• Melissa Paulsen, MA, LMFT, RPT-S

Grief & Loss: Disenfranchised Grief

“If the love is real, the grief is real.” - David Kessler


On April 24, 2022, I gave a presentation on grief and the healing process for a local church. Anytime I’ve talked with someone about Disenfranchised Grief I can almost see the person’s relief in having a name for this common experience that is rarely discussed.


You may not have heard this term before, but you’ll likely know what it is and have probably experienced it as well! Disenfranchised Grief is grief that is not openly or publicly supported. It is grief that doesn’t fit society’s definition of what grief is or what it should look like.


Here are just some examples of Disenfranchised Grief:

  • Loss of partner or parent by divorce or separation

  • Loss of unborn child due to miscarriage, stillbirth, or abortion

  • Infertility

  • Loss of community due to moving

  • Survivors of sexual assault (loss of prior worldview, loss of trust, loss of self-identity & self-esteem, loss of freedom & independence, loss of sense of safety & security, and loss of sexual interest) (Brown, 2021)

  • Loss of a loved one due to suicide

  • Pet loss

  • Job loss

  • Grieving a strained/lost relationship with someone who is still living

  • Loss of a loved one you’ve cut off contact with due to substance use disorder

  • Dementia & Alzheimer’s

  • Death of an ex-partner

  • Loss of someone you’ve never met, including but not limited to: celebrity, blogger/influencer, pen pal, online friend, unknown sibling, or absent parent


Things you might hear:

  • “Shouldn’t you be over it by now?”

  • “Stay strong.”

  • “Are you even sad? You haven’t cried.”

  • “You weren’t even that close.”

  • “You never even met them.”

  • “It was just a pet/job/house.”


Symptoms may include:

  • Feeling life isn’t worth living

  • Typical grief symptoms, such as: isolation or withdrawal, feeling lonely, crying, sleeping more or less than usual, or eating more or less than usual

  • Atypical grief symptoms that may make others assume you are not grieving, including: anger, flat affect, staying very busy in order to distract yourself, or increased substance use

  • Physical symptoms, such as: fatigue, headaches, stomachaches and nausea, other aches and pains, and heart palpitations


What to do:

  • Know that any response to grief is okay and our grief is as unique as our fingerprints

  • Name it to tame it; be mindful of your feelings, name them, and release them

  • Surround yourself with community and supportive people

  • Treat yourself with compassion

  • Don’t compare grief

  • Journal

  • Meditate

  • Exercise or do yoga

  • Spend time in nature (at least 2 hours per week)

  • Engage in hobbies that bring you joy

  • Try to stick to a daily routine with the same wake time, meal times, and bedtime

  • Attend a grief support group

  • Attend individual counseling


We are here to support you as you walk through your grief journey.


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