I’m going through a breakup, and I am feeling all the things that go along with the end of a relationship. Anger. Confusion. Despair. Isolation. But on top of all of that, I’m also feeling a lot of embarrassment and shame about those feelings, because my romantic relationship – my marriage – is going really well. This breakup is between myself and a good friend, whom I had a conflict. She has decided that she is unwilling to work to repair our relationship. It’s been almost a year, and I still miss her. For most of this past year, when those feelings of grief and loss have come up, I feel embarrassed and ashamed. So rather than share what I’m going through, I keep it to myself.
I feel ashamed that I’m not over it yet and that it’s continuing to affect me. I have a voice in my head that compares myself to other people. That voice says: “my grief doesn’t count, because what I’m going through can’t be nearly as bad as it is for people who are experiencing an ‘actual breakup.’” And I feel silly, because it’s not like she was my only friend. I have lots of friends, so why should I care so much?
Eventually, these feelings got to be too much to hold in. As I started to share them, something pretty amazing happened. The people that I shared my experience with told me similar stories of feeling that mixture of grief and shame over something they deemed to be “unworthy” of grief. Like the death of a beloved pet, or an ex-partner, or a “non-immediate” family member. Or having a miscarriage or dealing with infertility. Or dealing with chronic illness, or loss of a job, or struggling to find a fulfilling relationship, or anything that requires you to adjust to life not turning out the way you had thought it would.
In fact, this is such a common experience that there’s a name for it. It’s disenfranchised grief, which is when your grief doesn’t feel like it fits in with society’s attitude about dealing with loss. Which leads to a lack of support during the grieving process and often prolongs the emotional pain.
My favorite part of Imago is the fundamental premise that everyone makes sense if you are willing to listen long enough. In dealing with my own feelings, I was doing just the opposite, and invaliding myself before I even had the chance to explore what was going on.
So, what do we do? If I’ve learned anything through my own experience, it’s that working to remove the shame from the core feeling of grief is what allows the journey toward healing to begin. Let yourself feel your feelings without judgment. Maybe even share them with someone else. You can even join a support group to build community with others who are going through a similar experience.
Does the concept of disenfranchised grief resonate with you? Do you have an experience with disenfranchised grief that you’d like to share? If so, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org – I’d love to hear from you!