loss that we have experienced as part of our life journey.

Losses are a part of life. The integration of the loss experience helps to shape us into who we are.  However, if a loss is not recognized or validated as a loss by others, then the grief associated with it becomes disenfranchised. In other words, the loss cannot be openly mourned and we don’t receive the social support that would otherwise be received.  As a result, we have a difficult time with the accommodation process and may get stuck with the painful feelings resulting from the confrontation or avoidance processes.

Disenfranchised grief can lead to questioning our own thoughts and feelings.  Rather than accepting what is being experienced, the disenfranchisement creates a sense that we shouldn’t be feeling what we are experiencing.

The keys to dealing with disenfranchised grief is to first acknowledge the significance of the loss in your life and to create a support system that honors that significance.    This support system may be friends or family, but sometimes it may require you going outside that circle for the backing you need.

Jackie Dunagan, MAMFT
jdunagan @ growcounseling.com

Photo Cred: Seyed Mostafa Zamani