There are tons of books, podcasts, shows, and blogs that address the topic of grief. Everyone experiences grief at some point in their life. It is the emotion that results when something or someone important to you is no longer in your life.
Mourning is what happens when grief goes public.
It’s the process that needs to occur in order to deal with the emotion of grief. Sharing grief is one of the most effective ways to begin mourning, but there are times when it is not or cannot be shared by others.
Disenfranchised grief is the category that covers grief that doesn’t have a socially accepted place to be recognized or expressed.
Basically, it is the “ugly duckling” grief that people feel they have to hide because others won’t understand it, will dismiss it as trivial, or may actually get angry about. Sometimes, grief becomes disenfranchised when well-meaning, loving people try to encourage. They may minimize your experience or its significance, and since you know they love you and are not purposely hurting you, that message gets internalized and you do your best to ignore your own experience and feelings.
Many times, we disenfranchise our own grief. We may recognize that we are experiencing grief, but tell ourselves that it isn’t such a big deal, or that we shouldn’t be feeling this way, that we have to suck it up and get over it.
Grief can be disenfranchised or dismissed by our culture at large as well. If all of the messages we hear tell us that what we are feeling is wrong or doesn’t fit into the political landscape, it is unlikely that we will risk sharing and exposing ourselves to judgment or shame.
The whole idea behind disenfranchised grief is that it doesn’t fit into neat groupings.
Anything could fall into this category. It might come from having to move from your home after having lived there for 40 years. It might be the death of an ex or an estranged parent. It might result from the difficult decision to have an abortion.
People who experience grief that doesn’t have a place for expression suffer alone and in silence, oftentimes for years.
The catch is that grief will work its way to the surface, whether we want it to or not. It may show up in our ability to connect in an authentic way to others, or in angry outbursts because we don’t have the emotional energy left to respond any other way. We may become fixated on our loss, unable to incorporate it into our lives in a healthy way because we’ve been robbed of the opportunity to process and openly mourn.
Look for part 2 for a discussion on how to make space to mourn for yourself or others in your life.
Written By: Molly Halbrooks, LAMFT