Many individuals’ grief are ignored or put to the side. When certain these types of losses do not meet society’s standards of loss then they can be swept under the rug leaving the bereaved with no resources. Some losses are considered insignificant or inappropriate. Some suffer stigma due to the type of situation surrounding the loss. The loss is hence ignored, hidden or demeaned.
Grief Counselors need to address all loss and the uniqueness each loss poses for different individuals. Some individuals may have their own subjective circumstances that enhance a loss that would not be as big an issue to others, while others may feel shame or ridicule for expressing their grief. It is critical to respect all grief and loss and allow individuals to have a platform to grieve and be accepted.
Examples of Disenfranchised Grief include pet loss, loss of a girlfriend or boyfriend, loss of a same sex partner, or the loss of someone due to a stigmatizing disease such as AIDs. Family whose loved one dies by the one’s own hands with suicide suffer this type of grief as well. When a loss is ignored, ridiculed, shamed or demeaned, the individual’s loss is not valued or recognized and this leads to an inability to properly express the grief and process it.
The article, “Disenfranchised Grief—Grief That Doesn’t Fit Society’s Standards and Is Not Often Acknowledged—Is Complex But Common” by Brina Patel analyzes the feelings and emotions associated with Disenfranchised Grief and why it is important to acknowledge all loss. The article states,
“Chances are you’ve experienced disenfranchised grief at some point—maybe during your last big breakup or when your childhood dog passed away. However, just because your situation doesn’t fit in with society’s mold of grief, that doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be validated and processed. Skipping those all-important steps can have detrimental impacts on your mental health, and you may feel isolated and unsupported.”
“Disenfranchised Grief—Grief That Doesn’t Fit Society’s Standards and Is Not Often Acknowledged—Is Complex But Common”. Brina Patel. December 3rd, 2022. Well & Good.
To read the entire article, please click here
Grief is a natural response to loss, but not all types of grief receive the same level of recognition and support. Disenfranchised grief is a type of grief that is not socially recognized or acknowledged. It is often not openly expressed, and the person experiencing it may feel isolated, misunderstood, or invalidated. Disenfranchised grief can result from the loss of a person, relationship, or identity that is not widely acknowledged or socially sanctioned. Examples of disenfranchised grief include the loss of a pet, a miscarriage, the end of a non-traditional relationship, or the loss of a job. Grief Counselors can help those suffering from these types of losses.
What is Disenfranchised Grief and How is it Different from Other Types of Grief?
Disenfranchised grief is different from other types of grief in that it is not socially recognized or acknowledged. This means that the person experiencing disenfranchised grief may not receive the same level of support or validation as someone experiencing a more socially recognized type of grief. For example, if someone loses a spouse, they may receive sympathy cards, meals, and flowers. However, if someone experiences the loss of a non-traditional relationship, they may not receive the same level of support and may even face stigma or judgment.
Disenfranchised grief can also be different in terms of the mourning process. The person experiencing disenfranchised grief may not be able to openly mourn or express their feelings, which can prolong the grieving process and make it more difficult to heal.
Common Types of Disenfranchised Grief
There are many different types of disenfranchised grief. Some common examples include:
The loss of a pet can be a significant source of grief, but it is not always recognized as such. People who lose a pet may be dismissed or belittled by others who do not understand the bond between a person and their pet.
The loss of a pregnancy can be a traumatic experience, but it is often not acknowledged as such. Women who have experienced a miscarriage may feel like they are not allowed to grieve or that their loss is not as significant as other types of loss.
End of a Non-Traditional Relationship
The end of a non-traditional relationship, such as a same-sex relationship or a polyamorous relationship, can be a significant source of grief. However, people in these types of relationships may not receive the same level of support or validation as those in more traditional relationships.
Losing a job can be a traumatic experience, especially if the job was a significant part of a person’s identity. However, people who lose their job may not receive the same level of support or validation as those who experience other types of loss.
Signs and Symptoms of Disenfranchised Grief
It can be difficult to identify disenfranchised grief because it is often hidden or not openly expressed. However, there are some signs and symptoms that counselors can look for. These include:
Difficulty Expressing Emotions
People experiencing disenfranchised grief may have difficulty expressing their emotions or may feel like they are not allowed to express their emotions. They may bottle up their feelings or avoid talking about their loss altogether.
