A Grief Support Blog

This blog will allow you the opportunity to acquire both support and guidance after experiencing a significant loss.

Disenfranchised Grief

Updated January 20, 2020

It’s common in our society for people to rate certain things as “more important” than others. We see this applied to economic factors, food groups, financial expenses and even reasons to select a home or automobile. The number of issues for which rating hierarchies are established is endless. But there are some things, such as the grief related to any emotional loss, which should never be treated in this way.

Sadly, most of us have heard a griever sharing the story of the emotional pain of their loss, only to hear a second person interject that their personal loss was so much worse. In a very real sense, this is an illustration of the term, “disenfranchised grief.” Trying to prove that any loss is of less importance discounts the emotional pain of the griever who has been dealing with that particular grief generating event.

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The genesis of this term

Dr. Kenneth Doka, a professor at the Graduate School of New Rochelle, first coined this term in the 1980’s. He was discussing the grief of widowhood with his graduate students. One of those students commented the grief she experienced when her ex-husband died was not even recognized. They had been high school sweethearts and divorced after 25 years of marriage when she discovered he was having an affair with one of her friends. 

While that breakup had been bitter, they still had a long history together and shared children. The possible intensity of this type of emotional pain was something that struck him as “a bolt out of the blue.” In the next several years he researched many of these “forgotten” grief experiences and ultimately labeled them “disenfranchised grief.”

He describes this as grief that is often ignored and denied public support on three levels:

  • Grief that is not acknowledged
  • Loss that is not recognized
  • Grievers who are not acknowledged

These are people whose emotional losses are simply not recognized as being of importance or level of intensity of others.

What, exactly, is grief?

One of the biggest issues that many grievers face is in having the emotional pain that they are experiencing not even recognized as grief. More often than not, people think of grief as just related to death. In truth, we can experience grief for any number of reasons.

There are many published definitions of the word grief. So, what is grief? What is a good grief definition? In “The Grief Recovery Handbook,” grief is defined as “the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior.” 

Basically this is saying that any change that occurs in our familiar behavior patterns can generate the emotional pain that is called grief. It’s an emotional reaction to loss of any kind.

In his article, “The Best Definition of Grief You will Ever Find,” Russell Friedman describes grief as reaching out for someone [or something] that has always been there, only to discover when you need them one more time, they are gone. He adds that sometimes it involves reaching out to someone who has never been there as well. Perhaps one of his best observations includes that since grief is a normal reaction, it is neither “a pathological condition nor a personality disorder.”

Understanding Disenfranchised Grief

This relatively new term is designed to help people understand that there are no limiting factors in what can cause grief. It may be related to a death that others may not see as emotionally significant. It may relate to the breakup of a marriage, relationship or friendship. 

It can relate to our emotional response to a change in someone we may have never met. It might be the loss of a pet, a home or a job. It can even relate to abuse or a personal assault on our body. The list of things we might grieve is endless.

Rather than simply creating a new term to describe the things that can be emotionally impactful, it would be far better if we simply expanded that establish mindset about what grief really is. Grievers don’t need new terms; they just need to be recognized as people dealing with loss of any kind. 

New terms don’t help them move through a grieving experience. If anything, trying to apply different terms only add to the confusion and conflicting feelings a griever is experiencing. At best, terminology only provides a label to define the problem, but does nothing to solve it!

Taking action to move beyond the pain of loss

Many grievers suffer in silence. This is because friends and family, who actually recognize that they are in pain, have no idea of how to really help. It’s not unusual for them to offer intellectual suggestions on why they should not be suffering, rather than anything this actually addresses the emotional issues of loss. 

Dealing with emotions is often a challenge since they are not something that can be easily defined. Each person is different and each grieving situation is unique, meaning that there is no singular way that everyone reacts to any loss.

Recovery from the emotional pain of any loss is dependent on the griever recognizing two things. First, that how they are dealing with that pain, is not helping them feel better, and, secondly, that their choice to actually elect to select a different plan of action. The Grief Recovery Method is a proven Evidence-Based action plan that adapts to each individual and their unique situation.

Recovery from any loss is not about learning how to bury that pain inside, but rather how to effectively put voice behind those feelings to move beyond the hold of that pain. 

It’s about saying goodbye to those things that were unfinished and incomplete in that relationship, so that you can enjoy any fond memories you might have, without the constant intrusion of the emotional pain of that loss. It’s about being able to successfully face a future that may be vastly different from the one that you had planned.

Many years ago, before I became involved in helping other grievers move beyond their losses, I was a griever myself. I didn’t realize the enormous power that both my recognized and disenfranchised grief held over my happiness. 

The best thing that I ever did for myself was to find a useful mechanism to deal with all of the grieving issues I had experienced. That approach was and still is The Grief Recovery Method. I find that I still use these same principals, which I learned so many years ago, on a daily basis so that I never let grief hold me hostage again.

This is an action plan that works. You can learn how to use it to your own advantage in a support group or one-on-one with a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist, by attending a personal workshop and/or with the assistance of “The Grief Recovery Handbook.” Once you have found success in dealing with the losses in your own life, we offer Certification Training so that you successfully make a difference for others.

While grief may be defined with a variety of labels, your success in moving beyond its hold is entirely dependent on you taking action for yourself!

Photo Credit: 123RF Stock Photo - daizuoxin


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