hidden Sadness“Disenfranchised grief is the grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, publicly mourned, or socially supported.”

- Kenneth Doka, Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow

I’ve been hard at work reading and researching and stumbled upon Kenneth Doka’s work about disenfranchised grief. His work touched my heart as many estranged people not only live with the very practical realities of relationship loss, they also do so with very little acknowledgement or support.

I have spoken previously about estrangement as a “dirty secret” – something that has happened and keeps happening to us, that we cannot speak of openly for fear of judgement or misunderstanding. Estrangement often carries with it shame – for those who have been estranged from, but also for many who have chosen to estrange.

When our grief is disenfranchised, we feel forbidden to grieve and we lose the opportunity to participate in family or community rituals that allow the expression of our beliefs, thoughts and feelings about the loss of someone we may once have cared for or loved deeply and maybe still do.

checkCheck In

What is your experience of estrangement grief? Have you found a safe place to honor your loss? Is this something important to you?


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I See The Light In You

divinity - Quiet Earth Yoga

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Feelings Are Powerful, Feel Them Anyway

feelings are not actions


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restorative yoga

Reconnecting is really very simple. We feel. Nothing fancy, or difficult. We just start inviting and feeling, allowing feelings and paying attention to them. You can practice anywhere, as much and as often as you like.

You can feel right now. Just stop, close your eyes, take a deep breath in, and feel. Start by feeling physical sensation – my back feels a bit sore from being hunched over the keyboard, my arms are chilly, my chest feels a bit tight.

Then, take another breath or two, and tune in to what you feel inside – that tightness in my chest, it doesn’t release when I breathe, it makes me feel anxious, like there is a feeling there, I don’t want to feel. I am anxious that I can’t quite get to the feeling…. Oh… I feel sadness. Yes! It’s sadness

You don’t need to do anything with your feelings.

You don’t have to censor your feelings, or worry that the feeling is inappropriate, or that something must be wrong with you because you are feeling it. You don’t need to worry you will lose control and do something terrible.

Feelings aren’t actions, they are just feelings. 

It’s ok if you are angry, or afraid or very, very sad. No one melted because they were feeling a feeling. You don’t have to worry that if you start feeling a feeling that it will never stop or go away. Feelings are energy, and they tend to move through us in waves. You can ride the wave and get to the other side.

Be mindful.

Keep your awareness right here, right now. Acknowledge the feeling. Oh, I am feeling sad. Don’t get in a dither about it, just notice it, name it, feel it, then let it move through your body … energy + motion = e-motion.  You can think about your feeling, but you don’t need to hyper-analyze it. Stay with the feeling, breathe into it … notice it in your body… feel the emotional  “wave” rise, crash, ebb.



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The Many Faces of Estrangement Trauma

many-faces-of-eve-gun-legler“I have been pushed and shoved and have fallen out and away, so very, very, many, many times! And others around me have not! But then, the others haven’t seen what I have seen or felt what I have felt or been who I have been, they can’t become what I have become. I am me.”
― C. JoyBell C.

I’ve been writing of late about the relationship between family estrangement and trauma; Estrangement as Trauma, Making Connections: Trauma and Estrangement, as well as numerous posts about estrangement and attachment {that’s related, but more on that another day!} I’d like to continue.

I’ve mentioned that the way that we (mental health professionals, researchers etc) conceptualize trauma is evolving and changing. For instance, we have the advantage of neurobiology, a greater understanding of what’s happening in the brain developmentally and what happens in response to trauma. We begin to understand that we may require different strategies to heal trauma; for instance we understand there is a somatic impact, that leads us to strategies that allow an integration between mind/body/spirit. We see and understand the impact of trauma differently. We know we don’t need to go to war to be traumatized.

It’s probably possible to conceptualize estrangement as a trauma from a number of different directions.

Trauma predated my estrangement

People who fall in this ‘category’ may have come from families where there was ongoing toxic stress – maybe there was active physical, emotional or sexual abuse, maybe there was domestic violence, maybe an adult, or more than one adult had significant addictions or mental health problems that meant they were not able to be present and connected when we needed them to be … whatever the case is — our relationships and attachments were compromised and damaged in the wake of that toxic stress (trauma).

Down the track, however long, we may elect to separate ourselves from our family, or from family members who are Bad for me people. For some, estrangement may not feel like a trauma, comparative to the other traumas that predate it.

For other people, separating from their family, or members of their family may be necessary and may also be traumatic. In addition, the fall out from estrangement, collateral damage, additional attachment problems, lack of closure etc, may be experienced as one more trauma in a sea of traumas.

Estrangement is my trauma

People who fall in this category may not identity with having experienced trauma. They often describe their families as “good enough” maybe with problems, sure, but not “big” problems, not estrangement worthy problems. For these people estrangement comes out of left field – it’s unexpected, people aren’t prepared and they are powerless – they don’t get to control anything about it. Estrangement is their trauma.

For some of these people, there is a failure to realistically appraise their role in issues which pre-date estrangement. They may be the abuser, the person with the addiction or the mental health problem. They may also be the enabler, the co-dependent, the enmeshed person.

For other people, estrangement is a punishment – a power and control strategy, a weapon being used by another person who is not estranging as a means of creating personal safety or health, but who is instead using the cut-off as an abuse strategy.

All of the above and other

People who fall into this category may tick a bunch of boxes – they may have experienced toxic stress growing up, their trauma is both developmental (occurred in childhood) and is current (continues to happen in their adult relationships).

Some may not have experienced developmental trauma, toxic stress and related issues, only began to be noticeable as an adult. Some people are aware there are issues and are still blindsided that estrangement is the solution or the response.

Some people may have both estranged and been estranged from. Some may have significant mental and physical health issues as a result of developmental trauma, which then impair their ability to be in relationship or sustain them. Damaged people do damage.

We haven’t got it all worked out …

There’s room for many variations in the relationship between trauma and estrangement. Rather than simplifying them or attempting to categorize them completely – I am more comfortable with putting forward some variations of the ways trauma and estrangement play out where can think about them and consider them in context to our own experiences of estrangement.

Again, estrangement is complex. There is room for everyone’s experience and story.   Regardless of how we come to estrangement, it’s important to remember that we humans are an extremely resilient lot. We are able to recuperate from the most horrendous tragedies. Furthermore we have the ability to let ourselves be transformed by our traumas, even family estrangement, when we choose to open ourselves to the possibility.


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