In Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice, Kenneth Doka offered a very simple definition of disenfranchised grief as an experience when "survivors are not accorded a right to grieve". Can others really deny us our right to feel sorrow and pain? Can they set limits on our bereavement? The answer is, at least in some cases, yes. It happens all the time.
In Disenfranchised Grief Revisited: Discounting Hope and Love, Dr. Thomas Attig claimed this right entitles a bereaved person to grieve when he or she needs or chooses to, and in the manner in which they choose. In response, others are obligated to honor the right and refrain from interfering in the experiences and efforts of grieving.
It's more than "a matter of indifference to the experiences and efforts of the bereaved. It is more actively negative and destructive as it involves denial of entitlement, interference, and even imposition of sanction. Disenfranchising messages actively discount, dismiss, disapprove, discourage, invalidate, and delegitimize the experiences and efforts of grieving. In this way, the people around the bereaved withhold permission, disallowing, constraining, hindering, and even prohibiting the survivor's mourning.”
When Can Disenfranchised Grief Occur?
Author Jonathan Vatner shares examples of situations where disenfranchised grief can result:
- Your ex-husband passes away, for example, and your friends don't see why it matters.
- An executive is having a serious affair with her married co-worker. When he dies unexpectedly, the expression of her grief is limited by the covert nature of the relationship.
- A spouse, brother, or son is missing in military action.
- When death has occurred due to socially unacceptable causes such as AIDS or suicide.
- A beloved dog, cat or other pet has died.
What Does Disenfranchised Grief Sound Like?
When you are mourning an unrecognized or undervalued loss, you may hear statements like this:
- When things like this happen, all you can do is give it time and wait it out.
- Eventually, you’ll get over this.
- The best thing is to try to put what happened behind you and get back to normal as soon as possible. Try to go on as if nothing has changed.
- There’s no point in looking for meaning in something like this. Suffering brings us face to face with absurdity. The best thing is to try to forget.
- Face reality. She is dead. You will have to fill her place with something else.
Sometimes those dealing with grief disenfranchise their own grief with inner talk that sounds like this:
- Somehow it feels disloyal to laugh or try to be happy. I sometimes feel that I owe it to him to live in sorrow.
- What can I possibly have to look forward to?
- I’m kind of embarrassed to admit that in some ways I seem to have grown from the death of my child.
- How can I ever let myself love again if it all comes to this?
Suffer in Silence No More
The stress of grieving in isolation can be unbearable. If we listen to Dr. Lani Leary, even if you endure the ups-and-downs of bereavement on your own, the grief work you do will still be compromised. She tells us that it is not time that heals. Instead, healing comes with validation: "All grief needs to be blessed. In order to be blessed, it must be heard. Someone must be present, someone who is willing to hold it by listening without judgment or comparison."
In the article mentioned above "Mourning Becomes Neglected: 4 Healthy Ways to Grieve", author Jonathan Vatner shares these four ways you can reclaim your right to grieve and get much-needed support:
- Recognize that there is nothing wrong with you. Whatever your feelings are, they're legitimate.
- Find people who will understand. Search online—there are bereavement support groups for just about any type of loss.
- Be honest about how you feel. If a well-meaning friend cracks a joke about your deceased ex-husband, explain that this loss is painful for you.
- Develop a ritual or ceremony to commemorate the person's passing. Visit the grave after the funeral or hold a private one when you can take as much time as you need to express your anguish.
Speak Up and Speak Out
In the book Invisible Monsters, author Chuck Palahniuk wrote, “Most times, it's just a lot easier not to let the world know what's wrong.” Whatever you do, if you feel those around you are not supportive of your bereavement, do not follow his words. Let others know how you feel and what you're thinking. In doing so, you're educating them on the essential truth of bereavement: all losses are worthy of recognition and acknowledgement. And, all those in mourning have the right to grieve.
Doka, Kenneith, Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice
Attig, Thomas, Ph.D, "Disenfranchised Grief Revisited: Discounting Hope and Love"
Vatner, Jonathan, "Mourning Becomes Neglected: 4 Healthy Ways to Grieve"
Leary, Lani, Ph.D., "No One Has to Grieve Alone: Validation is the Key to Resolving Grief", 2012.
Palahniuk, Chuck, Invisible Monsters