Disenfranchised Grief: 22 Examples, Signs, and Tips


Youth in Focus
Mind & Body

Disenfranchised Grief: When No One Seems to Understand Your Loss
Medically reviewed by Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD — By Crystal Raypole on March 30, 2020
Finding support
When we lose something we love, we mourn. That’s part of our nature.

But what if guilt tinges the edges of your grief? Maybe that little voice inside whispers you shouldn’t grieve the loss of your job when you and your family still enjoy good health.

Maybe you wonder if you’re “too sad” over the loss of your pet, perhaps when someone offhandedly says, “It’s not as if you lost a child.”

No matter what type of loss you’ve experienced, your grief is valid.

Still, society often fails to acknowledge some types of grief, making it challenging to express your sadness or begin to navigate the healing process.

Disenfranchised grief, also known as hidden grief or sorrow, refers to any grief that goes unacknowledged or unvalidated by social norms. This kind of grief is often minimized or not understood by others, which makes it particularly hard to process and work through.

Here’s a primer on how disenfranchised grief shows up and some tips for processing a difficult loss.

What it might look like
Disenfranchised grief tends to show up in five main ways (though it’s not necessarily limited to these examples).

Unrecognized relationships
If you felt a need to keep your relationship private for any reason, you may not know how to express your sorrow when your partner dies. People may also struggle to understand when you mourn someone you never knew.

This might include:

LGBTQ+ people who aren’t out and feel unsafe grieving the loss of a partner
polyamorous people who lose a non-primary partner, particularly when no one knew about their involvement
the death of a casual partner, friend with benefits, or ex-partner, especially when you remained close
the death of an online friend or pen pal
the death of someone you never knew, like an unknown sibling or absent parent
Loss that’s considered ‘less significant’
Many people don’t see breakups or estrangement as significant loss, though you can lose someone permanently even if they’re still alive. This type of loss can still cause deep, lasting distress.

Some types of non-death loss include:

adoption that doesn’t go through
dementia or Alzheimer’s disease
loss of possessions
loss of your home country
loss of safety, independence, or years of your life to abuse or neglect
loss of mobility or health
Society also tends to minimize grief associated with certain losses, such as the death of:

a mentor, teacher, or student
a patient or therapy client
a pet
a co-worker
an “honorary relative,” like a friend’s child
Loss surrounded by stigma
If the circumstances of your loss lead others to judge or criticize you, you might get the message that you’re supposed to grieve alone.

Unfortunately, some losses draw more stigma than compassion. The reactions of others might make you feel ashamed or embarrassed instead of comforted.

Some people who want to offer sympathy and support may not know how to respond to grief related to something not often discussed, such as:

death by suicide or overdose
miscarried or stillborn child
estrangement with a loved one experiencing addiction, loss of cognitive function, or

I welcome comments and criticism

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.