How To Grieve Like A Man

picture-2If you have experienced loss in your life, it can be overwhelming, numbing, confusing and painful.

So, how does a man deal with grief?

As many of you know I highly recommend feeling your feelings. As with any other strong emotion, the way over it, is through it.

Moreover, many folks who have dealt with serious grief in their life, report that it opens a doorway to being more connected to oneself and one’s sense of spirituality and meaning.

Not only that, losing a loved one can help you re-evaluate your life and take inventory–getting back to what is most important.

Brian Burnham in his blog post from The Art Of Manliness has some great advice here on how men can deal with loss and grief.

In the beginning of February 2009, I was just entering my last semester in my Masters program for counseling when after a brief illness, my father died.  I had thought of myself as a well put together guy: at the top of my class, with a fiancée and strong prospects for the future, but this put me into a complete tailspin.  I swung from fits of intense rage, to depths of deep depression, to cold and distant numbness.  What made matters even worse was that I had no clue what was happening to me, and my classmates and mentors, despite being in the counseling field, seemed just as bewildered.  What was happening to me was grief, and like many men in our society, I was woefully unprepared for it.

Unfortunately, the death of a loved one is something that everyone will experience at some point in their life.  Modern American society, however, does little to prepare us for the inevitable loss of a loved one.  We need only look at our TV commercials with their emphasis on staying young and healthy in the hope of living forever to see that we live in a culture that prefers not to think about or even acknowledge the existence of death.1 This is why when the death of a loved one does occur, many men do not understand the experiences they are having and how grief is affecting them.  So in an effort to better understand my own experience and to help my fellow men, I’ve put together some research on the way men experience and cope with grief.

Symptoms of Grief in Men

Research shows that after a loss men experience greater changes in mood than do women and experience more consequences for their physical health.2 However, we tend not to associate typical grief symptoms such as sadness and crying, depressed mood, and a sense of hopelessness with men or manliness. While men do experience these “typical” symptoms of grief, they may display less of them. This is due at least in part to the fact that there are a number of symptoms that are common in men but relatively rare in women, giving the male experience of grief a unique character.3 These symptoms include:

  • Anger: often directed at someone or something seen as responsible for the loss, but sometimes directed at the self or at nothing in particular.
  • Irritability: grieving men may be easily irritated and annoyed and may overreact to small annoyances.
  • Withdrawal: grieving men may withdraw from social contact as well as withdraw emotionally, experiencing an emotional numbness.
  • Rumination: persistent thinking about the deceased or death in general.
  • Substance Abuse: grieving men may attempt to cope by abusing alcohol or other drugs.

It’s possible for a grieving man to display any and all of the gender specific symptoms described above and relatively few of the typical symptoms.  This can cause anxiety in some men because they feel like they’re “not grieving enough” or “not grieving the right way” and confusion in those around them who don’t understand why the grieving man is reacting the way that he is. However, the way men grieve will vary widely from man to man and what they are experiencing is normal.

The length of the grieving process will also vary widely from man to man.  While most HR departments only grant 3 days bereavement leave, if they give it at all, grieving typically takes much longer.  Two months is considered the “standard” length of symptoms after which a person should be evaluated for more serious problems.4 However, recent research suggests that the process may be much longer and that even well adjusted men may still have some mild symptoms, such as sadness on the anniversary of the deceased’s passing, as much as twenty years later.5 The important fact to remember is that every man will grieve at his own pace and should not worry about “being over it by now.”

The degree of symptoms men experience will also vary widely.  Research has shown that some men experience resiliency and experience only mild symptoms of grief for a short period, while others experience much stronger symptoms for a longer period.6 Surprisingly, research shows that the intensity of symptoms is not related to the quality of relationship the grieving person had with the deceased.  Men who had a difficult relationship with their wives7and fathers8 were just as likely to experience prolonged and intense grief at their deaths as those that had good relationships with them.

How Men Cope

Now that we have a sense of what grief is like for men, the inevitable question is “What do we do about it?”  Most men deal with grief using the same strategies that they use to deal with everything else, by controlling their emotions and relying on their own internal strengths. Men therefore do not respond well when asked to do “grief work” which typically involves talking about the emotions associated with the loss.9 Research supports this, showing that emotional expression does not lead to reduced grief symptoms in either men or women.10 However, simply avoiding thinking about the loss is not helpful either.11 According to research, those who coped with a loss most effectively were those that alternated between “loss oriented coping” which involves thinking about the loss and what it means for the person and “restoration oriented coping” which includes planning for the future and problem solving.12

Since men tend to be planers and problem solvers, restoration oriented coping often comes naturally to the grieving man. But a grieving man also needs to address issues and emotions associated with the loss itself.  Often these issues will challenge the grieving man’s identity and sense of masculinity. Coming to terms with these challenges,13 as well as resolving regrets related to the deceased14 are all part of a man’s long term coping with loss.

While every man’s experience of grief and coping style will vary, there are some things that all men who are grieving have in common and so the following tips are presented for those men who are grieving and those that are trying to help them.

Tips for the Grieving Man…follow this link

Another great grief resource is Mark Hundley’s site.


  • deepwaterscoach

    Reply Reply August 4, 2009

    I must say I’ve NEVER considered the possibility that men grieve differently than women do. You’ve really opened my eyes! I see how our culture allows women to grieve more openly and expects all people to grieve as women do. I especially appreciated the tips provided in the link, the ones about helping a grieving man. Thanks for your wisdom!

  • ken

    Reply Reply September 29, 2009

    This was a really good article. I never thought about the possibility of differences between men and women in grieving.

    It’s easy to see this applies to the loss of a relationship as well. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Excellent! Great article, I already saved it to my favourite,

  • Excellent! Great article, I already saved it to my favourite,

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