Loss impacts every aspect of our lives, yet we often fail to acknowledge and attend to loss in all of its forms 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
-giving a child up for adoption
-Loss of a loved one due to a socially unacceptable reason
-Disability & Illness
-Unrealized hopes & goals
-Letting go of a belief system
-A child leaving home
-Loss of a Role/Sense of Identity
-Family loss/trauma from a previous generation
-Disconnection from family Roots & Culture
Due to the lack of attention placed on these types 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 deny it and avoid feeling it at all costs. We think we should be able to suck it up and then we feel guilty when we have feelings of grief because we should be stronger and be able to just get over it.
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 it we prevent the natural journey of grief to play out and further hurt ourselves in the process.
Here are three ways to attend to your hidden grief:
1. Make a list of your past losses (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 facing the un-grieved losses and the hidden grief within our own lives helps us begin to address our suppressed sorrow in order to accept it, feel it and process it.
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.