Vicarious vs. Disenfranchised Grief After A Mass Shooting

death Apr 16, 2023

In the aftermath of the recent acts of gun violence and mass murder in our country, we are feeling some heavy grief here at Grieve Leave, and you may be feeling it too. Is it okay to feel grief if our loved ones  weren’t directly impacted by the tragedy? You’re definitely not alone.


When we feel grief for someone else’s loss, we might be feeling what’s been coined vicarious grief. We may also be feeling disenfranchised grief. In the case of mass shootings, we often see both of these types of grief show up for us. 


Vicarious grief is what we feel as a result of someone else's loss. Vicarious grief can come up for people who work in the helping professions, like medicine and social work, who see suffering on a daily basis. And it can come up for all of us when we witness or hear about the death or suffering of a loved one, friend, or even a stranger. 


Friends and family members of gun violence victims undoubtedly experience their own grief and trauma, but the impact of these events also spreads beyond those physically present that day. For example, people who live in the same community as the shooting may feel a sense of loss and sadness even if they didn't personally know anyone involved. And in this era of 24/7 news and social media, our “community” feels more global than ever.


Our vicarious grief might feel particularly intense when there are children involved, like in the case of the recent school shootings, when we feel like the tragedy might have been preventable, and/or when we are exposed to repeated images and graphic content in the media. This type of grief is evidence of our ability, as humans, to feel empathy for other people we may not know…but it can also lead to disenfranchised grief.


Disenfranchised grief is when a person's loss is not recognized or validated by society. This type of grief can arise when we are grieving the death of a pet, the death of someone who was not an immediate family member or friend, and it can also arise when we feel like our grief is not socially supported by our country’s actions in the wake of one of these tragedies.


Our grief becomes disenfranchised when we feel that our grief is “not allowed” or must be hidden from society. We may feel guilty for grieving, or feel like we shouldn't be so affected by events that didn't happen to us personally.. We may also feel like we can't talk about our feelings because we don't have a "right" to grieve.


Vicarious grief can be a powerful force for social change, as it can inspire people to take action and work to prevent future tragedies. Disenfranchised grief, on the other hand, can be a source of isolation and shame if not recognized and addressed.


As we reel from the horrendous and repeated tragedies in our country, we want to acknowledge and validate whatever we may be feeling. Everyone grieves differently, and there is no "right" way to feel or react to a traumatic event. Your feelings are valid. You are not alone. We are not alone.


Grieve on.

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