Men face unique challenges in resolving grief

[W]hile our culture continually challenges men to engage more in “traditionally female” activities at home, our cultural expectations of their behavior are not often in sync with these notions, especially when it comes to expressing feelings and emotions.

Our society expects men to avoid expressing feelings, to endure stress without giving up and to be able to bear pain. We do not expect to see men openly cry, to express loneliness, sadness or depression or to demonstrate other emotions.

When it comes to dealing with the death of a loved one, men often suppress their grief in light of cultural expectations that they remain strong and in control. But suppressing sadness over a loss can have a long-lasting, even permanent, negative impact on a man’s emotional health. Left buried, unresolved grief can cause prolonged turmoil, bitterness, family problems and ill health.

Hospice of Michigan understands men’s unique needs and offers grief support to help them express and find healthy ways to deal with their feelings.

It starts with an understanding of grieving style. According to Dr. Kenneth J. Doka, senior consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America, grieving is not based on gender, but on style. Doka believes there are three types of grievers. Intuitive grievers talk about, and show, their emotions. Instrumental grievers think through their grief and are “do-ers.” Blended grievers are a combination of both grieving styles.

Additionally, some people are more private about showing their emotions. Hospice of Michigan’s grief support groups address the fact that not all men are comfortable talking to other men about their grief.

Gender stereotypes also influence how grief counselors help men process their grief according to personality labels society assigns:

  • A man who grew up believing “boys don’t cry” learns that grief does not lessen him as a man
  • A “competitive” man who always strives for the best understands that while he can’t “beat” death, he can redirect his fight in beneficial ways
  • A “protective” man who feels responsible for his family and friends focuses on the blessing of what he was able to do for his loved one
  • A “provider” who immersed himself in work to ensure his family’s security receives coping skills to navigate the natural difficulties in returning to the workplace
  • A “problem solver” who fixes everything around the house resolves the guilt he feels for not preventing death
  • A “controller” who likes to be in charge of everything realizes grief is unpredictable and, while he can’t control his emotional response, he can channel his behavioral response in positive ways
  • A “self-sufficient” man who was raised to be independent learns that letting his down his guard and sharing feelings with others is actually a sign of courage

Grief counselors help men process grief by working through their shock, pain and anxiety; emotional, social and physical difficulties and feelings of guilt. Men are encouraged to find new goals and directions in restructuring their lives.

“There isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to effectively deal with grief,” Karen Monts, practice manager, counseling services for Hospice of Michigan, said. “We all experience life from our own unique perspective. If our natural responses to circumstances conflict with society’s expectations of how we ‘should’ behave, dealing with the grief over losing a loved one can be especially difficult. For men who feel obliged to remain stoic because that’s what’s expected of them, their unresolved grief can lead to even bigger problems down the road. It’s important for everyone to freely express pain and sadness.”

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