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- 85% of participants who seek grief support after the death of a child, spouse, or parent are women.
- Males who repress or deny their grief may suffer from chronic depression, chronic anxiety, as well as physical complaints including headaches and fatigue.
- Males often find that “doing” helps them cope. This may include overworking or finding several activities in an attempt to distract themselves from the pain of loss.
Understanding the Masculine Side of Grief: Why Boys are Dying to Cry
Grief can be defined as the acute pain that accompanies loss. Men, women, and children can experience grief after the death of a loved one, animal, or beloved public figure. Grief can also take place after a major life event including the loss of a job or divorce (Psychology Today, n.d.). Grief is complex and research shows the expression of grief differs by gender. Theories about gender patterns focus on biology and socialization. The messages boys and girls receive during childhood directly impact the way they grieve. Boys are often discouraged from crying and showing vulnerability while girls are allowed to express a range of emotions (Janssen, 2019). Due to early socialization messages boys turn into men who often remain silent or grieve in isolation which correlates with research that shows males are more likely to use strategies of avoidance, intellectualization, and minimization when grieving (Doka & Martin, 2010).
Culture and race also plays a role in the grief process. It is highly adaptive for Black boys to be stoic and rigid as a form of survival as accepting grief and not processing it has become an accepted element of their lived experience (Jones, 2016). Black adolescents experience grief from multiple lenses including loss, trauma and the psychological impact of oppression (Lipscomb & Ashley, 2018) . Research suggests if you’ve experienced trauma, you’ve experienced grief, as these often accompany each other (Rosenthal, 2015). Recently, the world lost a superior athlete, while his family and friends lost a son, husband, father, and friend. The death of Kobe Bryant touched many lives and many have commented on the vulnerability that was shown as boys and men of all races and ethnicities grieved in public. Many observed professional athletes crying in public and embracing each other as they grieved out loud. Boys were able to witness crying in public as safe and a part of the grieving process. The outward expression of grief is important to recognize as society often does not allow males to feel comfortable to do so (Meekhof, 2020). Suppressing sorrow can have long lasting effects and feel as severe as the grief itself. Boys who repress their grief are often at a greater risk for health complications which may reflect the impact of internalized stress (Meekhof, 2020). Males appear to be more susceptible to developing a reliance on alcohol or engaging in risk taking behaviors as well as somaticizing emotional and psychological pain following a loss (Janssen, 2019). Understanding the differences in expression of grief enables us to support each other when we have the greatest need for love, patience, and guidance.
Effective Ways to Support Grieving Boys…
Encourage him to be patient, kind and caring with himself
- Offer a space for him to share sorrow, anger, confusion, fear, and loneliness.
- Provide ongoing patience and support.
- Offer or suggest an activity as boys often cope with grief by “doing”.
- If you see symptoms of depression, or anxiety express concern and help by finding resources in his community.
Doka, K., & Martin, T. (2010). Grieving beyond gender: Understanding the ways men and women mourn. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Rutledge.
Druck, K. (2013, May 20). How men grieve. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.kendruck.com/blog/how-men-grieve-on-goodmenproject-com/
Janssen, J. S. (2019). Understanding the way men grieve. Social Work Today. Retrieved From https://www.socialworktoday.com/archive/exc_0816.shtml
Jones, B. (2016). Dealing with grief is essential to manhood. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://spokesman-recorder.com/2016/07/13/dealing-griefes-sential-manhood/
Lipscomb, A. E., & Ashley, W. (2018). Black male grief through the lens of racialization and oppression: Effective Instruction for graduate clinical programs. International Research in Higher Education, 3 (2).
Meekhof, K. (2020, January 29). What Kobe Bryant’s death has taught us about men and grief. [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/widows-guide-healing/202001/what-kobe-bryants-death-has-taught-us-about-men-and-grief
Psychology Today (n.d.) What is grief ? Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/grief
Rosenthal, M. (n.d.). The secret to processing PTSD grief is learning to mourn. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from https://www.anxiety.org/grief-and-trauma-ptsd
Wolfelt, A. D. (2013). Helping a man who is grieving. [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://griefwords.com/index.cgi?action=page&page=articles%2Fhelping11.html&site_id=7
Written By: Michelle Pigott, M.A.