People experiencing disenfranchised grief may feel isolated or alone. They may feel like no one understands what they are going through or that they are not allowed to talk about their loss.
People experiencing disenfranchised grief may feel guilty for grieving or for their loss. They may feel like they do not have the right to grieve or that their loss is not significant enough to deserve grief.
People experiencing disenfranchised grief may feel angry or resentful towards others who do not understand their grief or who dismiss their loss.
How to Support Someone Experiencing Disenfranchised Grief
Supporting someone experiencing disenfranchised grief requires empathy, validation, and understanding. As a Grief counselor, there are several techniques you can use to support someone experiencing disenfranchised grief.
Active listening is a technique that involves listening to the person without judgment and without interrupting. It involves reflecting back what the person is saying and validating their feelings. Grief Counselors can play a key role in validating the feelings of others.
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of the person experiencing grief. It involves putting yourself in their shoes and imagining how you would feel in their situation.
Validation is the act of acknowledging the person’s feelings and experiences as real and important. It involves letting the person know that their grief is valid and that it is okay to feel the way they feel.
Normalizing is the act of letting the person know that their feelings and experiences are normal and that others have experienced similar types of grief. It involves educating the person about disenfranchised grief and letting them know that they are not alone. Greif Counselors can help those suffering these types of losses realize that all loss is legitimate.
Techniques for Addressing Disenfranchised Grief in Counseling
There are several techniques that counselors can use to address disenfranchised grief in counseling. Licensed Counselors can employ these therapies
Psychoeducation involves educating the person about disenfranchised grief and helping them understand that their grief is valid and normal.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on changing negative thoughts and behaviors. It can be helpful for addressing feelings of guilt or anger associated with disenfranchised grief.
Mindfulness-based therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on being present in the moment and accepting one’s thoughts and feelings without judgment. It can be helpful for addressing feelings of isolation and loneliness associated with disenfranchised grief.
Narrative therapy is a type of therapy that focuses on helping the person create a new narrative about the loss. It can be helpful for reframing the loss and creating a new sense of meaning and purpose
Case Studies Highlighting the Impact of Disenfranchised Grief
Case studies can be helpful for understanding the impact of disenfranchised grief. Here are a few examples:
Jane experienced the loss of a pregnancy early in her first trimester. She felt like she was not allowed to grieve because the pregnancy was not far along. However, she was devastated by the loss and struggled to move on. After seeking counseling, she was able to process her grief and find closure.
Sam lost his job after working at the same company for 20 years. He felt like he had lost a significant part of his identity and struggled to find a new sense of purpose. After seeking counseling, he was able to reframe his loss and find new opportunities for growth and development.
Maria experienced the end of a same-sex relationship. She felt like she was not allowed to grieve because the relationship was not recognized by society. She struggled with feelings of isolation and loneliness. After seeking counseling, she was able to process her grief and find a new sense of community and support.
Disenfranchised Grief and Cultural Differences
It is important to recognize that disenfranchised grief can be influenced by cultural differences. Some cultures may not recognize certain types of loss or may have different mourning rituals. As counselors, it is important to be sensitive to cultural differences and to adapt our approach accordingly.
Conclusion and Next Steps for Grief Counselors Seeking to Support Clients with Disenfranchised Grief
Disenfranchised grief is a type of grief that is often overlooked or misunderstood. As Grief counselors, it is important to recognize the signs and symptoms of disenfranchised grief and to provide empathy, validation, and understanding to our clients. By using techniques such as active listening, empathy, and validation, we can help our clients process their grief and find closure. There are many resources available for counselors supporting clients with disenfranchised grief, and it is important to continue to educate ourselves.
AIHCP offers a Grief Counseling Certification which can help prepare individuals to help others with disenfranchised grief. The Grief Counseling Certification Program is online and independent study and open to qualified professionals. Please review the program and see if it meets your academic and professional goals.
“What Is Disenfranchised Grief?”. Sanjana Gupta. April 16th, 2022. VeryWellMind. Access here
“All About Disenfranchised Grief”. Cathy Cassata. July 27th, 2021. PyschCentral. Access here
“Disen-whaaaat?? Understanding Disenfranchised Grief”. Litsa Williams. July 8th, 2013. What’s Your Grief. Access here
“Disenfranchised Grief Might Be the Hardest Kind to Process—Here’s What It Is and Why, According to Experts”. Claire Gillespie. August 5th, 2021. Health. Access here