Disenfranchised Grief: The Unspoken Sorrow

Grief is a natural human experience that is often associated with death or the loss of a loved one. However, not all grief is considered equal, and not all forms of mourning receive the same level of support from society. Disenfranchised grief is an unspoken form of sorrow that goes unnoticed and unsupported by many. It is the type of grief that is not socially recognized or legitimized, often leaving the person dealing with it feeling invisible, alienated, and isolated.

What is Disenfranchised Grief?

Disenfranchised grief is a term coined by sociologist Kenneth Doka in the 1980s. It refers to the type of grief that is not fully recognized or supported by society or social norms. Disenfranchised grief can result from a variety of circumstances, including:

  • A death that is stigmatized or taboo, such as suicide, drug overdose, or HIV/AIDS.
  • A loss that is not recognized as significant, such as the death of a pet, a job loss, or a miscarriage.
  • A relationship breakup or divorce that is not recognized as a significant loss.
  • A changed state of health which has not caused death but the individual mourns their previous state of being.
  • A loss that is not openly acknowledged due to social norms, such as LGBTQ+ partners who have not disclosed their identity.

Disenfranchised grief can also arise from a bereaved person’s financial status, age, race, gender, sexuality, or cultural background. For instance, research has shown that people from immigrant communities may not receive the same level of support as the mainstream population do when it comes to mourning. Additionally, disenfranchised grief can also result from experiences of trauma, such as war, violence, or natural disasters, where individuals may not be able to mourn safely.

The Consequences of Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised grief can have severe consequences on an individual’s mental and physical health. When people can’t mourn their loss openly, they tend to feel disconnected and alone, and their grief may lead to social stigma, shame, or guilt. The bereaved may also feel invalidated by others, leading to a sense of loneliness and isolation, which can exacerbate symptoms related to grief such as depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In addition to the psychological impacts, disenfranchised grief may also have negative physical health outcomes. Studies have shown that prolonged mourning can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases, chronic pain, and exhaustion. Additionally, failing to deal with the grief can lead to the development of unhealthy coping mechanisms, such as substance abuse or compulsive behavior.

Healthy Ways to Cope with Disenfranchised Grief

When dealing with disenfranchised grief, it is essential to acknowledge and recognize the loss. Although it may be difficult to share the experience, finding a way to communicate with someone who can understand and support you may help reduce feelings of isolation and disconnection. Seeking therapy or professional counseling may also be helpful as it provides a safe and supportive environment for individual expression.

One approach for coping with disenfranchised grief is the use of ritual and ceremony to honor or commemorate the loss. Rituals can involve lighting candles, creating a memorial, or undertaking a service with relevant people. Other techniques include journaling, meditation, and mindful breathing. Self-care is essential during this period, taking time to engage in activities, exercise or rest and take care of yourself physically and mentally.

The Importance of Awareness and Support

Disenfranchised grief is a common, yet little-discussed experience, which can have devastating impacts on a person’s emotional and physical wellbeing. The first step in addressing disenfranchised grief is to raise awareness of its existence and the impact it has on bereaved individuals. Increased awareness will lead to greater myths and stereotypes from being present regarding forms of loss that are less understood, ultimately leading to offering more psychological support.

Providing support for those experiencing disenfranchised grief requires a significant shift in societal and professional attitudes towards it. Grieving should be recognized as a challenging and complex process that deserves empathetic support, and no one should be subjected to societal prejudice or a lack of support. It is through increased awareness, empathy, and support that those experiencing disenfranchised grief can find their way forward.

Conclusion

Disenfranchised grief is an often unnoticed and unsupported form of mourning that affects many people. It is the type of grief that is not officially recognized, leaving bereaved individuals feeling alone and disconnected. Disenfranchised grief can result from different circumstances, including loss that is taboo or not socially recognized, such as death due to COVID19 or a miscarriage. The consequences of disenfranchised grief are visible emotionally and physically. Therefore, providing support for those dealing with disenfranchised grief requires increased awareness and empathy to function effectively in its approach. It is essential to acknowledge the loss, validate the bereaved, create a safe platform for expression, introduce rituals or self-care activities while dealing with disenfranchised grief. Though the solution is far and wide, it opens up avenues of possibilities for providing better support for those dealing with disenfranchised grief.

FAQs

What is Disenfranchised Grief?

Disenfranchised grief refers to a type of grief that is not recognized or acknowledged by society. It can include the feeling of loss for a relationship that was not socially accepted such as a same-sex partner, or for a perceived lesser loss such as that of a pet. Disenfranchised grief can be difficult to process as it is often unseen and unsupported.

What are the common signs and symptoms of Disenfranchised Grief?

The symptoms of disenfranchised grief often manifest as a sense of isolation, feeling unsupported, and an inability to share the grief experience. These emotions can lead to physical and mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, as well as difficulty in forming new relationships. It can also impact a person’s ability to work and maintain relationships.

What can be done to cope with Disenfranchised Grief?

Coping with disenfranchised grief involves acknowledging the loss and finding support. This can include talking to friends and family who will understand, joining support groups, or seeking professional help. It is important to remember that all forms of grief are valid and that there is no right or wrong way to grieve. It is essential to give yourself time and space to process the loss and find healthy ways to remember and honor those who have passed.


References

1. Doka, K. J. (2016). Disenfranchised grief: Recognizing hidden sorrow. Hospice Foundation of America.
2. Martin, T. L., & Doka, K. J. (2020). Disenfranchised grief in social work practice. Social Work, 65(1), 85-88.
3. Breen, L. J., O’Connor, M., & Hewitt, L. (2019). Understanding disenfranchised grief in the context of adolescents and young adults: Implications for intervention. Death Studies, 43(1), 1-9.