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Grief and Gender: Is Men’s Grieving Style Different from Women’s

In this post about grief and masculinity, I share my struggle with my grieving style as I learn to adjust my pattern of grieving to help me cope with the loss of my loved one.

Sometimes I wrestle with how to deal with grief as a man. There are moments when I am coaching myself out of grief. During these moments, I hear echoes of words such as “Be a man”, “Handle this grief like a grown-up”, “are you not a man?”, “Why are you grieving like a woman” in my head. I would verbalise my thoughts and ask myself, “should this be done like a man?”

If you’ve read a few of the posts, you’ll know that I am anti-stoic when it comes to grieving the death of a loved one. You have also heard me say, “Grieving is unique, and everyone has their way of coping with grief and loss.” Despite this, I have experienced ferocious internal battles. I have lost a number to the thought that men handle grief differently.

I occasionally compared my mourning and grieving to a ‘perceived standard’ of how a man should grieve the death of a loved one, like a royal rumble of male vs female grief. I felt lost in my grief and became confused about what to do and how I should feel.

Most men are not as comfortable expressing their emotions or discussing their feelings as women are. These were pressures from within, and I pondered on how and when they got there.

As humans, we want our thoughts, emotions, and actions justified. We do this by finding someone to validate them. I also wanted my thoughts and emotions validated. I wanted to know if there’s a particular way men should grieve and if I was grieving right. I needed some armouries to deal with these pondering thoughts about grieving like a man.

The fundamental questions I pondered on were “is the reaction of grief meant to be different for men?”, “if there’s no one way to handle grief, then how should men handle grief?”

I seized every opportunity to research, watch videos, listen to podcasts and read books about coping with grief and loss when my grief relented or went on a brief break. On these occasions, I wanted to know if gender affects grief and how to adapt and adjust to coping with the loss of my loved one.

I have reflected on why I felt perplexed and at a loss with this aspect of my grief. I intend to share a summary of my discovery and how it has helped me cope with the grief and loss of my loved one. I also hope this post proves as a resource to help you on your grief healing journey too.

There’s a script that most young men go by. Can I be bold to say that these scripts are not written but have been woven into the fabrics of culture, family, and society? I feel the script goes something like this; As we are taught to be in control, protect, provide, and decision-makers, we are taught to be in charge.

We have also learned that showing our emotions is a sign of weakness. The result is that men learn the difference between autonomy and intimacy and how to separate them. As a result, men find it easier to suppress their pain and be more private about their feelings or experiences, since they don’t want their burden to be placed on anyone but themselves.

Is men's grieving style different from women's. close up image of a bare back picture of a man with no top with his hands on his shoulder

It turns out that what I was experiencing is known as dissonant grief. I imagined that you bent your head as you read that word whilst looking puzzled. I did the same when I first stumbled on the word.

Dissonant grief occurs when one’s natural experience and expression of grief clashes with what they think is expected and acceptable. When someone who is typically “strong” or unemotional becomes overwhelmed by emotion, or when someone who expects to be flooded with feelings is not confusion, shame, and repression can emerge.

This could be a man whose grief needs to be expressed, but he worries that society won’t allow him to do that. It could also be a woman who feels guilty for not crying enough or not crying at all. Maybe those around you don’t seem to let you express your grief how you see fit for you.

The second lesson I learnt about the pattern of grieving was that there is such a thing as a masculine and feminine way of grieving. Some women may grieve in a predominantly masculine manner. Some men may be more feminine in their approach to grief.

The masculine type of grieving is also known as instrumental grief. The feminine type of grieving is known as intuitive grief. Let’s dive in to unpack what this means and possibly how you, too, can identify what your grieving style is.

Style of Grief: Intuitive Griever or Feminine Grief

We refer to the intuitive style of grief as feminine grief. A person with an intuitive grieving style experiences and expresses their grief primarily through their moods and emotions. A woman is more likely to be an intuitive griever.

Intuitive grievers tend to develop more intense emotional symptoms and share their feelings openly with others to cope with their loss. They are more likely to seek and receive support from a range of events, such as self-help groups or one-on-one grief therapy and talk through it.

Grief may seem more challenging to cope with for these people. Still, they may be more effective at coping because of their emotional state and active effort in dealing with their grief.

Recognising that life at the moment differs from what is normal, they depart from their routines, knowing that they can return to them later. Sometimes, they may appear overwhelmed and falling apart.

The following are some examples of behaviours associated with people who grieve in an intuitive or feminine way:

Tell their story over and over again: people who are grieving might repeatedly tell their story as a way to cope. This can help them understand their feelings and cope with their emotions and feel heard and supported.

Feel their way through: Intuitive/feminine grievers may talk to their friends and loved ones about how they are feeling and how they are dealing with the pain.

Remembrance: An intuitive/feminine griever might focus on the remembrance of the loved one and possibly feeling more guilty when moving on to the next phase of life.

Seek support and connection: Rather than trying to fix it or problem solve, some intuitive/feminine grievers seek support as they gain perspective and understanding in working through their grief.

Progressing through the pain of losing a loved one for someone with an intuitive/feminine grieving style involves expressing emotions and exploring them to heal.

