The Contradiction of "Unacceptable" Grief

The Contradiction of "Unacceptable" Grief

Last update: 25 May, 2018

The death of a loved one is a major source of emotional suffering. You are never fully prepared to lose someone you love, even in cases where death does not come as a surprise. However, some situations make it even more difficult to process the pain: when it’s “unacceptable” grief.

By “unacceptable” grief, we mean grief that you can’t show, in some way prohibited by the particular environment or society in general. For whatever reason, society has deemed the grief unacceptable or uncalled for. In these cases, you suffer alone and hide your pain.

Not being able to express your emotions and feeling like your suffering is illegitimate makes it harder to get over. You are deprived of support, and so it’s more difficult to cope with. Today we’ll talk about “forbidden” or “unacceptable” grief.

“While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates it. You must wait till grief be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it”

-Samuel Johnson-

When society doesn’t value the loss

This situation is one of the most damaging to the bereaved. It’s when there is no social value given to the death, when it is not morally meaningful to others.

For example, when a person that society rejects dies — perhaps a dangerous criminal, feared or looked down upon — his death is seen as a good thing. But even criminals have family and friends who may grieve their loss. Grieving a “bad” person is not always understood by others, so mourners decide to not express their suffering.

"Unacceptable" grief, loss of a dog.

Another example of “unacceptable” grief is when a pet dies. Some may see grieving the loss of a pet as excessive or dramatic. Nevertheless, many people feel the loss of their dog, cat, or horse just as they would the death of a relative.

Prohibited relationships and unacceptable grief

In this case, “unacceptable” grief is unacceptable because the relationship is considered immoral or socially unacceptable. Think of the death of a lover. Under this premise, legitimate pain is what the wife or husband feels, not the third person. But they are all entitled to their pain.

Although society has a more open mind today, we still see this in homosexual relationships. Grieving a partner may not be accepted by society, especially if the relationship had to be kept secret. The same thing happens with impossible, unreciprocated loves.

The circumstances of death

If the death happens by suicide, for example, the grief occurs in special conditions. Most likely, at least at first, loved ones have difficulty discussing their pain. The situation raises a lot of questions and feelings of blame. “Why did it end like this? Why didn’t they find another way out?” In these situations, you may never find an answer.

Something similar happens when death occurs in violent conditions, especially if they involve the family or are the result of irresponsible act. For example, if someone dies in a car crash while speeding, people may think that “he got what was coming to him” or “he knew the risks”. Therefore, it sets the stage for “unacceptable” grief. It’s the same with deaths from overdoses, sexually transmitted diseases, etc.


The unrecognized mourner

This type of “unacceptable” grief is when the bereaved is thought to not feel the loss. It happens a lot with children. Adults think they don’t understand what death is and so they console them with a simple, “he went to live in heaven”. There are many who think that children don’t grieve. But they do grieve, and it can be much harder because they are so young.

People who have some type of cognitive disability or neurological limitation are often dismissed like this too. Others assume that their pain does not have the same depth as others.

When there is “unacceptable” grief, there is a greater probability that it will turn into pathological grief. If the expression of suffering is limited or invalidated, overcoming the pain will be much more difficult.


This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.