We all experience losses, big and little, throughout our lives. When enduring a big loss, people fall into patterns that may be considered masculine or feminine ways of reacting.
Men and women tend to process their losses differently, but the way they grieve is affected by many other factors besides gender, such as culture, personality, and temperament. Grief and loss are experienced in unique ways by each individual.
A generalization about gender differences in grieving would be that men tend to focus on feelings of guilt and anger. They are likely to spend more time thinking than feeling. They also tend to act independently rather than rely on others.
Women typically need more support and are expressive with their emotions, which is behavior we tend to associate with grief and loss. However, there is no cookie cutter approach to mourning. In recent years, experts like Kenneth Doka, PhD, have recategorized these types as intuitive and instrumental grief.
Intuitive grief can be associated with our generalizations of the way that women grieve, which includes the following:
- Strong, affective reactions (waves of powerful emotions)
- Expressions that mirror feelings (more like an open book)
Moving forward involves exploring and expressing feelings, progressing through the pain in order to heal.
Instrumental grief can be associated with the masculine way of grieving, which includes the following:
- More thinking than feeling (an inward, quiet process, less expression of emotions)
- Being physical, expressing grief through doing something (I could not fix my son, but
I can fix this broken fence)
So how do you help someone who doesn’t want to talk or ask for help?
- Use logical analysis—figuring out problems by breaking them down into manageable steps (to be less overwhelming)
- Gather information—on new roles (in your household, family, work, etc), supports, faith, to do lists, etc., in order to start implementing
- Use humor—It has much of the same release as crying does, and it’s still okay to laugh
- Provide diversions/distractions—list all supports and assign them to categories
- Good doers (who could take care of the pet, get the paper, etc.)
- Good listeners
- Good respite (who could take a break from the grief and will not ask you about your loss)
Instrumental grievers would benefit more from groups that focus on a how-to (like being a single parent), adventure based, informal or educational, than a traditional support group.
Like any other model for grief, there are several tools you can use with variations for each person. There are always ways to help. You can start by figuring out which support is needed and offer it. And if you need help, ask for what you need. Just know that there is never a wrong way to grieve.