What Do You Say To A Grieving Man?

Updated October 5, 2022 by BetterHelp Editorial Team

While everyone may experience the issues mentioned in this article, please note that as part of our initiative responding to the APA Guidelines for Psychological Practice with Boys and Men (2018), these articles will focus on how these topics affect men and boys. We use “men” to refer to people who identify as men.

Give Yourself Permission To Grieve - We're Here To Help

Grief is an utterly universal experience. When there is grief surrounding the loss of a loved one, it can be particularly taxing on your mental well-being for both men and women, regardless of the messages imparted by society.

Grief is also a complicated phenomenon in that many people experience it in vastly different ways. Recent research suggests that grief may affect men differently than women, and that grief reactions can vary between sexes. In some cases, men grieve differently than women grieve, but in the end, grief is a very individual experience. It also differs quite a bit between children and adults.

While grief can be debilitating, the good news is that it tends to dissipate with time, and research tells us that most people, whether they be children or adults, will recover from grief when they depend on social support and healthy habits. Although the emotional pain of grief can make people uncomfortable and coping can be challenging, it’s 100% possible to heal and continue living as part of society.

This article will thus explore what you should say to a grieving man after first giving a general overview of grief and male-specific grieving behaviors; however, many of these tactics, like recommending a grief podcast, can be used to help when determining what to say to a grieving friend of any gender.

Dealing With Grief

Grief is unique to each individual. There are many key factors to the way that grief develops and persists, including the following:

  • The nature of the relationship to the deceased.
  • The way the deceased died.
  • If feelings of responsibility or regret are present.

While everyone grieves differently, psychologists have formulated various stages of grief that are commonly experienced by both men and women. There are different models, including five-, seven-, and even twelve-stage formulations. Here is the most common five-stage model (also known as the Kübler-Ross model):

  • Denial – If the denial stage applies to an individual, it is necessary to work through it for healing to begin. At this point, feelings like sadness, sorrow, and emotional pain are not yet felt.
  • Anger – Once the reality of the loss is no longer denied, it is common to feel some measure of anger. It can be more muted or intense depending on the individual and the nature of the death and relationship to the deceased. It’s normal to wonder, “Why me?” or proclaim that “This isn’t fair.” As part of this model of grief, anger isn’t necessarily unhealthy or a bad thing as it can help us reconnect to the reality of the loss.
  • Bargaining – Bargaining is a common approach to grief in that it is motivated by feelings of guilt and regret. Often, the bereaved desperately desires to move backwards in time to change their relationship with the deceased, or even imagines scenarios in which they could have intervened to prevent the death. We want to negotiate our way out of the hurt, but we must move past the feelings of regret to truly heal.
  • Depression – One characteristic of depression is feelings of emptiness or numbness and losing a loved one will often provoke feelings of emptiness. This is akin to what psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan called a “hole in the real,” one created so painfully by the sudden absence of the loved one. It is entirely natural to feel depressed as part of the grieving process, and it can help us move toward acceptance.
  • Acceptance – There’s a misconception that “acceptance” is a state of being entirely okay with the loss of a loved one. Rather, it’s simply accepting the new normal. There may be moments of intense sadness, anger, etc., but these will be diminished and less frequent once the reality of the loved one’s death is fully accepted. To accept that a loved one is gone can be quite challenging and sad, but it’s necessary to make it through the stages of grief.

It is crucial to remember that this is simply a model that may prove useful for helping us understand how people commonly experience grief. Everyone is different, and there are no rules to how severely a person may be affected by grief or for how long.

How Do Men Tend To Experience Grief?

Some research suggests that men experience grief differently than women. Men tend to be more likely to isolate themselves during their grieving processes, while women tend to seek out more support, often from family and others they have close relationships with. Men’s grief is more commonly expressed through action rather than displays of emotion. They may attempt to cope through escapism, diving headfirst into a new distraction or a new relationship as they grieve.

