Losing a Loved One: Gender Differences
Men and women often grieve differently. Whilst this section may prove helpful in understanding the gender differences, it is important not to stereotype our views and recognise the uniqueness of each grieving individual.
Unfortunately, many young boys are taught to be “strong” and to hide their emotions. Society has placed huge expectations on the roles of men who learn in childhood things like “big boys don’t cry”, “stand up and take it like a man”, and “you are the man of the house”. It is therefore difficult for men to ask for support and ever harder to accept it.
With the loss of a loved one, men are often silent and less expressive. Men tend to think their way through grief, rather than feel. Typically then, society has an expectation that men will grieve in the following ways:
- Be emotionally strong
- Don’t cry
- Don’t ask for assistance
- Be non-expressive
- Shake hands, don’t hug
- Don’t talk about it
Women are taught at an early age to nurture and express emotions. Young girls are surrounded by toys which teach them to care for, talk to and love, such as dolls and teddy bears as opposed to trucks and racing car sets which focus on speed, fixing and building. With the loss of a loved one, a woman therefore freely talks about the loss, seeks out assistance such as joining support groups and therapists and freely visits the burial place and reflects on the loved one. Society therefore also has an expectation that women will:
- Cry openly
- Talk about feelings
- Ask for assistance
- Fall apart and rely on others
Both men and women need permission to grieve in a safe and non judgemental environment in order to cope with their loss and its respective effects on their lives. Because some people choose not to talk about their feelings does not mean they don’t have feelings, but instead may not have the words to express their feelings.
By acknowledging that we all grieve differently we can assist men to cope with loss and pain in their own individual way. Grieving men need to be given permission to feel their pain, express their emotions and to seek assistance.