Ongoing Liminal Grief in the absence of Girls’ Rites Of Passage in Modern Secular Culture

posted in: blog | 0

The piece below is a very different style of writing to what you will otherwise find on this site. It is an academic paper I wrote for a Unit on Grief (in my Counselling and Psychotherapy Diploma), and due to the nature of it’s 2000 words and the topic of the assignment, this piece only just skims the surface of the myriad of issues of concern. Nevertheless, I feel that sharing it may be helpful to the professional viewpoints of grief. It is also likely to be helpful to individuals who are dealing with the effects of this type of loss in your own life.

PS. I received a mark of 86% / High Distinction for the essay 


Ongoing loss is recognised by women in modern secular culture in the absence of public witnessing of formal rites of passage, transitioning from childhood into the responsibilities of adult life (Artz, Scott & Anglin, 1998, pp. 355-56).

Therapists in counselling practice assist adults by facilitating individually relevant personal ceremony to incorporate and integrate transformational life stages. In times of change, the messages a subject receives “both subliminal and specific, inform her of her culture’s value of woman and how she is expected to behave” (Hardwicke Collings, 2011, pp. 46).

In particular, this paper explores the grief adult women identify due to the absence of formal rites of passage. Many women report to be in a state of perpetual, often unrecognised and unnamed sorrow, beginning in adolescence, carried forward into adulthood, and even old age (See Appendix). Without formal cultural witnessing of the transition from child to adulthood, women appear unable to consolidate the separation from the first stage of life to the next. As a result, women move through life in an ongoing state of liminality, under shadowed by a grief which has no name.


Women, Unrecognised Grief and Liminal Hotspots

Literature focusing on unrecognised and unsanctioned grief refers to loss that “is not socially define(d) as significant.” (Doka, 1999, pp. 38). Unrecognised Grief often focuses on bereavements where the person is aware of what they have lost, yet their grief “precludes social support” (Doka, 1999, pp. 39).

An adult woman mourning rites of passage generally becomes aware of her loss, long after the event. The experience of “psychosocial death” occurs throughout the adolescenttransition, resulting in her very persona being changed as a result to physiological and psychological awareness and growth (Doka, 1999, pp. 38), yet when the process of change is not acknowledged publicly, the woman is left in a state of liminality. She is unable to transition from the past into the new, expected behavioural pattern.

Grief occurs when the woman, later grown to adult, becomes aware of what did not get to be; specifically the public witnessing and education regarding change of life. Tiemann (1990) explains :

Stress points most often seem to occur around changes in stage (or status) when we move from one level of development to another, acquiring new roles and skills, and having to renegotiate our internal identities as well as our relationships with intimates. Many such changes, because they are indeed welcomes, mask unrecognised losses. And hidden as they are, they are never worked through (pp. 62).

Greco and Stenner (2017) refer to the experience of being trapped in transitory dimensions as “liminal hotspots” concerning “troubled becoming” in which the individual cannot make the leap to the new phase of development, or pattern shift. The occurrence of hotspots of liminality appear with the notion of patterns of behaviour or relationship that appear over and over again.

In traditional cultures who incorporate individuals into sexuality via rites of passage, the ceremony is often partnered with education about physiology, cultural expectations and social grouping (van Gennep, 1972, pp. 67; see also Markstrom & Iborra, 2003). In modern secular culture, women report not having received sufficient education and awareness about adolescent transition, including sexual expectations and cultural placement (Park Wilson, 1972, pp. 77-84.; see also Johnston-Robledo & Stubbs, 2013). It has been shown that a lack of sufficient education about adulthood expectations, can result in women with profound hopelessness and despair (Park Wilson, 1972, pp. 136-149). Some women view menstruation as a “social stigma” (Johnston-Robledo & Chrisler, 2013) and modern girls are not receiving adequate education to understand otherwise (Sveinsdóttir, 2017).

Unlike children in traditional cultures, modern girls often receive adolescent education via peer groups, pop culture and the internet (Gentina, Palan, & Fosse- Gomez, 2012; Johnston-Robledo & Stubbs, 2013; Kofoed & Stenner, 2017), which without appropriate mentorship, can be more confusing and conflicting than no rites at all (DuBois & Silverthorn, 2005). Young people appear to enact their own search for meaning, without a basis for expectation and the wisdom provided by elders (Northcote, 2006), which further contributes to liminal hotspots, whereby young people are not appropriately processed through transition.

