This is an article printed in Helping Hands by Katherine Fair Donnelly and Judith Haimes. I invite you (man and woman) to read it in its entirety and to think about your perspectives and society’s perspectives on men and grieving. Although I feel that we are growing, as a society, in our views on such matters – through my counseling experiences, I still hear some men apologizing for crying and I still hear some women saying that seeing their husband cry makes them uncomfortable because he’s supposed to be the strong one in the family. So, please read this article and ask yourself, “How do I feel about this?”
A Man’s Grief
It has been said that a man would rather suffer a heart attack than let his emotions show. Yet, experts say that tears are a healthy outlet and may account for why women outlive men, in part.
Most men fear the loss of their masculine identity if they openly display any signs of distress and often mask their feelings, hiding them from view. Fearful of being considered weak or unmanly, they endure the psychological impact of their loss; they must also brace themselves to meet the ever-present eye of public opinion.
In building an image to fit what our society expects, a man who reveals his emotions during a time of tragedy believes his is looked down upon by others. After all, have we not been taught that a “real” man will be strong in time of crisis . . . strong in time of war . . . strong under fire?
But, bereavement doesn’t rank side by side with other stress factors. The loss of a loved one transcends the barriers of do’s and don’ts for emotional behavior. The honest gut emotion of crying is similar to lancing a wound to drain the infection ---and a man or a woman is entitled to the right of diminishing the pain of sorrow.
For example, it is a natural response for a man to experience the same devastating upheaval in grieving the death of a child that a woman does. In suffering a loss of such magnitude, it is also natural for a man to deal with feelings of anger, guilt, anxiety, depression, frustration, and other real and gnawing thoughts. Grieving is a period of adjustment – for men as well as women.
A primary fear of men who hold in their grief and painful thoughts is losing control if they “let go.” They also fear emotional involvement – in the sense that if they start to talk, they will become vulnerable. For these reasons, a lot of men do their crying in private, preferring to be alone when they are hurting. But, in doing so, they may commit a great injustice to themselves as well as to their loved ones.
Most men cannot grieve because they do not know how other men feel. This cannot be emphasized strongly enough. Men who believe they must contain their emotions also believe that other men know how to handle those feelings. So, their reasoning is: “I have to be as stoic and strong as they are. Surely they must not be feeling the way I am. See how unemotional they are—there must be something wrong with me for feeling this way.”
Often, men are simply unaware that other men are really suffering the same way, struggling with the same inner pain, and the same conflicts of guilt and anger. They can’t conceive that this is “normal” behavior for a man who is grief stricken. When a man hears another man speak of a parallel tragedy, he then becomes aware that other men do indeed feel as he does. Suddenly, it hits him: “I am not the only man who feels like this!”
It is so important for men to be in touch with their feelings and experiences – and no matter what these are, to know they are valid and okay. Not every man has a similar reaction, but it is hoped each will permit himself a healthy grief process without the chains of the macho roles imposed upon him.
Sometimes it is difficult for a man to understand just what is going on inside himself. He may have trouble identifying feelings of grief and may not know how to deal with them. Counselors can help if they are aware that many times they need to give men permission to express pain, usually in the form of tears. But it is equally important that counselors indicate that tears are not the only signs of grief.
It is imperative for men to realize grief is a process that must be gone through. As one bereaved father said, “We grow according to how we experience this process. . . There is no healthy way around it –only through it.”
Personal note: If you are a man who is grieving, or you know a man who is grieving – you/they may want to participate in a support group. It is in a support group that men will see other men sharing stories and expressing their pain through tears and anger. It is in a support group that men will see that it is ok to feel this way, and more importantly, to express these emotions openly.
So, how do you feel about this? Is it time to change your perspective?
Until next week, please be gentle with yourself.
P.S. If you have found this posting or previous postings helpful, please consider making a donation to The Bereavement Center. We are a non-profit organization that serves the community, and we operate solely on donations from families, clients and the community. As always, your donation will be greatly appreciated and acknowledged.