What Is “Disenfranchised Grief”? What You Need to Know

Avi Rapaport
December 30, 2021
What Is “Disenfranchised Grief”? What You Need to Know


There are many different types of grief, but there is one type of grief that often gets overlooked even by grief specialists: disenfranchised grief. The following guide will help you learn more about disenfranchised grief, including what you can do if you find yourself experiencing this type of situation.

What is Disenfranchised Grief?

Disenfranchised grief refers to grief which is downplayed to the point that people feel their grief is unacceptable or “not worthy” of existing. Disenfranchised grief often occurs due to difficult relationships, issues surrounding the death of the person, or even the manner in which people grieve. The following are three of the most common types of disenfranchised grief.

Relationships that are diminished

When the relationship with the deceased doesn’t fit within certain criteria, people often feel disenfranchised with their grief. For example, grief over a former best friend; grief over a deceased ex partner; grief over a neighbor; and grief over a more distant relative outside of the primary family dynamic, such as a cousin or aunt.

Deaths with associated stigma

Sometimes, deaths come with an unfortunate stigma attached. This can making the process of grieving for the family and friends left behind more difficult, because they feel that they can’t grieve--or that they can’t openly grieve the way they normally would for a deceased loved one. 

Grief that doesn’t conform to norms

Everyone grieves differently. But society does have general ideas about what is “normal” regarding grief. If someone’s grief exists outside these norms, their grief can feel disenfranchised since other people may question their behavior and attitude during the grieving process.

Estranged relationships

In some cases, people may feel disenfranchised grief because they are not allowed to attend funerals or similar events due to estranged relationships with the remaining family members or loved ones. This can make it difficult to process grief because the normal venues for experiencing it, such as attending a funeral or burial service, are no longer available. Note: In some cases, cemeteries and funeral homes are using systems like AFTR to stream funeral and burial services. It may be possible for you to attend virtually if you are not allowed to attend in person, but this will vary on a case by case basis.

How to Cope with Disenfranchised Grief

If you are experiencing disenfranchised grief, you should consider the following coping methods.

Seek out support groups

There are many support groups available for people who are grieving, including people who are grieving and feel that their grieving process has been disenfranchised. Talking with others about your grief and experiences can help you process them more fully.

Practice your own mourning ritualsIt can help to create your own mourning rituals outside of the established events--such as the funeral--in cases where you’re unable to attend them and grieve properly. For example, you might create a small area in your home with photographs and mementos of the deceased; you might throw your own small gathering to talk about the deceased; and if possible, you might visit the cemetery after the deceased has been buried to pay your respects.

Disenfranchised grief is difficult to manage, but remember: you are not alone in your grief, regardless of how anyone else feels about it.