Disenfranchised Grief

The concept of disenfranchised grief was first described by Kenneth J. Doka in 1989. He defined disenfranchised grief "as grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publically mourned."

The concept of disenfranchisement integrates psychological, biological, and sociological perspectives on grief and loss. Doka writes that an individual may have an intense personal experience of loss, that loss may not be validated by society or family or friends, or surrounding society.

Individuals in this situation are not offered "the rights of the grieving role" such as a claim to social sympathy and support, or such compensations as time off from work on dimunition of social responsibilities.

There may be conflict for disenfranchised grievers with either informal cultural expectations about how grief can be expressed and even more formal corporate policies which stipulate bereavement leave to certain situations and laws over stipulating who controls the remains, or funeral rituals.

So grief over a loss may not be culturally or externally validated, and if an individual has internalized societal norms about which loss can be grieved and how it can be grieved, and then finds him or herself grieving a loss not formally sanctioned, there can be psychic pain internally including guilt or shame.

Types of Disenfranchised Grief

1.The relationship is not recognized based on kin ties.

The closeness of the ties of a lover, friend, neighbors, foster parents, colleagues, inlaws, stepparents and stepchildren, caregivers, counselors, coworkers, and roommates may be close, but not given public permission to publicly grieve a loss.

This kind of situation may also include nontraditional relationships such as extramarital affairs, cohabitation, and homosexual relationships.

2. The loss is not acknowledged.

The loss for the bereaved is not socially defined as significant. For example, a teen with aspirations for a professional athletic career may be cut from the team. That kid should have someone to talk to about his loss. Someone disabled who loses his ability to earn a living will grieve, and someone involved in a scandal who loses their reputation will grieve.

3. The griever is excluded. This might include the grief of the very young or very old, or the mentally disabled.

4. Circumstances of the death.

This typology of disenfranchised grief would include survivors of suicide or AID's for example.

5. The way in individual grieves. Can you be too stoic or wail too much? Of course,

Problems of Disenfranchised Grief

Because of the issues outlined above, disenfranchised grief is often done privately, because of limited access to socially relevant resources. In the case of death, the mourner may be excluded from caring for the dying, or excluded from funeral rituals, attending them or planning them.

In the case of divorce, separation, or significant change in another individual or relationship, grieving rituals may be lacking altogether.

Disenfranchised grief is treated as any other form of grief.

When I am doing my anger management program, where we do the trust building and even the accountability part, I touch on my losses as a child, some of which were over a half century ago, and still are painful.

If I display the sorrow I felt, it gives the participants in my group freedom to talk about their own losses. We can move very quickly into a rather deep and cathartic healing experience.

Routinely the people who see themselves as victims prior to coming to the anger management workshop come to understand that pain and loss are part of the human experience, and they are not alone in their experience, and that others may have significant loss also.

So the usual rules for group work apply, set and setting are very important, clear and well stated rules, and appropriate modeling are important in the working through of grief, whether disenfranchised or not.

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