Grief experts have labeled the term Disenfranchised Grief to be a type of grief that is hidden due to fear of ridicule, or a type of loss that is not recognized or belittled by others because to others it is outside the range of societal norms or perceived as insignificant. Types of examples can be the loss of a pet, or particular loss that is extremely painful but personal but not acknowledged by society. Another example would be the pain of an individual who may be a boy friend or girl friend who may have lost someone in High School. While the family receives the bulk of the sympathy, the Highschool boyfriend or girlfriend may find themselves on the outside looking in. Another example of Disenfranchised Grief pertains to suffering from a stigmatizing disease. Still others who lose a loved one within the LGBTQ community may find a stigmatizing view towards their particular loss. All of these losses are ways society attempts to control how one grieves or what is worthy of grief itself. These type of constraints are an issue that Grief Counseling attempts to unbind in counseling sessions. Acknowledging the loss and grief is key and making awareness to others that these losses matter.
Society attempts to control grief in other arenas as well. Not just merely in what is worthy of grief, but also in how one should grieve in public. Societal norms and standards of public display in the West seem to find contempt in outward expressions of grief. The discomfort of others witnessing a sobbing mother, or a hysterical child grieving the loss of a parent seem out of control and socially awkward. “What’s Your Grief” takes a closer look at this attempt to censure public displays of grief in it’s article “What is Suffocated Grief”. The term labeled “Suffocated Grief” refers to situations where other standards attempt to moderate grief expression. The article states,
“It wasn’t until years later, sitting in a conference listening to Dr. Tashel Bordere, that I realized it was more than that.. I heard the phrase ‘suffocated grief’ for the first time, a term she coined. She explained that for some, their expression of grief is not simply unacknowledged or stigmatized, as in disenfranchised grief, but it is punished. As she described normal grief reactions being penalized, all those calls to security flashed in my memory.”
“What is Suffocated Grief”. Whats Your Grief. December 21st, 2022. Whats Your Grief
To review the entire article, please click here
Hence even if a grief loss is seen as within the norms of societal grief reaction and not disenfranchised, it still may fall under societal condemnation in regards to reaction to the loss and how that reaction is perceived in public. This literally takes grief bullying to a whole new level and can cause larger issues for the griever.
Grief reactions are not universal. Various cultures and faiths all grieve differently to a particular loss. One standard of expression or mourning cannot be held higher to another. Mourning as a public reaction to loss is the primary target of Suffocated Grief. The prevailing society sets the standards and rules for what is perceived as appropriate. When encountering loss, one’s reaction within a society must meet those societal standards of duration or extremity. When one travels off the path of “proper” reaction then that person is perceived as odd or temporarily insane. The discomfort for others is the primary issue. Individuals sometimes do not know how to respond to a particular emotion of others. Some individuals become uncomfortable or embarrassed when confronted with raw human emotion. Hence, hospitals, facilities and nursing homes will noise regulations or removal of individuals from a particular patient or ICU room when human emotion becomes to raw and visible.
Where is Grief Suffocated?
Suffocated grief unfortunately can be seen in many medical facilities. The ICU can become a very stressful place and the outward mourning of someone who may have passed may cause a considerable upheaval to the point of removal from the facility. Noise and crying in public can be perceived as threatening. Individuals who express themselves in the moment of extreme distress are seen sometimes as insane or out of control. While precautions need to be taken to protect everyone involved, such outward displays of mourning are usually frowned upon in the West.
The same is true within schools. Many minority children who experience more loss than white counterparts are sometimes held to a higher standard when expressing the same loss. They are not permitted to express themselves and when they do, it is seen or perceived as aggressive.
Suffocation of grief is especially seen in the work force. Many positions have little to no paid bereavement leave. Instead individuals are forced to return to work while grieving and expected to maintain composure and professionalism.
It seems, once the final shovel of dirt has been thrown over the grave, everyone should become silent and move on with life without expression.
Understanding Suffocated Grief is important because it opens one to the pain of others. It is a sign of empathy to realize others are suffering. Instead of turning away, one needs to open arms. Pastoral Care and better training in grief are definitely needed in the caring professions. Medical professionals and nurses need to become better trained in the reactions of grief. A less sterile response to the needs of family experiencing a loss need to be implemented. How medical professionals discuss death and how they reveal these things can play large roles in helping others experience the bad news in a more quiet way. When these basic decencies are not met, individuals are more likely to be angry or devastated by a loss and display more outward mourning.
These feelings need to be respected within a safety net that prevents physical harm to oneself or damage to property.
Mourning or outward expression of grief within society is a very subjective thing. Cultures differ across the world. One way of reacting to loss should not be sanctioned by another community. Instead, others should be able to express grief and have the time to express grief without fear of ridicule. Healthcare professionals should receive training in helping others when reactions to grief and loss are experienced.
Alan Wolfelt lists a number of Bill of Rights for Mourners that cannot be taken away. One is to express oneself uniquely during loss and another is to experience “grief bursts” without fear of societal condemnation or grief bullies. It is important to grieve and express if one feels the need to do so.
The American Academy of Grief Counseling offers both a Grief Counseling Certification and also a Pastoral Thanatology Certification for qualified professionals in ministry, counseling and the medical fields. The programs are open enrollment and independent study. If interested, please review AIHCP’s Grief Counseling and Pastoral Thanatology Programs.
“Disenfranchisement and ambiguity in the face of loss: The suffocated grief of sexual assault survivors.” Bordere, T. (2017) Family Relations: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Applied Family Studies, 66(1), 29–45. APA. Access here
“THE MOURNER’S BILL OF RIGHTS”. Alan Wolfelt. December 21st, 2013. TAPS. Access here
“The Ways We Grieve”. Ralph Ryback, PhD. February 27th, 2017. Psychology Today. Access here
“What to Know About Disenfranchised Grief”. WebMD Contributors. October 25th, 2021. WebMD. Access here