Men and Grief: Don’t Man Up, It’s Good To Talk
Losing a loved one is an incredibly difficult life event to go through, and though there is definitely no one-size-fits-all way for a man to deal with grief, it’s important to try and work through it as best as you can. And the best way to do that? To talk. We’re a bit crap at that at the best of times, but when you’re grieving it becomes even more important. We asked Lianna Champ, a bereavement counsellor who is passionate about improving our relationship with death and dying, to tell us why men traditionally don’t open up – and why this needs to change.
If we look back at years gone by, men were always the hunter-gatherers, providing food and shelter and protecting the women and children. This continued when men went out to work while the women looked after the house, along with the emotional rollercoaster of bringing up the children, sharing the ups and downs with the other women. This form of ‘chatting over the garden fence’ was an efficient way of processing emotional traumas as they happened and many a tragedy was worked through before it took hold.
Men were busy, working. They focused on being the family rock. If the women and children were threatened, the men provided the protection.
The result of this? For centuries men have been told not to indulge their grief. To ‘man up and get on with it.’
Fast forward to today and the men still bear this mantle of being the one who should be strong. But just as they experience the joys of life in equal measure to the women, when it comes to the losses – whether through a death, redundancy, divorce, etc., they are still expected to carry on regardless.
Men are good at cracking a joke or keeping busy with hobbies, over-working or hiding in their man caves to distract themselves from their emotional reaction to the losses and traumas that life throws at them.
When we are happy or receive good news, we want to share it with loved ones in our lives and even those who aren’t in our lives get splashed with our excitement. When we receive sad or bad news, it should be exactly the same – both emotions need equal expression.
And yet men are still programmed to be the strong one for the family, believing that they should be the one who doesn’t fall apart or let their tears show.
But what happens to all this unresolved emotional pain? Well, it just builds up and if this keeps happening, like a pressure cooker, the lid will eventually explode. This will be expressed in anger or other damaging emotions, thoughts and distractions. I often find that anger is not an emotion in its own right but stems from either sadness or fear. Next time you feel angry, ask yourself what you are frightened of or what is making you sad. You must be honest with yourself and here you will find what it is that is affecting you.
Verbalising our emotions at the time we experience them is an extremely powerful release and can prevent this build up of emotional pain. We have to move away from the assumption that men are tough and made of Teflon. We must not make them the forgotten grievers.
Society today is much more fragmented, much faster paced and some of us don’t even know our neighbours, so it is even more important in this day and age that we accept that we are all emotional beings with the privilege of being able to voice our feelings and convey and transmit how we feel when something sad or bad happens to us. Therefore it is vital for our emotional sanity that we are able to do this safely. Society is so good at teaching us how to gain things but it doesn’t teach us how to lose things – especially the people we love.
Men have just as much right as women to feel, to cry, to reach out, to need and to give and receive love. The greatest thing in life is to love and to be loved. In these days of equality in everything, we should be thanking Prince William and Prince Harry for their honesty in sharing their struggles with grief twenty years after the death of their mother, Princess Diana. Also our sporting hero Rio Ferdinand, for speaking so openly without censor, of the pain and confusion he felt during the illness and death of his wife. They have shown us that it’s ok to struggle when someone we love has died.
We know that talking through our losses is the best thing we can do. We do not need judgement, comparison or comment but just need to be listened to with an open heart. It does feel strange and makes us extremely vulnerable when we start to open up and that is natural when we are doing something we are not used to doing. Keep going, putting your pain into words is one of the greatest and most healing things you can do. It takes courage and by sharing your feelings with others you will be showing them that it’s ok to open up too.
Lianna Champ has over 40 years’ experience in grief counselling and funeral care and is author of practical guide, How to Grieve Like A Champ