When girls with unprocessed grief grow into women “exploration takes place in the context of what developmental ’emergencies’ need support” (Tiemann, 1990, pp. 65). In other words, ongoing loss builds up over a lifetime until therapy is (or is not) sought.


Critique of the Literature : Women, Unrecognised Grief and Liminal Hotspots

To understand the breadth of this topic, one cannot simply view the literature on unrecognised grief, or liminal hotspots, or women’s grief independently. Read together, the theme is synthesised as Ongoing Liminal Grief enhanced by modern cultural handling of adolescent transition. Although this theme is related to unrecognised grief, it differs from previous literature which focuses only on grief that people are aware exists, albeit unsupported to express.

Ongoing Liminal Grief differs as a state of sorrow that when left unprocessed, grows overtime, emerging in adulthood as deep pain. Without appropriate education or facilitation, the experience of sorrow could be indefinite. In the search for references for this paper, the author found a variety of submissions regarding women’s grief and liminality in fictitious literature (Andermahr, 2011; Drewery, 2011), yet references for grief regarding real women’s experiences of physiological and social change are difficult to find, unless they are explicit to medical diagnosis.

Women’s ongoing liminality requires specific coverage. It is impossible to base reflections of lived experience on fictitious characters. Indeed, the grief that adult women acknowledge as rites of passage which-have-not-been, is still unexplored in research documentation.


Considerations for Counselling Practice : Ongoing Liminal Grief

Regarding unrecognised, unsanctioned and liminal grief, the published literature acknowledges the beneficial capabilities of counselling therapy (Doka, 1999; Tiemann, 1990). Therapy “seeks to provide a haven for the client” (Tiemann, 1990, pp. 65) in which the client can process the changed sense of self, in her own time.

Without a research based, broader awareness of how Ongoing Liminal Grief effects women’s development, counsellors and therapists can still provide support to women through models for development and transitional growth. In this case, the client does not need to name the grief, as much as to have it witnessed by the therapist, and a willingness to heal her sorrow (Worden, 2008, pp. 120).

The model for rites of passage shares similarities with models for development (Markstrom, Berman, Sabino & Turner, 1998), therefore such models may be helpful to the therapist. Kegan’s model for constructing the self (Eriksen, 2006; Tiemann, 1990, pp. 73) identifies that people behave automatically to the stage of developmental awareness that they are embedded in, and that while they are defined by relationships, roles and responsibilities, they are unable to shift (construct) from that stage to another. A therapist’s role is to supportthe client in establishing the next stage of development.

In cases where the client has named the loss of rites of passage as a contributing factor to her grief, counsellors may also assist by facilitating meaningful ceremonies, discussed in the following section of this paper.


Rites of Passage and Ritual Recreation

van Gennep articulated rites of passage as a distinct category of ceremony in traditional and some modern cultures. The rites of passage are subdivided into (preliminal) rites of seperation, (liminal) transition rites and (postliminal) rites of incorporation (1972, pp. 10-11). Initiatory rites of passage during adolescence are “rites of seperation from the asexual world, followed by rites of incorporation in to the world of sexuality and in all societies and all social groups, into a group confined to persons of one sex or the other” (van Gennep, 1972, pp. 67).

Adolescent transitions were not based on physiological changes, rather they occurred during what van Gennep termed ‘social puberty.’ He noted a large sample of world cultures in which the rites from childhood to adult did not always occur due to physiological signs of puberty (eg. menarche), relying instead upon a communal consensus individual to each culture. Initiation rites during adolescence were rites of seperation from the asexual world, followed by rites of incorporation into the world of sexuality and in all societies and all social groups into a group confined to persons of one sex or the other (van Gennep, 1972, pp. 67).

Life stages and transitions occur in modern cultures, yet secular society does not seek formal processing of these changes, nor does the cultural group of an adolescent witness and articulate the changing nature of life’s stages. Some religious groups offer coming of age ceremonial processes; as in the Jewish Bat Mitzvah where the child becomes something anew (Salkin, 2006, pp. 380), yet most non-religious or secular children enter the transitional stage without formal witness.

History has told a complicated story of positive and negative imagery in regards to the female body and women’s role in ritual (Hoch-Smith & Spring, 1978; Plaskow & Arnold, 1974; Walker, 1983). Girls often grow up with mixed messages regarding their physiology and societal place ( Baker, 2010; Gill, 2008; Lynch, 2011; Park Wilson, 1972; Tolman, 2012). As a result, young people are documented as creating “self-made culture rituals… in the absence of a cultural ritual that is affirming and clear” (Artz, Scott &Anglin, 1998, pp. 360). These type of rituals may include anything from wearing makeup to night clubbing, to dangerous risk taking (Gentina, Palan & Fosse-Gomez, 2012; Larson & Martin, 2012; Northcote, 2006).

