“Man sheds grief as his skin sheds rain.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Heartbreak is an inevitable function of humanity, regardless of gender, age, or upbringing. We all have hearts, and they are all liable to be broken at any point in time. Grief is difficult for anyone to undergo; coming to terms with profound loss is a long and extremely painful process. When it comes to men and grief, however, the struggle may be more challenging than simply walking through immense amounts of emotional pain. For men, grief can be a great isolating factor – it can push them far away from their peers, and quarantine them from the world they once knew and interacted with. Many men are taught (from a very early age), that expressing sadness in any way equates to showing weakness; and showing weakness, of course, instantaneously eliminates any innate masculinity. Real men don’t cry, after all. Grief is for the weak.
Male Grief and Avoidance
Because male grief is often so unwanted, many men opt to either deal with grief on their own or deny it altogether. It is not uncommon for men (either consciously or subconsciously) to reject essential aspects of themselves; either because they do not want to face the pain that lies deep within them, or because they simply do not know how to. Vulnerability is no small task. The fear of being shamed or ridiculed by peers – of being stripped of perceived manliness by both women and other men – prevents many men from opening up at all. Fear of derision is a powerful motivator, and causes many to remain stuck in a place of stifled heartache for weeks, months, or years. Because men believe that they must walk through their grief alone, many turn to avoidance. If the pain does not exist, there is nothing to walk through; nothing to feel, and no vulnerability to express. Unfortunately, this train of thought often leads to an ever more unconquerable sense of loneliness.
Feeling Safe and Being Vulnerable
According to Mark Mercer, the author of “What Women Should Know About Male Grief”, men grieve far, far more than they openly show or discuss. Mark has been a counselor and hospice bereavement counselor for over 18 years, and discusses the different ways in which men grieve, and why many find it so difficult to do so. He notes that men will very rarely cry in front of other men, and will only cry in front of women if they feel that the woman is safe. That men only cry when alone, and get mad at themselves – in private – for being weak. Most angry men are actually very sad men, he observes. In order for men to release the pent-up and forbidden emotional turmoil that resides deep within them, they must feel that they are in a space where they can be open, honest, and vulnerable – without being shamed or judged.
Trauma Recovery for Men
We at Next Chapter are extremely well-versed in treating men who have undergone significant trauma or loss, and who have been avoiding the grieving process for any extended period of time. We do everything we can to ensure that our patients have a safe space in which to open up, and we try hard to instill the human nature of vulnerability; men do cry, because everyone cries, and that is okay. We attempt to separate emotional authenticity from perceived gender-roles and expectations.
It is not only critical that men understand their grief, but that they have a conscious relationship with it – they allow themselves to feel it, move through it, and grow from it. When a man moves through his pain, his innate masculinity is no longer hindered – he is free to be the vulnerable, strong, and emotionally healthy man he was always meant to be.