What is Disenfranchised Grief?

Disenfranchised grief.

You may have heard the term here or there…

But do you know what it means?

And are you, perhaps, suffering from it?


The term was actually coined back in 1989 by Dr. Kenneth Doka, a clinical psychologist and professor of gerontology (the study of aging) at the University of New Rochelle, in his ground-breaking book, Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow.

In the book, Dr. Doka presents the idea that some forms of grief cause us to essentially “suffer in silence.”

That is, when we endure certain forms of grief, we’re discouraged from properly processing that grief due to stigma and social norms; here, “society” sees our grief as something less than legitimate grief.

As you can imagine, this is a recipe for long-term mental un-health.

Keep in mind:

Grief never truly subsides; it can only be processed and “completed.”

And it never processes or completes itself, nor does time do so.

Thus, if we don’t “process” it and “complete” it, our grief gets stuffed down deep and, more or less, becomes yet another layer of toxic residue lacquered upon our subconscious.

Disenfranchised grief can occur when we lose someone to:

  • Suicide
  • Overdose
  • Addiction
  • AIDS
  • Dementia
  • Gang Violence
  • Risky behavior

Or any other traditionally “taboo” death.

It can also occur when we lose a/an…

  • Ex-spouse
  • Secret Lover
  • Old flame
  • Childhood sweetheart

It may set in when we lose a…

  • Mentor
  • Pupil
  • Client
  • Colleague
  • Doctor
  • Dentist
  • Professor
  • Teacher
  • Chaplain
  • Coach
  • Or the likes

It often occurs when we endure a/an…

  • Stillborn death
  • Miscarriage
  • Abortion

It can even occur when we lose a…

  • Soldier
  • Inmate

And, believe it or not, it sometimes occurs when we lose…

  • An abuser

Truth be told, disenfranchised grief can also (and often does) embrace us when someone has not yet “died.”

What does this look like?

It’s the woman that grieves the loss of her sexuality after chemotherapy for breast cancer has abruptly forced her into menopause (sans the perimenopause transition).

It’s the spouse that mourns the “loss” of his or her partner after a traumatic brain injury has significantly altered that partner’s personality.

And, as unpopular as it may be to address in our current culture, it can certainly include the “loss” of a teenage daughter after that daughter “transitions” into a son.

All of these scenarios can result in disenfranchised grief.

And no matter what stigma or social norm may tell us…

Disenfranchised grief is indeed legitimate grief.

And should be addressed and treated as such.

Until next time…

Note: I do edit the email letters for texture. If you wish to send one, you may do so via our contact form.