Grief and Gender Differences


Men and Grief - by Jeanne M. Harper

She Cries, He Sighs - by Buz Overbeck


by Jeanne M. Harper MPS

Ken Doka speaks of "disenfranchised grief" that is when loss cannot be openly acknowledged socially sanctioned or publicly I shared. one of the reasons maybe that the "griever is not recognized."

Quite: often that is exactly what happens to men in their families. The stereotypical man is to "be strong and frequently required to not show emotion at the time of death of their loved ones.

Problems this can create may include a bad mood, lack of social support, exclusion from care. The grief may then be intensified, and without support the male griever is ALONE.

Carol Staudacher in her 1991 book MEN AND GRIEF, demonstrates how typical males may respond to death of their loved one. She bases her theory on Havinghurst's Tasks of Mourning which was elaborated by Dr. William Worden in his book GRIEF COUNSELING GRIEF THERAPY. Carol reports from her research that most grievers, male and female, go throuqh Phase One:

PHASE ONE. Retreatinq: temporary manage pain and anxiety shock, numbness, disbelief, confusion, disorientation denial. Goal: Grappling with and testing reality.

Men appear to go through Phase One and Three. Differences for men and women seem to arise in Phase Two:

PHASE TWO. Working through: by confronting and enduring. Having a range of responses by thinking, talking, crying, writing about disorganization in their lives. Goal: Detachment from loved one NOT from emotions; must experience the pain.

Many men have been raised to NOT talk, cry, or reach out (for Support). Therefore, their grief tends to stay inside and can create physical ailments, as studies have shown. Heart attacks, ulcers, cancer are a few of the physical ailments that can be created when the grief stays within. Men who do express, release or completely work through their grief are the EXCEPTION rather than the rule.

The third phase is something most men are exceptional at doing. They can be masters at reorganizing and restructuring because it involves a lot of THINKING. For most men, objective THINKING is their gift.

PHASE THREE. Resolving: reorganizing and restructuring life. Goals: Adjust to Environment-take on new identity Reinvest Time and Energy-develop new goals.

Carol's research shows that men have established four typical male coping styles that are LEGITIMATE and ACCEPTABLE alternatives to WORKING THROUGH grief (Phase 2). These patterns have enabled them to take advantage of their natural gifts and talents.

  1. Remain Silent--They will keep the pain to themselves They appear to not need to communicate about their qrief. The non - communication helps them protect themselves against being vulnerable-which to them is "expressing" qrief through tears, feelings, sharing.
  2. Engaging in "Secret Grief"--This is a method of "solitary mourning" activities, i.e. taking the new puppy for a walk--puppy represents NEW LIFE and crying and feeling as they walk, hug and play with the NEW LIFE. They do this solitary mourning to "spare others from seeing, feeling, experiencing their grief. For most men to do otherwise seems against "cultural expectations".
  3. Taking Physical & Legal Action - Many men immediately attempt to bring control to an "out of control' situation by taking physical and legal action for extended periods of time. Others support and reward them for being "assertive and courageous" in their time of grief.
  4. Becoming Immersed in Activity - Most men become obsessive about activity. They diligently find things to, occupy their time...all of it. They fill "every waking minute" with work, errands, house activities. This immersion consumes time, energy and thought so there is no time for grief, no time for thinking of the loss ahd no time for feeling the grief pain.

Recently, I attended a conference on death education and counseling in Portland. Ken Doka and Terry Martin presented a session on men and grief. They found in their studies that men needed closed groups with separate subjects planned for each session. The material needed to be presented in a problem-solving mode. A method most men feel accustomed to. Supporters of men need to allow for the expression of emotion in ways that are compatible to the male roles {such as the patterns that Staudacher described}. Ask questions "how did you react" rather than "how do you feel". Most men need to return to work as soon as possible. Research showed that most men felt better if they were working (again this corresponds with Staudacher's work).

The important issue is that each gender uses their own STRENGTHS to deal with grief and IN TIME they, both genders, out of their grief. One way of grieving is NOT better than another. Rather there are differences in how they grieve. These differences need to be CELEBRATED, not corrected. Carl Jung says we balance our lives as we become more in touch with their feminine qualities and women become more aggressive and in touch with their male qualities. Each gender's way of coping has negative AND positive aspects.

In conclusion, the tasks of grief [testing the reality, experiencing the pain, adjusting to the environment and reinvesting time and energy back into life], are experienced individually. Respect must be experienced so we do not "disenfranchise" anyone's grief or grieving process due to our stereotypical expectations. Men and women must come to a point where they can learn from each other's methods of grieving, rather than judge these methods. We need to understand their are personality style differences, as well as male/female differences. All differences can be CELEBRATED, it is your choice.

