By: Allyson England Drake, M.Ed, CT

Kenneth Doka created the term disenfranchised grief as “a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned, or publicly mourned.” It is known as “hidden grief or sorrow.”

Many times, those who are grieving a loss that is termed disenfranchised, they feel like they cannot openly grieve or share their pain with others. They may feel their grief is not accepted, undeserving, or inappropriate because it is unacknowledged by social norms. These grievers do not believe they have a right to grieve, and feel alone, isolated, and unsupported. 

Why does some grief feel disenfranchised?

According to Litsa Williams at What’s Your Grief, these are some categories of grief that is considered disenfranchised: 

  • The relationship is not seen as significant or valid to others
  • The loss is not worthy of grief 
  • The relationship is stigmatized 
  • The mechanism of death of stigmatized 
  • The person grieving is not recognized as a griever 

Examples of disenfranchised grief include:

  • Death of an ex-spouse or partner
  • Death of a partner from an extramarital affair
  • Death of a pet 
  • Miscarriage
  • Death by homicide, suicide, or overdose 
  • Infertility 
  • Divorce 
  • Grieving a person who you cannot remember or someone who wasn’t in your life (i.e. a family member who died before you were born)
  • Grieving someone who is still living but has a diagnosis of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease

How to cope when you are dealing with disenfranchised grief? 

  1. Acknowledge your loss and validate your feelings
  2. Find a way to process and understand your feelings, such as talking to a friend or journaling
  3. Create your own ritual such as writing a letter to say goodbye, making a collage of photographs and mementos
  4. Normalize your feelings and know it’s okay to mourn
  5. Never apologize for grieving a loss that is important to you
  6. Take care of yourself physically and emotionally
  7. Develop a self-care plan
  8. Allow yourself time for rest, physical exercise, fresh air, or any other self-care strategies 
  9. Seek support from others who understand, friends/family, and professionals
  10. Reach out to those who knew about your relationship and will listen empathetically and non-judgmentally 
  11. Some people find support in online communities or support groups
  12. Give yourself time to grieve 
  13. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need from others, give others a concrete way to be there for you
  14. Do not put a timeframe or time limit on your grief