What is Disenfranchised Grief

Disenfranchised Grief is defined as grief that people experience from a loss that is not acknowledged or socially supported Any separation from someone or something that is important will result in grief.  Traditional feelings associated with grief: sadness, anger, guilt, loneliness, hopelessness, and numbness. The right to grieve is not recognized – feelings are not expressed – feelings become intensified.

There are three categories of disenfranchised grief

  • A relationship is not recognized
  • Loss is not recognized
  • Griever is not recognized

Relationship is not recognized

  • Extramarital affairs, cohabitation, gay and lesbian relationships, health care professionals
  • Lack of social support
  • Exclusion from care of the dying and funeral rituals
  • Difficulty accepting reality of the loss

Loss is not recognized

  • Miscarriage, prenatal death, abortion, adoption, death of a pet, change due to illness, loss of job/retirement, divorce or separation, loss of childhood, loss of healthy relationship (breakup, abuse, alcoholism)
  • When the loss is not socially significant, grief is not expected

Griever is not recognized


  • Experience same losses and grief as adults but sheltered from conversations and rituals
  • Same feelings as adults without the cognitions and coping skills 


  • Implications for counselors
  • Tasks of the grief process
  • Detachment, recognition, and mourning the loss
  • Maintain supportive social network
  • Maintain healthy self-image while making new attachments 
  • When grief is disenfranchised social support is missing
  • Offer recognition and validation of the loss
  • Encourage expression of feelings about relationship and the loss
  • Assist in resolving any guilt that may arise
  • Suggest meaningful ways to memorialize and mourn


  • Reconnection with feelings associated with the loss
  • May not have had the opportunity to participate in any rituals
  • Art, letters, poems, journaling, balloons, gravesite, empty chair, ceremony

Adolescent romantic relationships

  • Loss often not recognized
  • Grief is minimized
  • “You are too young to know what love is”
  •  “There are other fish in the sea.”
  • Isolation vs. connectedness
  • Guilt over intense feelings
  • Dissolution of the dream

Techniques from Kaczmarek (1991):

Help them to view the intense feelings as normal and to be expected. They need to be given permission to feel and to suspend a facade. 

LaGrande, 1989

Encourage them to express feelings and thoughts. Discussion of the relationship’s history and journal writing can also serve as an effective release, especially if they have difficulty verbalizing their pain. Encourage adults and peers to allow the adolescents to describe their unique experience with loss rather than compare it with some outside criterion of expected grief. 

Colgrove, Bloomfield, & McWilliams, 1976

Teach them about the process of grief. Many adolescents erroneously believe that grief is applicable only to death. Bibliotherapy also may be helpful. 

Conley, 1984; Kubler-Ross, 1969

Encourage them to rely on a supportive network of friends and family–those who will accept their pain and not offer comforting cliches. Friends who also have lost a love may prove empathic and insightful. Seeing a therapist may be important, especially if suicidal ideation is present. 

Encourage a balance between the need for withdrawal and the need for connectedness. 

Give them permission to slow down and allow the healing process to begin. However, it is difficult to slow down when the disenfranchised griever is not excused from commitments. 

Wolfelt, 1990

Encourage them to take care of themselves physically through rest, diet, and exercise. 

Suggest that they put away mementos. Doing this indicates that they have relinquished some of the reunification fantasy. 

LaGrande, 1989

Help them view themselves as survivors who understand that the hurt will become less intense, although they may always remember the lost partner and continue to feel sad for an extended period of time. 

Help them understand that there will be up days and down days, and to anticipate regressions, anniversary effects, and sadness on seeing the former partner. Although the hurt may be renewed at these times, the grief work must continue. 

Pollack, 1970

Suggest that they postpone major decisions and avoid other significant changes in their lives. 

Encourage them to find new ways to enjoy the extra time and new freedom. Propose ways to do this, such as making new friends, taking up a hobby, or getting a pet. These can help rebuild confidence and self-esteem. 

Colgrove, Bloomfield, & McWilliams, 1976

Validate the work they are doing, and accentuate the positive. 

Suggest things they can do for others, thereby limiting self-absorption. 

Teach them techniques for reducing negative cognitions. 

Help them redefine what they want in a relationship. 

Encourage them to embrace the philosophy of Alcoholics Anonymous–to take one day at a time. 

Encourage them to use their grief as a motivator for making positive changes so that they can emerge stronger, more sensitive, and more aware.

Bowlby, 1980; Pollack, 1970


Kaczmarek, M., & Backlund, B. (1991). Disenfranchised grief: The loss of a romantic relationship. Adolescence, 26(102), 253.

Lenhardt, A. (1997). Grieving disenfranchised losses: Background and strategies for counselors. Journal of Humanistic Education & Development, 35(4), 208.