What is Disenfranchised Grief?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 11 March 2020
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Disenfranchised grief describes pain over a loss that is not allowed to be expressed due to societal concepts, prejudice, or simple misunderstanding. It may occur when a beloved person or relationship that was not generally known about is lost, or when the loss occurred in an unusual way. Many psychologists agree it is important to grieve openly and seek support when going through a grieving period; if a person is suffering from disenfranchised grief, he or she may want to seek help from a professional when loved ones can't or will not listen or understand.

Abortion and miscarriage are two common situations that may cause disenfranchised grief. Women who have abortions may be mistakenly assumed to not feel upset or sad over the situation, or may meet with a frank lack of compassion from some of those who disagree with abortion in general. In a miscarriage, the woman who has lost the baby may be expected to quickly move on, as the baby hadn't even been born yet. Men involved in both situations are often totally overlooked, their feelings of loss or grief presumed to be less as they were not actually carrying the baby.


Disenfranchised grief may occur over the loss of a person or relationship that was not approved of by the grieving party's family and friends. In an intolerant climate, a grieving person may have no outlet to express pain over the gay partner his or her family disapproved of, the second spouse that the children never liked, or even the extramarital partner that was never disclosed. In these situations, it become important to seek help elsewhere, such as from a therapist or anonymous online support group. Generally the last thing a grieving person needs is a reminder from friends or family of just how alone he or she is in grief.

Another possible cause of disenfranchised grief is when the grieving person is criticized for mourning too long, or attacked for having a negative attitude. Some popular social strategies rely on the idea of a stiff upper lip and a positive outlook, which may result in judgment or impatience with people who refuse to stop feeling sad or grieving. Many experts agree that each person deals with grief in his or her own way, and that there is no psychological “right” amount of time to grieve for a loss. Moreover, pushing down true emotions such as anger, fear, and sadness may cause the grieving process to actually lengthen, as the grieving person has no safe emotional outlet for these feelings and may repress them.

One wonderful thing about our world is that there are generally people out there somewhere who will validate and sympathize with almost every kind of grief. A simple Internet search on grief support groups turns up thousands of message boards and forums that welcome people dealing with nearly every type of loss. If a circle of friends and family offers no support or sympathy, it is important to find other resources for dealing with disenfranchised grief. Support groups and grief counselors can be excellent outlets for grief that cannot otherwise be expressed.


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