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Peskin, H. (2019). Who Has the Right to Mourn?: Relational Deference and the Ranking of Grief. Psychoanal. Dial., 29(4):477-492.

(2019). Psychoanalytic Dialogues, 29(4):477-492

Who Has the Right to Mourn?: Relational Deference and the Ranking of Grief

Harvey Peskin, Ph.D.

Relational by definition, grief is influenced by others’ witness, acknowledgement and validation. Although such influence has drawn sociological interest to the disenfranchised grief of marginalized groups, differential grief within the family goes mostly unaddressed in relational psychoanalysis and psychotherapy. Many factors influence the ranking of grief, including “proprietary rights” conferred by traditional roles and the psychodynamics of the family. In such situations, the more highly-ranked mourners may appropriate another’s grief by claiming a stronger sense of entitlement, conferred by felt anguish, attachment or social standing. Preempting another’s claim may come without conscious intention or even with intent to protect the other from such anguish. The self is injured when one’s right to grieve is withheld, overlooked or otherwise curtailed by others, or waived by oneself. Where one’s grief is deferred to mourners deemed more needy, deserving or powerful, a diminished sense of personal ownership of grief may present itself as generosity, guilt or compliance.

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