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What is disenfranchised grief?

To experience loss is to know what it means to be human

For many people, grief is a period of severe sadness and pain after the loss of a loved one — disenfranchised grief occurs when society doesn’t agree with or validate it. 

Disenfranchised grief happens when your grieving doesn’t align with society’s definition of loss and death. It is not socially accepted, and therefore, doesn’t fit into their description of grieving. Because of the lack of support you receive during the grieving process, the emotional pain you feel can be prolonged. 

Society’s Understanding of Grief 

Unfortunately, society’s understanding and standards of the grieving process are hugely different from that of every individual. This is because magazines, films, other forms of media, as well as personal interactions have built and maintained a certain expectation. For instance, a certain psychological theory has divided and categorized grief into these stages:

  • Denial: Where we refuse to accept and believe a loss

  • Anger: The feeling of intense frustration where we need to look for someone to blame

  • Bargaining: Where people will often think of ways to reverse their loss

  • Depression: The feeling of severe sadness as well as a lack of motivation

  • Acceptance: The step in which we recognize the loss, and move forward with life

Other social norms establish our expectations of grief. One example is when some might expect you to move on from the break up of a relationship in a matter of weeks. Another example is when an employer will still expect you to be productive even after experiencing a loss recently.


NYC Therapists Who Specialize in Therapy for Disenfranchised Grief

Connecting with the right therapist is the most important factor in your search. We’re here to help you find a great match.

What Causes Disenfranchised Grief?

There are plenty of beliefs and attitudes that contribute to disenfranchised grief, including the following:

Illegitimate Relationship

Losing someone or a relationship with someone who isn’t your spouse or an immediate family member can still have a huge impact on your life. While other people may not understand or accept why such a relationship is important to you, what you’re feeling is still valid. Unfortunately, you may face a lack of support, which can make you feel more alone during the entire grieving process.

Workplace Culture

There are some job positions where you may experience tremendous loss, which include:

  • Doctors

  • Emergency medical workers

  • Therapists

  • Other health professions

  • And more

Such occupations may expose you to death because it is part of the job and may create a sense of loss. While some people may say that they shouldn’t bother you personally, it may not be easy not to let go of such loss.

Not Death-Related

Death isn’t the only kind of loss that people will experience, but most society makes it seem like it’s the most important kind of loss. You can also lose a person who is still alive — perhaps you’ve had a falling out or they’ve changed drastically. Some people may not understand why this kind of loss affects you so much, even if no one died.

Taboo Deaths

When a loved one dies as a result of suicide, murder, miscarriage, drug overdose, or other kinds of premature death, it can be hard to talk to friends and family about it. Some people may not want to talk about it because they don’t want to remember traumatic events that caused the death. This may also lead to a further state of isolation, so it may help to attend groups for this kind of grief.

Showing Unexpected Emotions

Everyone will have a different emotional reaction to loss — society will expect you to cry, become saddened, or experience depression. However, some people will have a different reaction. These people may not be able to show their emotions, feel relief instead, or may exhibit another kind of emotion that may not be expected.

Examples of Disenfranchised Grief

There is a wide range of reasons why people may feel disenfranchised grief, where others may not see the reason behind your grief, such as the following:

  • The addiction of someone we love

  • Our elderly loved one’s dementia

  • The death of an abuser

  • The death of an ex-partner

  • The death of our pet

  • The death of a patient

  • The death or loss of a secret or private relationship

  • Abortion

  • Miscarriage

  • Infertility

  • Losing a job

  • Moving far away

How Therapy Can Help

Going to therapy for a one-on-one session or group discussion can help you to cope, understand, and accept your loss. A therapist can give you a helpful perspective from an external source, which can help guide your internal feelings. Apart from feeling immense grief, you may also struggle with being on your own during this time.

Therapy can provide you with the recognition and validation you need when trying to work out what to do next or how to move forward in your life. Various forms of therapy can help as you continue to navigate life with disenfranchised grief. Here are the kinds of therapy you can look into:

  • Acceptance commitment therapy (ACT): This focuses on increased cognitive flexibility and the acceptance of negative feelings

  • Art therapy: This technique encourages participants to create art through the use of psychotherapy tools to process and express their emotions

  • Brainspotting: This technique uses a therapist who will guide you while you locate and process your feelings of trauma and emotional pain

  • Cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT): This targets any negative thought patterns which contribute to feelings of guilt, shame, regret, and mourning

  • Group therapy: This is a kind of psychotherapy that allows you to interact with others who are going through the same kind of disenfranchised grief

  • Narrative therapy: This can encourage people to create a story that allows them to make sense of the emotions they’re going through

  • Support groups: These groups can help you connect with people going through the same thing you are, where they can offer healing and validation. Even if you’re not ready to start therapy, there are free online support group options. Check out these to get connected.

Need support for grief or loss?

We can help.

No matter what you’re facing, we’re here to provide support. Reach out today for a 30-minute complimentary consultation with a psychotherapist who specializes in disenfranchised grief.


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Alyssa Digges, MA
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Amy Schell, LMHC
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Ariel Zeigler, Ph.D
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Begoña Núñez Sánchez, LP
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Carole Taylor-Tumilty, LCSW
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Caryn Moore, LCSW
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Christina Mancuso, LCSW
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Courtney Cohen, LMHC
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Daniel Rich, LMHC
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Elena Beharry, Psy.D
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Eliza Chamblin, LCSW
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Fanny Ng, Ph.D
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Gary Brucato, Ph.D
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Gavin Shafron, Ph.D
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Janel Coleman, LMSW
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Jen Oddo, LCSW
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Jessa Navidé, Psy.D.
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Joanna Kaminski, LMFT
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Josh Watson, LMSW
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Justin L.F. Yong, LMHC
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Karen Kaur, Ph.D
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Kristin Anderson, LCSW
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Logan Jones, Psy.D
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Lucas Saiter, LMHC
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Monica Amorosi, LMHC
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Nicole Maselli, LMHC
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Peter Gradilone, LMSW
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Regina Musicaro, Ph.D
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