Just because your loss doesn't involve death doesn't make your grief less valid.

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what is disenfranchised grief
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A few months ago, I quit my job. I was proud of myself for making this decision and excited for what was to come, but along with these emotions were others I felt conflicted about: sadness and—more specifically—grief. Why did this career transition feel like such a huge loss when it was my choice to leave? While my feelings were valid at the time, I now realize that what I was experiencing was a special form of grief called disenfranchised grief.

Although Western culture often dismisses grief that isn't related to death, it plays a significant part in the human experience. It not only happens more frequently than we admit, but grief can also come up when a friendship ends or when you move to another town. Because of this, we often carry our grief alone or worse, don't acknowledge it at all when we grieve over things that have nothing to do with the loss of a loved one.

HelloGiggles spoke to mental health experts, Paulina Isabel Almarosa, LCSW, and Tiffany A. Wright, LCSW, to explain what disenfranchised grief is and why no loss is too small to grieve.

What is disenfranchised grief?

According to Almarosa, disenfranchised grief (also known as the "hidden sorrow"), is a kind of grief that is "not really recognized by the broader society [you live in]." This disconnect can cause us to feel isolated or pressured to bounce back immediately, especially when productivity is demanded from us.

"When people think of grief, they automatically think of the death of someone, but grief is like a subset of emotional reactions that come from any type of loss or transition," Wright tells HelloGiggles. For instance, when a friendship ends, we lose a pet, we move out of state, or someone we love is incarcerated, these are all examples of times we may experience grief.

Wright also explains that when someone from a marginalized group sees yet another act of oppression on social media, this can trigger grief, too. Understanding that grief isn't just about death allows us to understand ourselves and one another more holistically. As far as the right time for grieving, both Almarosa and Wright agree that there is no expiration date. "No one can tell you what to grieve or when to grieve it," says Almarosa.

What happens when you don't let yourself grieve?

In some cases, it may seem easier to avoid the grief when it feels "silly" to grieve, but both Wright and Almarosa agree that this is never a good idea. "When people feel like their loss is not worth grieving, then that person can internalize a lot of shame and guilt," Almarosa tells HelloGiggles. "That shame can contribute to a whole range of physical and mental health issues."

Oftentimes, we compare our loss or experience to someone else's and are told that "it could always be worse," but this isn't helpful and is an example of toxic positivity. Our emotions are there for a reason. And if we avoid grief to avoid suffering, well, Almasrosa says that can just lead to more suffering and missing out on joy,

When we give ourselves permission to grieve, we're able to release the emotions that arise. While Western culture may downplay the significance of emotions, Wright shares that Indigenous, African, and Eastern medicine speak to the notion of how emotions impact the body. Whatever we don't release, Wright says, our bodies continue to hold onto it.

"People are constantly going through life experiencing grief unknowingly and unconsciously, and they don't take the time to process the impact of their loss," she explains. This doesn't mean we're always in a state of grief, but when we're going through it, we may not be giving it the attention and care it deserves.

What is disenfranchised grief
Credit: Getty Images

What are the benefits of grieving?

Although grieving is often portrayed as a dark time, it serves a purpose and can contribute to our well-being. According to Almarosa, in some cases "grief can be a portal for growth, personal transformation, [and] a deeper understanding of what we value and what is important to us." Grief offers us a new perspective we wouldn't otherwise have.

Aside from this, she says that processing our grief lets us maintain our physical health because our body isn't bottling up those emotions. "Emotions are data, they're information, they tell you about yourself," explains Wright. "By giving yourself permission to grieve, you can learn to build a sense of safety and trust within yourself. It also helps build a healthy sense of confidence to understand that there's a duality in life, that you're going to lose and you're going to gain constantly." Grieving isn't just beneficial for ourselves, but also for those around us. Wright says it creates a sense of empathy for other people.

How to heal from grief:

To begin the healing process, Wright explains that you must first acknowledge the event or circumstance that impacted you. Grief can co-exist with other emotions. "Life doesn't have to be good or bad, it doesn't have to be black or white, duality can exist. You can be both grieving and happy at the same time," says Wright.

It's important to change the way we view our losses. No loss is too small to grieve. Our emotions are valid and we don't need anyone else's permission to grieve. We can change the way we value our emotions, and this means no longer viewing grief as a weakness but as a strength.