It’s very hard not to be influenced by, and to promote, stereotypes in the different ways in which men and women grieve.
Yet, we know that men and women tend to grieve in different ways. Australian society has generally expected that men fulfill a protector/provider role, and that women fulfill a nurturer/carer role. There are lots of theories and arguments about whether these roles are good or bad, where they came from, and whether they can or should be changed. What we do know for sure is that they continue to have a strong influence on our behaviour and how we experience and respond to our emotions.
Roles And Expectations Of Men And Women In Our Society
How men and women grieve is significantly linked to these roles and the different expectations society has of us. The way in which many men deal with loss and grief can best be understood by thinking about their expected role in society. Despite many changes in our society, it is still part of a man’s role to do nearly all of the dangerous, unhealthy and life threatening work. For example, 95% of deaths and permanent disabilities from workplace injuries are male. Men are generally expected to protect their wives, children, and the community.
How Do Men’s Roles Affect How They Experience And Respond To Their Emotions And Grief?
- may tend not to be as emotionally self-caring as women
- often do not want to be seen to care too much about their own emotional pain
- may have to connect more consciously with their emotions or grief than women need to do
- are often reliant on women for a sense of emotional stability
- may need privacy and a sense of being personally safe before they can face their emotions
- may need times away or alone to think things through, or to express their emotions
- may exhibit and express more anger than women appear to do
- will likely not respond favourably to being expected to be more public or obvious in their emotions than they feel comfortable with
- may tend to move in and out of their grief issues and emotions more than women appear to do
- can often achieve the same progress in grieving through ritual activities (such as doing or making something) as women, who may talk and cry out their grief
- may be more comfortable expressing their grief through action and activity (including thinking things through)
- may throw their hands in the air if things get tough, for example when trying to find support or information
How Can Grieving Men Best Help Themselves?
There are a variety of strategies that have been identified, including:
- by showing courage in allowing themselves to experience painful emotions of grief (rather than pushing them underground)
- by not shutting others out, but keeping communication open in their relationships
- by communicating clearly to others if they need to be alone and to deal with their feelings in private
- by tuning into their bodies, learning to understand the impact of their emotions on it
- by consciously using rituals and activity through which to express and work with their grief
- by slowing down and making time for being reflective and to connect with their grief (making time to grieve in order for there to be time to heal)
- by staying close to reliable friends and talking to them
- by making time to garden or be out in the natural environment
- by keeping up good health through moderate exercise, good food and plenty of sleep and not consuming too much alcohol
How Can We Support Grieving Men?
In addition to the support suggestions in ‘Supporting the bereaved‘ you might consider the following:
- phoning or stopping by their home and ask them “How are you going?”
- ask them openly “What do you need?” rather than “Do you need anything?”, we all need something
- as they may not seek information or support, they may not know about GriefLink or similar information resources or be familiar with searching the internet. You may like to print off some of GriefLink’s pages or offer to help them discover the internet and their own information
- maintain usual patterns of contact with them
“Everyone feels the loss, how we handle it is different” (Male, 62)