Society has not made it easy for men to grieve. When experiencing the intense, life-defining pain and struggle that comes from the death of a loved one, or the loss of a marriage, job, or some other gut-wrenching loss, men find themselves discouraged from emoting, and yet condemned for not.
An entirely different article could be written about why that is; why masculinity is criticized for expressing tender feelings, how men are hard-wired differently than women, and so on. However, the discussion of this article is not philosophically based, it is functional: What can I do to help a man I know is going through a particularly hard time.
Although every man is unique and one-of-a-kind, there are general patterns that most, if not all, men follow when it comes to coping.
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Here are three examples:
Men often prefer coping in private, rather with others or in groups
Of all the differences between women and men, this is the most notable and obvious. Stereotypical grieving in the United States is shown by a person (typically a woman) being surrounded by a close group of friends and family as she weeps about the loss of a loved one. She is smothered with hugs, tissues, and words of encouragement, often resulting in the supporting cast sobbing as well.
It needs to be said that there are certainly men who grieve in this way, and if that is what comes naturally to them, they should be fully encouraged and supported in that way. However, many men will confess that this is not how it works for them. Rather, they will describe the need for time alone to work through this. Close friends and family often struggle with this (particularly women) because that is not how they personally understand true grieving to work, but many men rely on this to fully cope.
Men tend to respond more cognitively to their loss than emotionally
This also has a tendency to confuse those around them. Although most men will typically find themselves in tears at one point or another during a tough stage of life, emoting via crying is not often the ‘standard operating procedure’. Instead, men often digest the loss mentally, working through what the loss means personally to them, and how best to move forward.
Yes, ‘cognitive coping’ may seem unnatural or insufficient to the female gender, but one must remember that in most cases, this is how men have been taught to approach life’s problems…through a problem-solving approach. Of course this is not always done perfectly, and it’s important that one’s emotions enter the equation, but for many men it is exactly that: a tough equation to solve.
Men rely on taking action towards future, rather than focusing on the past
Connecting with both the private and cognitive approaches to coping, men often move through the latter stages of grieving through just that: movement. After such a difficult ordeal, it is important for men to feel and know that they are actually moving forward in their grief and their life.
It is quite common for resolve to change one’s habits and one’s life to occur. Men often figuratively ‘turn over a new leaf’ and recognize that they can’t change the past, but they can do something about the future. If you know a man who is currently grieving, be sensitive, respectful, and supportive of how they move through the coping process; it may be different from how you envision in should be, but such a deep, internal process must be unique to the man who walks it.
Written by Clif, a freelance writer for Serenicare Funeral Home in Arizona. My writing interests include health psychology, expositional writing, and gender studies. Thanks for reading this article!