Woman in her bed with pillows over her head. Grief and Gender: Is Men's Grieving Style Different from Women's

Style of Grief: Instrumental Griever or Masculine Grief

People who show more attributes related to the instrumental style of grieving are less likely to express emotional feelings and are more likely to desire to master their feelings developed from the loss and master their surrounding environment.

People with instrumental grief characteristics are more likely to be physical, cognitive, and follow a problem-solving approach. They are more likely to direct their energy into activities. Instrumental grievers focus on tasks and activities. Their grief response is expressed physically, cognitively, or behaviourally and looks more like ‘doing’ or ‘taking action.’

There is a greater chance that an instrumental griever is male.Instrumental grievers are more likely to perceive loss as a challenge to overcome than a threat; anger is often the most common expression of emotion.

The following are some examples of behaviours associated with people who grieve in an instrumental or masculine way:

Keeping to themselves: instrumental/masculine grievers tend to keep to themselves and deal with their grief silently rather than expressing it. It is common for them not to want to appear weak in front of others, so they deal with it themselves.

Managed: instrumental/masculine grievers might feel the need to keep their emotions and feelings under control instead of revealing them.

Get on with it: Someone with an instrumental/masculine style of grieving might prefer to move forward with life quickly.

Fix it: Someone with an instrumental/masculine grieving style might prefer to use their own resources to “fix it”. An individual grieving with this approach will focus on solving problems, staying in control, and overcoming grief and emotions as quickly as possible.

A person who experiences this type of grief refuses to experience and express their grief. By refusing to deal with the grief and moving past it, men (or women) can end up rejecting a critical aspect of their personal histories.

One key thing to note is that Instrumental Grievers express their grief by thinking and doing something. (e.g. I could not fix my wife, but I can fix the washing machine)

Instrumental/Masculine grievers would benefit from groups that provide:

  • How-to information (for example, being a single parent).
  • Adventure activities.
  • Informal education as opposed to traditional support groups.

I wondered; is there another type of grieving style because I saw myself in both intuitive grief and instrumental grief?

Style of Grief: Blended Grief

I thought there must be another style of the grieving process as I found myself in some of the instrumental grief too. Intuitive and instrumental grieving are at extreme ends of a continuum. As a result, it is unlikely you will find people who only belong to one form of grieving.

Blended grieving is a style of grieving that sits between extreme intuitive grieving and extreme instrumental grieving. A blended griever possesses both intuitive and instrumental grieving styles. In blended grief, a person expresses grief cognitively (instrumentally) and emotionally (intuitively). Despite this, one kind of grief usually dominates the other.

Why is knowing your style of grief helpful?

That men and women have different ways of expressing grief does not mean that all men will subscribe to the male model and all women to the female model. What I found interesting is that people grieve by following a pattern that resembles the way they cope with life.

You can deal more effectively with the grieving process and cope with the loss of a loved one by identifying your default grieving style. This can help you make a better decision regarding how you will cope and adjust to your loss.

A close up image of the face man of black heritage , heads bowed pinching the bridge of his nose. Grief and Gender: Is Men's Grieving Style Different from Women's

Are there any steps I can take to help myself?

Acknowledge your loss: You can take some time to reflect on your relationship with the deceased by sitting quietly and reflecting on the relationship.

You will only prolong your grief by running from it or denying it, so take action. Consider taking action in honour of your loved one. Ask for help when you need it.

Getting information about grief may provide significant relief to you.

Don’t forget to take care of yourself. Monitor your diet and exercise, and make sure you are resting enough.

It will help if you trust yourself. Despite the loss of loved ones, your memories of them will live on forever. The relationship you have with him or her is a part of who you are and who you will become.

You can read more on the following post:

Why Expressing Your Grief is Essential to Your Healing Journey

How to Accept Your Feelings and Express Your Emotions of Grief with Words

Another area I pondered on was, how can you help a person who is unwilling to talk or ask for help?

Getting support when grieving

Grief can increase the risk of experiencing anger and bitterness. As well as illness, drug abuse, and other physical symptoms, you are less willing to express grief and seek support during your grieving period.

Grieving is a highly personal experience. It doesn’t matter how you grieve. I feel it’s important to share with you that support is available if you have lost a loved one. You can receive support from Balanced Wheel.

By getting the right support, you can deal with your grief more effectively and eventually cope with your loss. You can learn effective ways to express your grief and pain.

You can benefit from having the shared experience of others who are on a similar journey as you instead of trying to work through the grief alone, no matter how masculine or feminine your grieving style is.

Therefore, I offer you a hand of invitation to join our upcoming peer-to-peer bereavement support group.

Please join the support group if you are grieving the death of a loved one? We will start with two bereavement support groups in September.

Would you please complete this interest form to register your interest for any of the next  bereavement support groups? And please send it to someone who would benefit from a bereavement support group.

I’d love to share your coping with grief story too.

I intend to expand the blog and resources on the website to include stories of other people who have lost a loved one, not limited to losing a spouse. I’d love to hear about how you handled grief. Would you please let me know if you would like to share your story.

I am also open to having anyone anonymised if that’s your preferred option. Complete the contact us form with the text “I would like to share my story.”

To Be Continued Next Wednesday…

I would like to hear from you. Would you please share your thoughts, comments and reflections below? Thank you.

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