Person in grief

Despite the vast amount of literature available for those experiencing grief related to loved ones such as parents, spouses, friends, and grandchildren, it does not always account for the relationship dynamics that are more complicated (or maybe unrelated to a death). For instance, some experience grief from a loss that that others minimize (i.e. “you’re young, you can try again”, “be grateful that your abuser died”, “you’re sober now, stop thinking about old times”). When this occurs, we as humans may no longer feel worthy or entitled to the grief we are experiencing. This creates something called disenfranchised grief.

Disenfranchised grief is influenced by our environment and keeps us feeling trapped because of stigma. Stigma is the feeling that our experience is insignificant, or doesn’t fit the norms of society.

Disenfranchised grief often occurs for one of three reasons:

  • The Relationship is not Recognized
    • Being directed to return your foster children back to their original household
    • A queer-based breakup in an environment not accepting of same sex relationships
    • Death of an abuser
    • An extra-marital affair comes to an end (sudden loss or otherwise)
  • The Loss is not Recognized
    • Becoming sober and overcoming addiction
    • No longer being able to play a competitive sport due to injury
    • Leaving an abusive relationship
    • Miscarrying in the first trimester
    • Infertility
    • Moving for a new career, attending university
  • The Griever is not Recognized
    • The spouse of someone going through terminal illness or cancer treatment
    • Being an ex-spouse to someone who dies
    • The caregiver of someone affected by Dementia or Alzheimer’s
    • Regretting past choices of terminating a pregnancy
    • Being a loved one of someone who transitions (male to female, female to male)

Those living with disenfranchised grief might struggle to have their symptoms validated or seen by others because of the nature of their grief. Read some of the signs below to see if you or someone you know may be dealing with disenfranchised grief.

Living with Disenfranchised Grief can feel like…

  • Emotional Overwhelm
  • Mood Swings or Rumination
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Reduced Self-Esteem
  • Increase in Substance Use
  • Shame and Reduced Self-Esteem
  • Changes in Appetite or Sleep Patterns

Finding ways to Navigate Disenfranchised Grief

Relief develops when we realize our feelings are valid and that we are not alone. If you are wanting to process and move through your own relationship with grief, please consider some of the following strategies:

  • Community
    • We understand that being vulnerable to family and friends doesn’t always feel safe or comfortable. Thanks to technology, it is easier than ever to seek out community without having to leave the comfort of your own home. Platforms such as Facebook, Instagram, Reddit, and the internet are packed with resources and “closed-groups” where you can learn, confide in, and relate to others.
  • Self-Reflection
    • It is important to remind yourself that some of your greatest resources can be found from within. If you are comfortable, allow yourself to process and validate your feelings! Learning how to express yourself is vital so you can let all your thoughts and feelings physically out. Practice journaling, painting, drawing, dancing, yoga, singing… Whatever feels like the best fit for you.
  • Self-Compassion
    • If you are struggling with self-criticism, the feeling to move on “suck it up” or are neglecting the pain your heart is asking you to acknowledge. Try and explore acts of self-compassion. This involves being aware of your thought patterns (“I’m thinking of _______ again”), practicing kindness and self-nurturance (“of course I feel upset, I am experiencing a loss and it hurts”), and remind yourself that grief is a universal experience (“I’m not the only one who is hurt by loss, and even though it might feel this way… I know I’m not alone”).
  • Counselling
    • Sometimes we need to process our grief with someone that can walk the journey with us. Someone that can hold space, create opportunity to reflect, and allow us to access the feelings we might feel resistant to explore on our own. If you are living with grief, know you’re not alone. Reach out to a counsellor and let the healing begin. If you are interested in pursuing counselling through Island Clinical Counselling, feel free to schedule a free 15-minute consultation with any one of our clinicians through our website.

Written by Cady Redford


Butterflied, K. (2021, April 29). What to know about disenfranchised grief. WebMD.

Raypole, C. (n.d.). Disenfranchised grief: 22 examples, signs, and tips. Healthline.