There seems to be an on-going debate about men and their masculinity to do with bereavement. They are seen mostly as aggressively independent, do not show their feelings and certainly NEVER cry! Is this perhaps an integral part of a particular British taboo? Seriously though, I do however also understand and am aware, that traditional attitudes about masculinity are different in various ethnic groups, countries and cultures. There will also be differences according to age and social class in some areas.
It is not easy for those who try to help them grieve, as there appears to be a lot of denial and repression together with reaction to loss. He would try desperately hard to ‘go it alone’ – after all he is probably the head of the family and as such he would ‘take charge’ of everything.
As is often the case, men tend to hide their feelings and emotions, and do not express them very much. The danger lies then in ‘incomplete mourning’ and silent grief is carried through later years. This could lead to an insufferable burden of guilt and rage, with built up sorrow, which could lead to self-destruction in many ways.
Society makes assumptions between how men and women should grieve, and the adjustments they have to make. The main assumption that is made is that men and women respond in similar ways, and distinctions are not always made about the circumstances of the death, or whether it was the loss of a parent, partner, friend or child. Consequently, informative conclusions for me the counsellor about men’s grief are difficult to reach or assess.
So how can a Counsellor help?
- Breaking down barriers and forming a confidential bond with the client.
- Assisting the client define and clarify their own goals.
- Understanding who they really are, therefore natural to feel loss and grief.
- How much they have been influenced by the male socialisation process.
- Describing in plain language what emotions they feel in a ‘safe’ environment.
- How they can make sense of the situation.
- Outside help if needed is discussed.
- Overcome gender based biases.
Grieving male clients can gain considerable relief from overcoming their lack of a ‘feeling language’. They can be released from their emotional imprisonment by being enabled to identify, describe and understand what they are experiencing as ‘normal’ grieving.
They begin to realise that they are not uniquely inadequate and to begin to throw off self-imposed shackles.
Once they have embarked upon this process, anxiety levels drop, and they are able to consider other ways of working through their grief.
I would never underestimate a male client’s ability to deny his feelings following a death. The often unspoken devastation, confusion and hurt that the male client has experienced through the death of a loved one can accentuate the anger and guilt which forms part of the normal grieving process.
Coupled with men’s inability or general reluctance to express feelings, the result can be:
- Explosive violence
- An overall feeling of tension or unease
- A frustration at not being in total control (i.e. being unable to prevent death).
I read somewhere that “Males stereotypically, are supposed to ‘go it alone’, to achieve individually, and to be aggressively independent. Such lifetime behaviours would likely prepare men to deal with death and loss in a much less interactional manner than women.”
Grief work can take time and it needs to be tailored to suit the particular adult as we all grieve differently, be it male or female. Positive outcomes are achieved by interactions with others and must be promoted as soon as possible after bereavement.
I would aim to motivate the client to endeavour to establish a new identity at the earliest opportunity by positive thinking, goal setting and achieving rewards identified through social contacts, and emotional support with family and friends.