What Do You Say To A Grieving Man?
While everyone may experience the issues mentioned in this article, please note that as part of our initiative to respond 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.
Grief is a universal experience. When there is grief surrounding the loss of a loved one, it can be particularly taxing on the mental well-being of anyone of any gender, regardless of the messages imparted by society. Grief is a difficult 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 others, but in the end, grief is a very individual experience.
While grief can be debilitating, it tends to dissipate with time, and research tells us that most people 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 possible to heal and continue living. 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, note that many of these tactics 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 with 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 people of all genders. 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 the relationship with 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 as it can help one 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 desire to move backward in time to change their relationship with the deceased or even imagine 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; losing a loved one often provokes feelings of emptiness. This is akin to what psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan called a “hole in the real,” created so painfully by the sudden absence of a loved one. It is entirely natural to feel depressed as part of the grieving process, and it can help one move toward acceptance.
Acceptance – There’s a misconception that “acceptance” is a state of being 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 can fade and be 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 often necessary to make it through the stages of grief.
It can be 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 as to how severely a person may be affected by grief or for how long.
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—or 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.
One of the most effective things you can do is offer support and give the man in your life the space to respond and express their emotional pain if they wish. 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 have you been holding up?” Remember to try and use a considerate, empathetic, and caring tone of voice. 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 to you.
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.
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 can be a productive 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 expectedly.
Men who are grieving 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 can still feel vulnerable and emotional, as it is entirely human and natural to 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.
Online Counseling With BetterHelp
If you’re going through the grieving process, know that you don’t have to face it alone. Grief can lead to symptoms of depression, which can make it difficult to leave the house. If you’re interested in speaking with a professional, you can do so from the comfort of your home by using online therapy through BetterHelp. BetterHelp allows you to connect through video calls, phone calls, or in-app messaging at your convenience. Though you’ll never have to leave your home, you can still have access to the support you need during this challenging time in your life.
The Efficacy Of Online Counseling
Online counseling has been shown to be helpful for a variety of mental health-related concerns, including grief after bereavement. In one study, researchers found that internet- and mobile-based interventions for grief were “effective against symptoms of grief, PTSS, and depression.” The largest effect sizes were observed for those living with PTSS, or post-traumatic stress syndrome.
“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.”
Grief can be a complex process for anyone, and no two people have the same experience. If you’re comforting a grieving man, it may matter most that you are simply there for them through one of life’s hardest moments. Sometimes, it becomes necessary to get support from a professional in order to move forward. Taking the important step of getting help is a sign of strength, not weakness, and many men have benefitted from talking with a mental health expert. Working with an online therapist can allow those experiencing grief to get support from the comfort of their home and cope with the fear, anxiety, regret, and sadness that often accompany loss.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How do you comfort a grieving man?
Men grieve and process grief differently than women, and not all men grieve the same as other men. Oftentimes, simply letting men know that you’re there can go a long way. As discussed in the article, statements like, “I’m here for you if you want to talk or just sit together,” or “How are you?” can help more than you might think.
Simply being present can go a long way, too. Consider what this person likes to do in their spare time. Invite them to go fishing, to the movies, out to a trivia bar, to watch a game, or play some backyard football if they enjoy physical activity; this may help take their mind off the grief for a moment.
You can also simply sit with them and not talk or talk about things unrelated to their grief. This can give them a reprieve from the grief that’s likely been constantly on their mind. Depending on the man’s personality, you could be forward and ask them if there is any way that you can help. They may respond with suggestions, or they may not have much to say. Let them know that it’s ok to not be ok right now, and it’s ok whether they want to talk or not.
How do men grieve differently?
Men, though not always, can be less open about what they are feeling. Grief may be expressed via withdrawal, outward shows of frustration or anger, or increasing or decreasing output at work. They may cry, turn to substance use, and do any other number of things to try and feel better. They are less likely than women to be communicative about what they are going through and are more likely to try to continue “business as usual” as a means of coping. Due to common societal pressures on men to be “strong” and common sayings like, “man up,” men may feel that opening up or fully feeling their grief is a weakness, causing them to bottle these things up or ignore them potentially. Every individual, no matter their gender, grieves in their own way.
- Previous ArticleHow a Grief Podcasts May Help You Cope With Loss
- Next ArticleHow To Know What To Say When Someone Is Grieving A Loved One