Loss impacts every aspect of our lives, yet we often fail to acknowledge and attend to loss in all of its forms including in times of change and crisis resulting in inadequate attention on the necessity of grieving.
The grief that is commonly unacknowledged and socially unrecognized is referred to as “disenfranchised grief”, a concept that was first described by Kenneth J. Doka in 1989.
The types of incurred loss that commonly lead to disenfranchised grief include:
-Loss of a pet
-Loss of normalcy & routine
-Disability & Illness
-Unrealized hopes & dreams
-Letting go of a belief system
-A child leaving home
-Loss of a Role/Sense of Identity
-Moving to a new residence
-Disconnection from family roots & culture
Due to the lack of attention placed on these forms of loss we tend to deny ourselves and others the time, space and support to process the resulting impact and feelings that are as natural as the seasons.
This grief often remains in hiding and gradually compiles over time. The longer that it accumulates and remains unattended to, the greater impact it has on our psychological, emotional and physical well-being often leading to chronic conditions including: anxiety, depression, anger/rage, lack of drive, relationship struggles, increased stress, isolation and potential physical ailments.
We are conditioned to fear loss and grief, and as a result, we commonly avoid feeling it at all costs. The problem with our avoidance of grief is that loss is inevitable and we do feel it no matter how much we try to stuff it away. By disenfranchising our feelings in this way, we further hurt ourselves and reinforce our fear of loss and grief.
Here are three ways to attend to your hidden grief during this time of change and crisis:
1. Make a list of the losses that are presently impacting your life (use the list above as a guide) and beside the loss write down the feelings that come to the surface. Are there still remnant feelings of grief (sadness, anger, anxiety, guilt, etc)? Let yourself feel those remnant feelings and give yourself the time to process.
2. One of our needs (tasks) in grief according to Dr. Alan Wolfelt is to remember. Our memories aren’t going to suddenly disappear nor should we expect them to, so as much as we try to resist their existence or attempt to forget, they still remain and the emotions attached to those memories can and will be triggered at any time or place when a memory surfaces. When experiencing a memory of a past loss, let it be there and allow yourself to remember.
3. Seek support from a family member, close friend, counsellor or support group. Confronting intense grief is always best explored within a safe environment being supported by another on your journey.
Recognizing and attending to the un-grieved losses and hidden grief within our own lives helps us begin to address our feelings of sorrow in order to process them and better equip ourselves to face life’s changes and crisis moving forward.
Moving through loss and allowing the natural and necessary journey of grief to unfold is one of the scariest, yet freeing experiences we face in life and we’re all better off accepting it than resisting it.