©Alpha-Omega Venture, Jeanne M. Harper, 1113 Elizabeth Ave., PO Box 735 Marinette, WI 54143-0735

SHE CRIES --- HE SIGHS by Buz Overbeck
    1. Most relationships are intrinsically difficult.
       HE: ``Big Picture''      ---       SHE: ``Details''
       HE: ``Thinks''           ---       SHE: ``Feels''
       HE: ``Logical''          ---       SHE: ``Intuitive''
       HE: ``Copes Internally'' ---       SHE: ``Copes Externally'' 
       HE: ``Sighs''            ---       SHE: ``Cries''
    2. Men, Women & Grief
       a. Myths of Parent's Grief
            1.  Men Grieve Differently Than Women
            2.  Men Need To Express Their Feelings
            3.  Both Parents Are Grieving Over The Same Event
       b. Five Facts of Parent's Grief
            1.  The intensity of His grief is dependent on his
                pre-death relationship with the fetus, baby or child. 
            2.  The intensity of Her grief is dependent on the place
                the pregnancy or child held in her hopes, dreams, future,
                self-esteem and self-worth.
            3.  Most fathers resolve (or make peace) with their grief in 
                3 to 6 months.
            4.  Most mothers need 9 to 24 months (or more!) to resolve their
            5.  Most men truly feel their spouse need professional help after
                3 to 6 months.
    1. SHE needs to talk about the event.  She goes over it time and
          again trying to gather every possible detail to explain Why and How.
       HE feels uncomfortable dealing on such a feeling level and finds
          excuses to avoid such confrontations.
    2. SHE takes comfort in her faith.  ``God's Will'' may be the
       only explanation that gives any meaning to the event.
       HE is angry with God, feeling that the event invalidates his religion.
    3. SHE often wants to visit the grave.
       HE feels an aversion to visiting the cemetery.
    4. SHE withdraws, reads books on grief, and writes as a means of
       expressing her pain.
       HE throws himself into his work, hobby, or other activities
       to keep busy and avoid the pain.
    5. SHE expects him to grieve and behave the same as she
       does and thinks he doesn't care when he doesn't. 
       HE needs space to grieve in his own way and resents her for
       imposing her feelings on him.
    6. SHE seeks Support Groups as an outlet for her expression.
       HE wants to avoid showing his pain in front of other people;
       particularly strangers!
    7. SHE has no interest in Sex and resents his desire for it at
       this time.  
       HE wants to make love for the comfort and reassurance that
       comes through intimacy.
    8. SHE knows that her life is irrevocably changed and will
       never be the same again.
       HE wants her and their life back the way it was before the
    9. THEY can sometimes compete with each other to see who is
       grieving the hardest.
   10. THEY seek to escape the event by taking a vacation, moving,
       changing jobs, etc.
   11. THEY seek to numb their pain through Alcohol, Drugs,
       Shopping, Extramarital affairs, or Another Child.
   12. THEY are angry with the Doctor or other authority figures
       involved with the event and have, more than once, discussed
       legal action.
   13. THEY feel betrayed by their family and friends through their
       perceived lack of understanding and caring.
   14. THEY both feel the other person is, in some way, to blame for
       the event.
   15. THEY are both so caught up in their own grief that there is
       no recognition or understanding of the grief experienced by their
       children or extended family members.
    1.  Meet with the potentially, or newly, bereaved parents as soon
        as possible.
    2.  Explain to them the statistical potential for a negative
         marital outcome during the bereavement period.
    3.  Counsel them about the grieving needs and expectations of each
        other and the importance of recognizing and allowing each other the
        natural expression of their grief.
    4.  Explain the Potential Relationship Problems so that they can
        recognize patterns that may develop.
    5.  Encourage and help HER find a local Support Group where she can
        find others who will share her experiences with her.
    6.  Encourage HIM to go to a couple of meetings with her only as an
        observer.  Tell them both that there will be no pressure put on him
        whatsoever to actively participate. Most men will inevitably
        participate if you can just get them there!
    7.  Discourage the making of any decisions that will impact any
        important area of their life for one year!.
    8. If there are other children, encourage them to express and
       discuss their grief openly and honestly, give concern to how the
       child is coping with the experience, and recognize that the child is
       grieving too.
    9. Help move them towards an awareness and acceptance of each
       others grief using the following 3 step guide:
       1.  Compartmentalize The Event
            * List and discuss those elements of grief unique to Her.
            * List and discuss those elements of grief unique to Him.
            * List and discuss those elements of grief common to Both.
       2.  Encourage Individual Grief
            * Help her give him permission to express his grief in his own way.
            * Help him give her permission to express her grief in her own way.
       3.  Encourage Mutual Grief
            * Encourage them to establish periods during each week
              where they can express and share their common feelings.
            * Encourage them to establish periods during the week for
              intimacy and closeness were the loss is not discussed.
            * Encourage them to establish periods during the week or
              month for family activities which include the children, if any.

  |    Buz Overbeck   | Publications For |     UUCP: [email protected]         |
  |     TLC Group     |    Transition    | Internet: buz%[email protected]     |
  |    PO Box 28551   |     Loss and     | Failsafe: [email protected] |
  |  Dallas, TX 75228 |      Change      |    Voice: (214) 681-5303          |

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