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When we talk about grief, most of us will think of grieving the loss of a close family member or friend. But grief is a complex emotion and you might find yourself grieving a loss that others can’t understand or don’t show as much sympathy for. This is called “disenfranchised grief”.


What is disenfranchised grief? 

Grief is a natural response to loss. For most people, grief causes emotional suffering and is a result of losing someone or something important to you. TV, film and other forms of media most often show grief as a person’s response to someone losing someone very close to them, such as a parent, sibling, child or close friend. But it’s important to remember that people can grieve anything – we can grieve divorces, job loss, retirement, health conditions and more. 

Generally, people will be understanding of grief. Those close to you might have been through similar situations and can put themselves in your shoes. Or they might have seen others going through a something similar and recognise what you’re going through. But there can be situations where you experience grief in a way that others don’t seem to understand. You might feel that others are dismissive of your grief, react to your grief negatively or don’t think you should be grieving in the way that you are. This is known as “disenfranchised grief.” 


Disenfranchised grief definition 

Put simply, disenfranchised grief is when you lose someone or something that’s important to you, but others: 

  • Don’t acknowledge or recognise your grief as legitimate, or 
  • Don’t accept the way you’re grieving as socially acceptable. 


Causes of disenfranchised grief 

Disenfranchised grief is caused by society’s standards and expectations of grieving people. Sometimes it can feel like there are unsaid rules about who you’re allowed to grieve and how close you have to be to someone to grieve them. It can also feel like the way we grieve should follow a set pattern, with lots of people expecting themselves or loved ones to go through the 5 stages of grief

Disenfranchised grief happens when these expectations don’t line up with someone’s real life experience of grief. What’s important to remember is that people can grieve lots of things and, despite society’s expectations, there’s no right or wrong way to experience this emotion. 


Disenfranchised grief examples 

Some examples of disenfranchised grief include grieving the death of: 

  • A pet 
  • A celebrity 
  • An ex-partner 
  • A colleague 
  • A patient 
  • A client 
  • An abuser 
  • An abortion 
  • A miscarriage or stillbirth 
  • A partner in an extra-marital affair 
  • Someone you hadn’t been in contact with for a long time 
  • Someone with a taboo cause of death (e.g. overdose or suicide) 


But disenfranchised grief doesn’t have to be caused by a death. You can also experience it through the loss of: 

  • A friendship 
  • A relationship or marriage 
  • A community 
  • Faith 
  • A job 
  • Physical health 
  • Mental health 
  • Fertility 
  • Financial stability 
  • Freedom (e.g. a person in prison) 


Another disenfranchised grief example is when others don’t accept the way you’re grieving. For example, they may feel you’re: 

  • Crying too much or too often 
  • Not crying enough 
  • Grieving for too long 
  • Moving on too quickly 


What is the difference between complicated grief and disenfranchised grief? 

Disenfranchised grief is different from complicated grief. Complicated grief is a long lasting and severe form of grief that can see you struggle to get back to your usual life and routine.  Learn more about complicated grief.


Coping with disenfranchised grief 

There’s no right or wrong way to cope with disenfranchised grief. What’s most important is to remember that it’s completely fine to mourn anyone or anything you feel grief over. Though coping with disenfranchised grief can feel difficult, some of the advice below could help you through this difficult time. 

Understand your grief 

Hopefully, some of the information we’ve provided will help you better understand the type of grief you may be experiencing. You might find that reading books, listening to podcasts and more can help too. You can also share these resources with family and friends to help them understand your grief better. 

Seek therapy 

A therapist or counsellor can give you an open and non-judgemental space to talk about your grief. There are also specialists in grief counselling who you can reach out to. These professionals can guide you through your feelings and give advice or healthy coping strategies. 

Build a support network 

No matter your situation, you’re never alone. While disenfranchised grief is less common than “normal” or “uncomplicated” grief, it’s still something that many people go through. If you feel that your usual support networks (such as family or friends) aren’t offering the support you need, you could reach out to others who have experiences that are closer to yours. They’re more likely to be able to put themselves in your shoes. 

More support 

If you’re worried or struggling with disenfranchised grief, it’s important to be aware that there’s more help out there. You can find grief and bereavement support, or find a list of UK bereavement charities.

Photo by Liza Summer on Pexels.