5 minutes read time.
Dr. David H. Demmer, Senior Clinical Psychologist
Each person grieves in their own way, but some general expressions of grief – such as grieving alone or grieving through activity – are more common among men.
There are certain things you should avoid saying to someone who’s grieving, to avoid minimizing or dismissing what they’re feeling.
You don’t have to “fix” someone else’s grief, but there are some practical ways you can show up for a man who is grieving.
Grief. It’s something every man will experience at some point, but it’s something every man experiences differently.
Here’s what you should know about how men grieve – and how you can support them.
People of all genders have different ways of processing grief. Some are more reserved with their grief, while others express it openly. Simply put, there’s no one “right” way for men to grieve.
That said, research suggests some expressions of grief are more common among men:
To be clear, men are just as likely to experience grief as anyone else. But they are less likely to seek out support when grieving. (The same is true with men and mental health issues.)
Many men grieve in silence. This can be a reflection of their personality, especially if they’re quieter by nature. There can be other reasons for grieving alone, too. If they were raised to hide their emotions, or if they worry about burdening others with their grief, they may not express it as openly. (More on this in just a bit.)
Some men try to work through their grief with a whirlwind of activity. This can include (among other things):
Throwing themselves into their work
Taking up a new hobby
Exercising more than they used to
Is this a healthy way to process grief? Well, it depends.
Sometimes activity can be a form of avoidance, but not all distraction is a bad thing when you’re grieving. Exercise, for example, can be a useful way to release your emotions. Taking on a new project or doing something with your hands is comforting for a lot of guys (or anyone, for that matter).
Distraction is helpful, as it gives you a break from the grief before returning to it to continue addressing and processing it. Avoidance is unhelpful because it means you don’t return to the grief to continue addressing and processing it – you basically continue to ignore it.
Increased irritability or anger is a common sign of grief in men – and a good indication they need to talk to someone about what they’re feeling. (The same can be true for anxiety and depression in men.). Often men, without realizing it, use anger to mask other painful or vulnerable emotions.
Men are more likely to engage in self-destructive behaviors as a coping mechanism while grieving. These can include:
Alcohol or drug abuse (2 in 5 men surveyed by Sue Ryder, a UK bereavement support charity, said they relied on alcohol or drugs while grieving)
Risk-taking behaviors that are otherwise out of character
Socialization can play a big part in how some men grieve. Many older men, for example, were taught growing up that it’s “weak” to express sadness or vulnerability. Some men also worry how their grief will impact others – more than half of those surveyed by Sue Ryder said they felt they had to bottle up their emotions to protect their loved ones.
Remember: while there are some general patterns to how men grieve, every individual man is different. Just because someone grieves alone doesn’t mean they want to. Just because someone throws themself into a new hobby or working out doesn’t mean they’re avoiding reality.
The same Sue Ryder survey that found most men feel like they have to put a lid on their feelings also found many of them think it would help if they were able to express what they were going through.
However your friend is handling their grief, it’s important to reach out. But how?
Don’t say anything that minimizes the other person’s grief. Here are some unhelpful (and often inaccurate) clichés to avoid at all costs:
“It will pass.”
“You’ve got to be strong.”
“Suck it up.”
“Don’t let your family see you like this.”
The good news is, there are several practical, simple ways you can show your support without putting your foot in your mouth.
It seems so obvious, but for many it’s anything but. It’s actually common to avoid someone who is grieving, in large part because we don’t know what to say or how to help. Don’t make this mistake. Reach out to your friend and make it clear to them they don’t have to grieve alone.
If you’re unsure what to say or do, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Don’t make every interaction about their loss. (Again, not all distraction is a bad thing when someone is grieving.)
Keep it low-key. Some men like to keep busy while grieving. Others may not have the same energy or appetite for activity. Follow their lead.
Offer practical support – for example, bringing over a meal or helping with work around the house.
Some guys are ready to share what they’re feeling; others may not be. You can try asking open-ended questions to help them open up, such as:
How are you holding up?
What have your days been like lately?
How is _______ affecting you right now?
If they’re not ready to talk, don’t push it. Let them know you’re here if and when they feel like sharing, but let them take the next step.
If you’re unable to have a conversation face-to-face, try sending a text to let them know you’re thinking of them. Here are a few examples of what you to text to a grieving partner or friend to show you care:
If you want to talk, I’m here for you.
Thinking of you. Let me know if you want to go for a walk together.
Hey, I’m at the store. Is there anything I can pick up for you?
You could tackle a house project, hit the gym, go for a run or play a round of golf together. You could also try a more relaxing activity, like fishing, that allows plenty of opportunity for conversation.
If they’re grieving the loss of a relative or loved one, finding ways to honour that person’s memory can go a long way to bringing a sense of healing and closure. For example:
Participate in a charity run and/or money in their honour
Plant a tree in their memory
Complete a community service project supporting a cause their loved one cared about
Finally, be sure to check in regularly with your grieving friend. Don’t forget about holidays and other significant dates such as anniversaries and birthdays.
Grieving is a long, difficult process – but your care and support can lighten the burden your friend or partner is carrying.