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2 Types of Invisible Grief

Mourning what we failed to receive and the loss of potential.

Key points

  • Grief can encompass invisible losses beyond the death of a loved one.
  • People can grieve not only what was, but what they never had.
  • People may mourn lost potential when a life, relationship, job, or opportunity ends.

Did you know that sometimes we grieve things that never happened and never will? Strange, I know. Certainly, this doesn’t fall into our understanding of grief. But mourning unmet needs and expectations is a healthy way of processing our experiences. Here are a few forms of invisible grief.

1. Mourning What We Never Had or Failed to Receive

  • Parents’ support and supportive care we never received
  • Past abuse we endured
  • A lack of opportunities afforded to us

Healing from the past means mourning not only what happened but what failed to materialize. For adults who suffered as children from abuse, neglect, inconsistency, and danger, this means grieving for the childhood self that endured fear and maltreatment in place of consistent emotional and physical safety. Note that this extends beyond clear-cut abuse. An adult may mourn that they grew up with an ill or unavailable parent. They may grieve for the way they were bullied or the adults who failed to step in. They may grieve the lack of resources that meant they lived in a state of constant worry.

Grieving parts of your life that never materialized when they should have may feel slippery and harder to articulate or pinpoint because its most prominent feature is absence. This type of grief may fall into the category of disenfranchised grief, or grief that is not acknowledged by others because it fails to fall into the standard definition of loss.

 Liza Summer
Source: Pexels: Liza Summer

2. Mourning The Loss of Potential — Mourning a Lost Future

  • The romantic relationships that didn’t work out
  • The lost potential of closeness in dysfunctional family relationships
  • The loss of the plan we saw for ourselves
  • The lives we won’t get to lead with people who died or left our lives

Sometimes, grief means mourning the lost potential or future and coming to terms with what never panned out. When a romantic relationship ends, a person may mourn not only the lost bond but the potential life planned out with that person. In dysfunctional families, individuals may grieve the relationship they desperately crave but can never have. This type of grief encompasses the career that never panned out, singlehood that lingers longer than expected, divorce, and infertility.

This form of grief speaks to the way that we plan for a particular envisioned future for our careers, relationships, communities, and political climates. When we don’t see those things manifest in reality, we may have to let go of our vision for the future, the potential for things to play out as we expected.

Articulating these forms of invisible grief helps us understand the contours of our emotional experience and learn to be with grief in all of its forms. We can place the feelings in the grief framework, allowing ourselves the space to move through with empathy and understanding.

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