Some men grieve by throwing themselves into physical activity, such as frequently going to the gym; research shows that exercise is a fantastic tool for releasing emotional expressions related to a significant loss. Although men’s grief may look different than the stereotypical emotional display that is often expected, that does not make it any less valid. Grieving men have still experienced a significant loss and are going through various feelings surrounding the death, regardless of whether they show them in an expected manner.

Grieving men may also be more likely than women to fall into increased substance use and alcohol use as a means of coping, and they may be more likely to engage in risky behaviors to numb their feelings. To grieve in this way is generally not the healthiest way to express emotional pain, but it is a common method of handling a significant loss all the same.

As with mental health in general, these differences between men and women in real life are likely due to both biology and socialization—innate physiological differences and cultural norms. Since men are typically socialized as children onward to adhere to normative masculinity ideology, they may tend to believe they must remain stoic in the face of adversity and that grief shouldn’t lead to displays of vulnerability and emotion.

The problem, however, is that men will feel vulnerable and emotional, as it is completely human and natural in a state of grief. By suppressing these feelings and emotions to be more traditionally “masculine,” they may be more likely to cope with their grief in unhealthy ways that could be self-destructive—e.g., impulsive risk-taking, substance use disorder, and conflict in relationships.

However, everyone is different, and some more typically male grieving styles may be healthy despite a possible tendency to withdraw and isolate rather than open up. Solitude may help some grieve more effectively, while others may benefit more from talking through their feelings.

What Do You Say To A Grieving Man?

It can be hard to know what to say when someone loses a loved one. They may open up and talk about their feelings—they may not. In any event, they will likely appreciate your companionship as they grieve. Remember, a person does not have to be outwardly sad, afraid, or crying to be grieving; this is just an image that society has given us, but it’s not representative of what all men feel or how all men act.

You can also work on an activity together that’s unrelated to the loss and unlikely to cause sadness. Someone who is grieving may find joy or comfort in an activity that they enjoy or are good at. Either way, working on a goal-oriented project can be a huge source of comfort for many men. Even if they don’t wish to cry or talk together, being with another person who can distract their focus from their emotional pain can be extremely helpful and healing.

Moreover, you can help with a project that pays homage to the lost loved one, likely allowing the bereaved to feel more at peace with their loss. The acceptance stage of grief may be reached by paying respectful tribute, whether through planting a tree, releasing a balloon, or engaging in some other meaningful activity to honor the person they lost. The exact activity you do to honor the person who has passed away may not matter as much as the way you lead the man in your life to express their pain, and the way you respond to any displays of grief that they show.

Remember that everyone grieves differently. Some men may find solace in physical labor or exercise, while others may not. Some may cry and outwardly express their emotions, while others may avoid talking and choose not to show their feelings. Some may find it helpful to spend time with family, friends, and others they have close relationships with, while others may prefer space and time to themselves.

Give Yourself Permission To Grieve - We're Here To Help

The most important thing you can do is offer support and give the man in your life the space to respond and express his emotional pain if he wishes. You can do this by offering both your presence and companionship as well as your ear. Let them know you care in a few words: “Hey, I’m here for you”; “Do you want to talk about it?”; “Hey, how’ve you been holding up?”

It may seem terse, but offering support to a grieving man through a few loving words can make a world of difference and lead the man in your life to open up.

Overcoming Grief

Mental health professionals are specially trained to help us better grasp our emotions, including the fear, anxiety, regret, and sadness that accompanies grief. Taking the important step to get help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and many men have benefitted from talking with a mental health expert. For an example of BetterHelp professionals getting individuals through the grieving process, see below.

“Dan has been wonderful so far, excellent at listening to talking points, as well as giving insightful, thought-provoking responses. He has helped me deal with heavy topics such as grief. I appreciate the short but valuable time I've been able to use his assistance in the grieving and growing process.”

“He's a genuine man who listens first and it isn't hard talking to him.”

Conclusion

It’s crucial to note that you do not have to go through grief alone. Consult the professionals at BetterHelp anytime for additional help.

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