It is very obvious that men and women are different physically, less obvious are the differences spiritually and emotionally. David Deida has written extensively about these fundamental differences in two of his book, Dear Lover and Way of the Superior Man. It is important to recognize that we all have both masculine and feminine energy in us so none of us will be all one way or the other. We will each be a unique blend with our own preferences when it comes to grieving.
It is also important to know that there are commonalities amongst men grieving that are generally speaking different from women. I will explore what it often looks like for men, what men tend to do with grief, and how to support a man grieving.
Know that these different tendencies arise for many reasons, cultural upbringing, differences in male and female brains both functionally and anatomically being two of the major contributors. It is important to recognize that each man has his own unique grief journey. Though we can draw some general conclusion regarding common themes of masculine grief each man will have his own grief signature.
What to Look for in Men
Though men may express ‘typical’ signs of grief such as, hopelessness, sadness, crying, or depressed moods they do so much less than women. More typically you will find men displaying symptoms that are rare in women.
Irritable. Whether he is your partner, friend, coworker, son or father the grieving man may have a feeling of underlying irritability. You may sense this in his demeanor or in the way he talks. He may feel ‘chippy’ or resentful over reacting to small upsets.
Anger. Sometimes a man will direct his anger at what he feels was the cause of the death. Other times he will direct the anger inwards or simply be angry at everything in general.
Withdrawal. Men will from time to time pull back from social outings. They may also feel numb and distant as they withdraw emotionally as well.
Intellectualizing. Some men may spend a fair bit of time mulling over life with their deceased loved one. Others may think about death in general.
Substance Misuse. Some men may turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to manage their feelings and to get some ‘relief’ from the emotions of grief.
The fact that the more typical symptoms are not as present and these more masculine ways are may lead to conflict both internally and in relationship. In his relationship his female partner may misunderstand his grief and try to get him to grieve more like her. Internally, the man may fell like he is not grieving the right way.
Though most men grieve for shorter periods than do their female counterparts there is no exact time frame for male grief. The grief journey will vary widely from man to man, some being short periods perhaps two months and other grieving for several years.
What Men Tend to Do
Most men tend to be problem solvers and Mr. Fixit, they want to get the tasks done; so they approach grief in a similar manner. Men also tend to control their emotions and rely on their own inner strengths. What this means is that men will likely not respond to doing their ‘grief work.’ As an example at a training program for hospice volunteers I recently attended there we 17 women and 3 men. The facilitator was female and all the guest presenters were women. A quick tour of hospice web sites shows the same bias staff and volunteer teams are predominantly women.
Clearly men handle their grief by doing their ‘grief work’ differently. Action, thinking and fixing will be the more typical male responses to grief. It is important to recognize that the more female approaches to grief are necessary as well. So a man needs to find balance between coping emotionally and coping by restoring lie to order.
When men don’t find healthy ways to express their grief in a way that works for them, you may notice men being:
Overly busy at work or with chores
Misusing drugs or alcohol
When men feel unseen or misunderstood in their grief they tend to keep it all a secret. They may appear complete with their grief but don’t be fooled.
Handy Tips for Men
Give yourself permission to grieve your own way. Each man will have his own way of expressing his grief that he may have expected. His way of grieving may surprise others too. As long as there is no harm being done to himself or those around him allowing his authentic expression of grief will help the healing process.
Get together with your good men friends. It is healing also for men to get together and support each other either informally or in a support group. Being with other men who have gone through a similar loss is especially helpful. This could be the source of his strongest support.
Pay attention to your actions. Two areas to pay attention to are the expression of anger and the use of alcohol or drugs. Refrain from using anger as a weapon to hurt others with, find healthy ways to express it. Notice a man’s coping tools and be aware of excessive use of alcohol or drugs that may be used to mask the uncomfortable emotions common with grief.
Ask for help. Men seeking support can be seen as weak or a failure. Notice harmful or self-damaging behavior and reach out for professional support to help get through the tough times.
Join a men’s support group. If you notice you are struggling with grief find a men’s support group and join it.
How to Support a Grieving Man
Simply be there and just listen. Sometimes just sitting with a man, being present and quiet is the best support you can offer. When a man is emotionally full adding words to his universe may not be helpful. Letting him know you are there for him and willing to help is important. Avoid problem-solving and providing advice.
Let him express his grief in his way. Follow his lead and create space for him to grieve in his way, which is likely, much different than yours. When dancing only one partner can lead if you want to avoid damaging your partner’s toes, grief is a dance too! Let him lead.
Take good care of you. Grief can be intense and fatiguing, make sure you get good rest and take care of yourself. A tired you is of no help.
Be prepared to ask for help if needed. Generally speaking most men will get through the grief process without the need for outside support. Some men will need help, know when to ask for it.