How (and Why) Grief Looks Different for Men
Every single person—male or female—grieves in her or his own unique way. Factors such as religious upbringing, cultural perspective, personal beliefs and relationships, the cause of death, and even the time of year when death occurred can all affect the way someone handles loss in their life. This being said, however, there are some universal human experiences that make grief look similar across the board…until you start comparing men and women.
Although any generalization of grief is just that, a generalization, being aware of some of the gender-specific differences in the ways people grieve can help you and your loved ones get through a difficult time.
After experiencing a loss, men are more likely to:
- Grieve in isolation
- Withdraw from the world and others
- Lose themselves in distractions
- Start a new relationship
- Develop a dependency on alcohol and/or drugs
- Engage in risk-taking behaviors
- Avoid any mentions or memories of the deceased
- Minimize their feelings
- Experience anger and/or aggression
- Experience physical rather than emotional symptoms of grief
- Fail to consider self-care
- Refuse to ask for help or join support groups
- Not reach out to social networks, friends, and family
- Try to “overcome” their loss
- Commit suicide
Why Men Grieve This Way
Although research on the reasons behind the gender differences regarding grief is always being updated and refined, most experts agree on a few things. First, that socialization and culture play a big role. In our society, boys and men are often raised to believe that they must be strong and stoical in times of struggle or in the face of pain. This translates directly to the loss of a loved one, in which they may not have the experience or resources or support to know how to open up. This internalization of loss leads to the isolation, the action-oriented coping skills, and the physical symptoms of male grief. For example, a man who throws himself into work or remarries soon after the death of a wife is often coping with his loss rather than running away from it.
Biology may also play a role. Male hormones and nervous system development could impact the way stress acts as a trigger, meaning that the physical symptoms and emotional withdrawal are based in the body rather than the mind.
No matter how the man in your life is grieving, it is important to be supportive in a way that helps him. Talk-based therapy, which helps many people in similar situations, might not be the answer. Instead, ask him how you can help. Read up on the subject of male grief. And, most importantly, avoid being judgemental or creating expectations based on how you would react in a similar situation.