In January 2016 “Let’s talk about grieving” was launched, both website and Facebook fan page and since then we have been following the numbers and public involvement. Nowadays our public is basically women (we have approximately 90% of women in both channels!). The numbers tell very much what all of us felt while going through our own processes of grieving: the feeling that, if grieving is a taboo, this subject seems to be even more difficult for men. And here we are talking about men we know and love: parents, siblings, partners, longtime friends, and coworkers. So, no that I wanted to criticize men on their way to deal with it, our intention with this research was to listen, to try to understand and generate more empathy between women and men.
We launched the question online and received contributions of many women – and some men – who believe that it is even harder for them, not that it means less importance for each one’s suffering. On one hand, there seems to be a lack of ability and/or practice to deal with feelings and express them – something that women learn better since they are young. On the other hand, there is a lack of space in society for a more vulnerable man and therefore the fear of being “less of a man” when they express their pain. As a result, a different way of dealing with grief – a guy who usually works, decides and acts more than their female peers involved in the same loss, but also reveals less what he feels and thinks at that stage. Besides all that, a cultural context that makes the fight even harder and less welcoming to men.
“Probably because they are more restrained when it comes to expressing emotions and weaknesses.” – Via website
“For the Sexism that society imposes and discourages man to cry, to open their heart, to talk about what hurts their ‘manhood’.” – Via website
“The reason why men have so much trouble, I do not know. But I see it in the group of mothers who lost children that I go to. Most of them talk about the difficulty of its partners. I imagine that some try to protect those around them. Others must suffer the cultural pressure – ‘boys don’t cry’. I think there are many reasons, but unfortunately, this is a repetitive behavior.” – Via website
“We participate of a Spiritist Society in my city, there we have a kind of Spriritual ER on Thursdays, and the vast majority of people who go there are women. Men, I believe have fears, fears that end up creating a wall between them and others. So I think we have difficulties, not only to talk but also to look for help.” – Kaique Vianna via Facebook
This different behavior and apparently colder, often creates distance between couples and hard feelings in women:
“In my experience yes, it happens. My father, my brother, my in-laws, my male colleagues (at work), close friends (I am no longer so close to them anymore, unfortunately) had a hard time with the death of my son. I have an idea why – and I think it is related to the vulnerability (and run away from it like the plague!) – But the reality is that, even though there is a perfectly reasonable reason, this really hurts like hell.” – Clarissa Oliveira via Facebook
“That may be the explanation for the large number of divorces after the death of a child. The different reaction generates irreconcilable resentment.” – Jane Dietrich, via Facebook
To deepen the understanding of the issue, we interviewed the psychologists Cecilia Rezende and Erika Pallottine, from Entrelaços Institute, confirming the perception that most men behave differently from women before the pain of loss – which does not mean they don’t experience grieving, they just do it in another way.
“Men do not grieve less or suffer less than women. I actually believe that this is an important point when we talk about the grieving process of couples who have lost children: women often think the father is not feeling, suffering less or can soon move on with their lives. It is not like that; just the way to experience pain is different. There is very little room for man to experience their pain, express their feelings, their despair.
When they are working, when they are taking care of the practical tasks of day-to-day and even when starting a new relationship, men are bereaved and experiencing their pain. But they face it alone, in silence. They cannot cry in front of women, and can only do this when they feel very safe in her presence. However, in most cases, they prefer, or are only able to cry by themselves. They cry in the bathroom, in the car, wander lonely on the streets, they inflict physical pain on themselves so they can cry. What a difficult process!
I realize that when they come to the office and feel safe and comfortable in the presence of (a) therapist, engage themselves effectively in the process and manage to make it work. Once connected and comfortable, they are deeply involved in the process, give voice to their pain, express their feelings, even if, for some time, only in the limited environment of psychotherapy. Some men cannot get to psychotherapy, but enjoy much of the psychotherapeutic process of a family, especially wives. Perhaps this is because it opens a channel to talk about these issues.
It is important to notice that there is no right or wrong way to experience grief, just as there is a script that says that all men experience the process that way. What is observed is that the male way of dealing with the loss or pain often ends up isolating them with their suffering, which complicates the coping and the restoration process. Society needs to open more space to encourage the possibility that both men and women can express their thoughts and issues about their losses. Men suffer as much as women only experience their grief and sorrows differently and they must have it validated.”
“We have received many demands for psychotherapeutic service and support to men who experience the grieving process. They arrive, most of the time, brought or directed by women: sisters in law, mothers, friends that recommend Entrelaços. I think … it already shows a little how and where this dynamic takes place. Many of them come to us when they are in great distress and suffering. This means that they stand their ground, until they can’t take it anymore, often using all the resources that had until that moment! Move on with their lives, choking grief, inhibiting reactions whenever possible, putting off the pain by several ways.
At first, life is so chaotic and disorganized that we function in a more debased level from the cognitive and perception point of view. The answer of an emotional process that causes so much stress and grief will come up often in work tasks. Men begin to produce less, present difficulties in terms of concentration, attention and focus. Other aspects that deserve attention have to do with taking care of themselves, health problems, abuse of alcohol or tobacco. It is relevant to remember that the grieving process puts us at risk.
We know that there is a cultural matter that places men as a more practical character, who solves problems and consequently ends up having more obstacles when dealing with the grieving process. There’s no much space for crying, for suffering, for men expression of feelings. Then I call the attention for the possibility of creating rituals whenever we can. Rituals are, after all, special and appropriate places for us to talk about those who passed away, to cry, to talk about our feelings and even to get all messy and disorganized. Men tend to benefit from these spaces and rituals. The seventh day ceremony, rituals in synagogue, anniversaries, all of them are protected spaces so that they can mourn their losses.
From everything we have read and listened to, we get the feeling that this is just the beggining of a conversation that can contribute for our thoughts and discussions about what the society has been offering to men in a moment of suffering. And how we could improve the empathy between men and women in such a hard moment of life.