A disenfranchised loss is a loss which is somehow unrecognized.
This might mean that our loss or grief is minimized by others. For example, some people might not understand our reaction if we are deeply mourning for a deceased pet. They might not appreciate the significance of our loss because they don’t grasp the level of attachment that we feel for our lost pet. Someone I know was understandably upset when, after losing his dog, a friend simply advised going to the pet store to get a new puppy; his friend was perplexed by the degree of his sadness, and seemed to think that an animal was easily replaceable. People who have experienced a miscarriage have described similar experiences, in which they were told that they should merely try again for another pregnancy, and they were urged by family or friends to “move on.”
This is hard for so many reasons. Our loss, and our feelings, are invalidated. It is tough to seek support if we think that we will be misunderstood or perhaps shamed about our feelings. In some scenarios we might begin to question ourselves, wondering if we are crazy to be reacting so deeply to our loss. We might feel isolated, ashamed, angry, or alone.
Other examples of disenfranchised grief include situations which carry some type of social stigma. Stigma may cause the mourner to keep their loss secret, in situations such as the death of a partner from an extramarital affair, for example. Certain causes of death, such as a substance overdose, are unfortunately viewed by some with judgment or stigma, and this may cause the bereaved to avoid discussing the death or to seek support.
Finally, in some situations people have never been given the opportunity to participate in mourning rituals, and there is an assumption that events before their birth have no consequences for them. For example, children born to parents who were Holocaust survivors are often deeply impacted by their family history of loss and trauma, but their experience is frequently overlooked. They may not have outlets to express their feelings or to be offered support because their loss is unrecognized.
While there are many types of disenfranchised loss, they all share a similar result. There is little societal support for the mourner.