By Deborah Mitchell
Months after Rick’s father died, Rick’s wife Cathy began to worry about her husband. “Rick has never cried or talked about his father’s death,” she says. “Now he spends all of his free time working on an old ’58 Chevy he and his dad had bought right before he died. I’m worried that he’s not handling his dad’s death in a healthy way.”
Generally, men and women don’t respond to grief in the same ways.
“It’s a normal life event that throws us into instability,” say Tom Golden, LCSW, internationally known grief counselor and author of Swallowed by a Snake: The Gift of the Masculine Side of Healing.
Here’s why men grieve about death, divorce, and other losses the way they do.
What Cathy perceives as an unhealthy response is, in fact, a healthy one. Rick’s behavior is typical of the masculine side: he is expressing his grief privately, and by restoring the Chevy, he is honoring his father’s memory. Cathy, however, grieves from the feminine side: by crying and talking with family and friends.
“It’s not a matter of men and women grieving differently,” explains Golden. “Everyone has a masculine and feminine side. Generally, men tend to use more of the masculine side and women the feminine.”
While women typically express and share their grief and look to the past, most men won’t verbalize their pain and often deny they are sad. They are also more likely to take action, such as setting up a trust fund or creating a memorial.
“The important thing is that the activity connects you with the pain,” says Golden. “If it does, then it’s a healing process.”
Men are taught to hide their tears, and to replace their sadness with anger. During therapy, Golden says at first men get very angry, then the tears come. With women, the situation is reversed: first come the tears, then the anger. “Women have been shamed out of their anger,” explains Golden, “so they use the strength of tears; men use their strength of anger to move into their tears.”
Sometimes the anger is unhealthy. One man tore the sink out of his estranged wife’s kitchen, says Frank Williams, PhD, director of the Family Counseling Agency in Tucson, Arizona. Another man, whose wife died of cancer, ransacked the church because he was angry at God. Men who experience deep grief are more likely to successfully commit suicide, while women tend to attempt it but fail. Studies also show that more men than women act out by abusing drugs or alcohol.
Once both men and women understand that a mixture of their masculine and feminine sides are at work in the grieving process, perhaps they will be more willing to allow the people in their lives to grieve in their own ways
* Deborah Mitchell is a freelance writer specializing in health and earth-friendly issues. She has had more than a dozen books published and also writes for several professional and consumer publications.
At ChristianWorks for Children our mission is to represent the goodness of God to children and their families by continuing Jesus Christ’s example of service. Click here to learn more about our programs and support groups. Our adult grief support group Love Never Dies offers support to anyone over the age of 18 who is experiencing grief and loss.