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What types of grief are disenfranchised?

Doctor Ken Doka (2008) describes disenfranchised grief as a loss that cannot be socially supported, acknowledged or publicly mourned. Society may stigmatise a person’s mourning process or may not acknowledge their loss. Different types of grief may not be recognised by different types of society and "grieving rules" may be placed around the role of the griever. The following are types of grief which can often be disenfranchised:

The loss is not recognised or deemed non-significant by society, can include the death of a pet often the bereaved person will get less empathy than the loss of a human relative. Perinatal losses may not be acknowledged as people may comment that "you are young and healthy there is plenty of time to get pregnant again".

The circumstances of the death are stigmatised which may include suicide, homicide, alcohol and drug related deaths. In suicide deaths the bereaved often feel judged or they may be privy to societal assumptions that such events can only happen in families that are "troubled" which reinforces a sense of security for that society that it "will never happen to us."

The type of relationships are not recognised by society and therefore the closeness of other non-kin relationships may not be appreciated with an underlying assumption that the closeness of a relationship can only exist amongst family or spouses. When however the relationships of neighbours, friends, lovers, co-workers, colleagues, room mates, in-laws, step-children/parents, ex-spouses and care workers may be intensely interactive and long lasting. In homophobic societies same-sex partners may also have disenfranchised grief when their relationship is not recognised.

The griever is excluded and may be considered as not capable of grieving. Young children who experience loss, adults may make the assumption that the child is not capable of understanding the loss or have prolonged feelings about it and are then excluded from discussions and rituals concerning the loss. Similarly people living with mental health issues, developmental or cognitive disabilities such as dementia may have their grief disenfranchised, as people around them may ignore their need to grieve as they make the assumption that the person does not and cannot understand the concept of death and the loss.

Grief does not need to follow society's grieving rules and no one should have to hide their grief. Your grief is so very individual and your losses should be validated, honoured and respected. If family and friends don't seem to understand your loss, grief counselling can help so that you do not need to grieve alone.


Doka, K.J. (2008). Disenfranchised grief in historical and cultural perspective. In M.S. Stroebe, R.O. Hansson, H. Schut, & W. Stroebe, Handbook of bereavement research and practice: Advances in theory and intervention, pp. 223-240.

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