In continuing cultures, rites of passage may undergo changes to better suit current communities (Setlhabi, 2014) and alternative rites of passage have been suggested for rituals that are considered unnecessary in modern times (Prazak, 2007). Rites of passage around the world do not necessarily contain similar content, and can even differ from one village to another, yet each “involve a clearly defined category of rites which resemble each other because they have the same purpose (van Gennep, 1972, pp. 114). Rites of initiation include “highly dramatic moments, of excitement and tension, of solemnity and grandeur, and also of comedy” (La Fontaine, 1985, pp. 181).

A growing voice exists in the work of modern rites of passage, whereby adult women are facilitating modern forms of ceremonies for girls as they enter puberty. Currently, much of the focus is on girls reaching menarche (Hardwicke Collings, 2011; McKay-Riddell, 2007).

Adult women of secular culture may find it beneficial to participate in one’s own ceremony to address liminal states (Wozniak & Allen, 2012). Ceremonies can have direct psychological and physiological effects on participants (Hewson & Rowold, 2012; Hope, 1998, pp. 96-102; Lee et al. 2016).


Critique of the Literature : Rites of Passage and Ritual Recreation

The body of literature regarding traditional rites of passage is thorough thanks to researchers such as van Gennep (Dunham, Kidwell & Wilson, 1986). Rites are specific to the culture and time from which they come, therefore the details of ceremonies in van Gennep and other works of traditional cultures should not be used verbatim, suffice to direct modern women to the realisation that rites of passage have been an important cultural practice in all traditional cultures.

Modern resources illuminate the need for girls to find appropriate transitional rites, relevant to individual experiences (Delaney, 1995; Hardwicke Collings, 2011), yet there appears to be no discussion in the literature regarding adult women who did not receive rites of passage.

Unarguably, helping our current girls through the transition to adulthood is important, and if approached effectively, will eliminate the likelihood of adult Ongoing Liminal Grief referred to in this paper.

However, Artz, Scott and Anglin (1998) appear to be lone voices in the recognition of a wounded adult population, responding to current adolescents. They call for “the need for adults to truly become and act as adults in order to assist young people to make a successful transition form childhood to adulthood” (pp. 355). This call reflects the author’s own experience with counselling clients.

While the literature continues to focus on current girls, adult women with Ongoing Liminal Grief are not represented in the literature. This loss, which the author has witnessed in consultation with clients over many years, has the effect of leaving women feeling stuck and unsure how to proceed with their own daughters. Negative experiences from a woman’s own menarche make it difficult to respond positively to young girls transitioning in their own community. More research on this topic is required to better bridge a gap between women’s past experiences and the excellent work being delivered for young girls now.


Considerations for Counselling Practice : Ritual Recreation

Ceremonial Witnessing is a method humans have used for as long as there is record, and appears to continue to be a helpful way of processing developmental stages of life (Perlstein, 2002).

Counsellors and therapists help grieving clients by working with them to create meaningful ceremony marking the transition of moving out of the liminal hotspot to which they have been trapped. Ceremonies may include various content, provided the process is offering incorporation to a postliminal state.

Numerous resources exist for ceremonial creation and therapists may gain an understanding of symbolism and its relationship to particular ceremony by researching records of rites from another time (Håland, 2012; Hope, 1988). As there is no right or wrong way to grieve (McKissock & McKissock, 2012, pp. 11), there is also no right or wrong way to create ceremony. The most meaningful ceremonies will contain symbols and imagery individual to the client’s own experience.


Implications and Conclusion

Many adult women in modern secular culture are in a state of Ongoing Liminal Grief regarding the absence of formal rites of passage in adolescence. Qualitative and quantitive research would be beneficial to formulate an understanding of the precise concerns adult women experience when they recognise long held grief from the time of menarche.

Women who have experiences of loss for absent rites of passage may find it difficult to facilitate their own daughters through the special time of growing up. This is a concerning issue because it takes whole adults to raise whole adolescents.

Regardless of forthcoming research, assistance is already available to women via counselling, where therapists witness clients’ grief, acknowledge loss and suffering, and may help create ceremonies to assist processing from the liminal state, to post liminal where women can find themselves once again whole.



Andermahr, S. (2011). Mourning, melancholia and melodrama in contemporary women’s grief fiction: Kim Edwards’s the Memory Keeper’s daughter. Hecate, 37(1), 27-45.

Artz, S., Scott, D. G., & Anglin, J. P. (1998). Rites of passage: A conversation on becoming adult. Child and Youth Care Forum, 27(5) 355-377.

Baker, J. (2010). Claiming Volition and Evading Victimhood: Post-Feminist Obligations for Young Women. Feminism & Psychology, 20(2), 186-204. doi: 10.1177/0959353509359142.

Delaney, C. H. (1995). Rites of passage in adolescence. Adolescence, 30(120), 891.

Doka, K. J. (1999). Disenfranchised grief. Bereavement Care, 18(3), 37-39.

Drewery, C. (2011). Modernist Short Fiction by Women: The Liminal in Katherine Mansfield, Dorothy Richardson, May Sinclair and Virginia Woolf. Ashgate Publishing, Ltd..

DuBois, D. L., & Silverthorn, N. (2005). Natural mentoring relationships and adolescent health: Evidence from a national study. American journal of public health, 95(3), 518-524. doi: 10.2105/AJPH.2003.031476

Dunham, R. M., Kidwell, J. S., & Wilson, S. M. (1986). Rites of passage at adolescence: A ritual process paradigm. Journal of Adolescent Research, 1(2), 139-153.

Eriksen, K. (2006). The constructive developmental theory of Robert Kegan. The Family Journal, 14(3), 290-298. doi: 10.1177/1066480706287799

Gentina, E., Palan, K. M., & Fosse- Gomez, M. H. (2012). The practice of using makeup: A consumption ritual of adolescent girls. Journal of Consumer Behaviour, 11(2), 115- 123. doi: 10.1002/cb.387

Gill, R. (2008). Empowerment/sexism: Figuring female sexual agency in contemporary advertising. Feminism & Psychology, 18(1), 35-60. doi: 10.1177/0959353507084950

Greco, M., & Stenner, P. (2017). From paradox to pattern shift: Conceptualising liminal hotspots and their affective dynamics. Theory & Psychology, 27(2), 147-166. doi: 10.177/0959354317693120.

Håland, E. J. (2012). The ritual year of Athena: the agricultural cycle of the olive, girls’ rites of passage, and official ideology. Journal of Religious History, 36(2), 256-284. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9809.2011.01169.x

Hardwicke Collings, J. (2011). Becoming a Woman. Robertson, Australia: AppleTreeHouse.

Hewson, P. D., & Rowold, J. (2012). Do spiritual ceremonies affect participants’ quality of life? A pilot study. Complementary therapies in clinical practice, 18(3), 177-181. doi: 10.1016/j.ctcp.2012.03.005

Hoch-Smith, J., & Spring, A. (1978). Women in Ritual and Symbolic Roles. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

Hope, M. (1988). The Psychology of Ritual. Dorset, UK: Elenent Books.

Johnston-Robledo, I., & Chrisler, J. C. (2013). The menstrual mark: Menstruation as social stigma. Sex roles, 68(1-2), 9-18. doi: 10.1007/s11199-011-0052z

Johnston-Robledo, I., & Stubbs, M. L. (2013). Positioning periods: Menstruation in social context: An introduction to a special issue. Sex Roles, 68(1-2), 1-8. doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0206-7

Kofoed, J., & Stenner, P. (2017). Suspended liminality: Vacillating affects in cyberbullying/research. Theory & Psychology, 27(2), 167-182. doi: 10.1177/0959354317690455

La Fontaine, J. S. (1985). Initiation : Ritual drama and secret knowledge across the world. Middlesex, England : Penguin.

Larson, S., & Martin, L. (2012). Risk taking and rites of passage. Reclaiming Children and Youth, 20(4), 37.

Lee, E. M., Klement, K. R., Ambler, J. K., Loewald, T., Comber, E. M., Hanson, S. A., … & Sagarin, B. J. (2016). Altered states of consciousness during an extreme ritual. PloS one, 11(5). doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0153126

Lynch, M. (2011). Blogging for beauty? A critical analysis of Operation Beautiful. Women’s Studies International Forum, 34(6), 582-592. doi: 10.1016/j.wsif.2011.08.006

Markstrom, C. A., Berman, R. C., Sabino, V. M., & Turner, B. (1998). The ego virtue of fidelity as a psychosocial rite of passage in the transition from adolescence to adulthood. Child and Youth Care Forum, 27(5), 337-354.

Markstrom, C. A., & Iborra, A. (2003). Adolescent Identity Formation and Rites of Passage: The Navajo Kinaalda Ceremony for Girls. Journal of Research on Adolescence, 13(4), 399-425. doi: 10.1046/j.1532-7795.2003.01304001.x

McKay-Riddell, V. (2007). Coming home to Gaia: Mentored earthbased rites of passage for adolescent girls. Institute of Transpersonal Psychology.

McKissock, M. & McKissock, D. (2012). Coping with Grief. Sydney, Australia: ABC Books.

Northcote, J. (2006). Nightclubbing and the search for identity: Making the transition from childhood to adulthood in an urban milieu. Journal of Youth Studies, 9(1), 1-16. doi: 10.1080/13676260500523580

Park Wilson, P. (1972). College Women Who Express Futility. New York, NY : AMS Press.

Perlstein, M. (2002). A spiritual coming out: The use of ritual in a psychotherapy practice. Women & Therapy, 24(3-4), 175-192. doi: 10.1300/J015v24n03_11

Plaskow, J., & Arnold, J. (1974). Women and Religion. Missoula, MT : The American Academy of Religion.

Prazak, M. (2007). Introducing alternative rites of passage. Africa Today, 53(4), 19-40. Salkin, J. K. (2006). Transforming Bar/Bat Mitzvah : The Role of Family and Community. In K. M. Yust, A. N. Johnson, S.E. Sasso, E. C. Roehlkepartain (Eds.), Nurturing Child and Adolescent Spirituality (pp. 380-393). Oxford, UK : Rowman & Littlefield.

Setlhabi, K. G. (2014). The politics of culture and the transient culture of bojale: Bakgatla- baga-Kgafela women’s initiation in Botswana. Journal of Southern African Studies, 40(3), 459-477. doi: 10.1080/03057070.2014.913424

Sveinsdóttir, H. (2017). The role of menstruation in women’s objectification: a questionnaire study. Journal of advanced nursing, 73(6), 1390-1402. doi: 10.1111/jan.13220

Tiemann, A. R. (1990). Unrecognised Grief Issues in Midlife Women. In V. R. Pine, O.S. Margolis, K. Doka, A. H. Kutscher, D. J. Schaefer, M. Siegel, D. J. Cherico (Eds.), Unrecognized and Unsanctioned Grief : The Nature and Counseling of Unacknowledged Loss (pp. 62-75). Springfield, IL : Charles C Thomas

Tolman, D. L. (2012). Female adolescents, sexual empowerment and desire: A missing discourse of gender inequity. Sex Roles, 66(11-12), 746-757.
doi: 10.1007/s11199-012-0122-x

van Gennep, A. (1972). Rites of Passage (M. B. Vizedom & G. L. Caffee, Trans.). Chicago : University of Chicago Press.

Walker, B. G. (1983). The woman’s encyclopedia of myths and secrets. San Francisco: Harper & Row.

Worden, J. W. (2008). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy : a handbook for the mental health practitioner. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral-proquest-

Wozniak, D. F., & Allen, K. N. (2012). Ritual and performance in domestic violence healing: from survivor to thriver through rites of passage. Culture, medicine, and psychiatry, 36(1), 80-101. doi: 10.1007/s11013-011-9236-9


The premise for this paper is based on informal data I’ve collected in my fifteen years experience in working in modern Rites of Passage Ceremony and Women’s group therapy. There I have witnessed a collective sorrow in women when discussing the effects of the absence of formal Rites of Passage throughout adolescence.

As I was unable to find any published research to support the premise of ongoing disenfranchised grief in modern adults as a result of being without rites of passage, I took it upon myself to collect data in an informal survey via Facebook. As I only thought to do so a week before the essay was due, it is disappointing to note the response rate is considerably lower than hoped.

Participants were asked to comment whether they have a shared experience of grief and sorrow that they attribute to not receiving Rites of Passage.

The post and submissions can be viewed at :

Love you,

The article Ongoing Liminal Grief in the absence of Girls’ Rites Of Passage in Modern Secular Culture was published by Hollie B., for the Institute for Self Crafting.

Feel free to share this article with your friends, by using the url :

Get in touch on Facebook or check out what I’m posting on Instagram.

Where to next?

Home | Sessions | Rhythm | News | Programs | Blog | Ceremony | Contact

What's your feeling? Talk to me!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.