Do Men and Women Grieve Differently?

 Vijai Sharma, PhD. Clinical Psychologist

 To a large extent, the emotional and psychological responses to loss of a spouse are similar between men and women.  The differences appear to be in the attempts to control the outward reactions.  Men and women do not differ in the actual experiencing of the loss, but there are differences in the freedom with which they express their grief.  Emotional expression, other than that of anger, is barely permitted for men.  The society still prepares its men to be hunters and warriors.  We raise the boys to be tough.  When "boys" are soldiers, they are expected to take the death of their fellow men bravely, and go on fighting.  This has a survival value in the times of aggression and defense.  When the men are on the front, they can't afford to slacken and mourn.  So males "wear" toughness(and believe it to be true), and the society perpetuates the myth that men can only be hurt physically, not emotionally.  Grieving openly is not a part of the "male character."  Therefore, men, after the loss of their spouse, are not supposed to spontaneously say, "Oh! I am lonely and hurting without her."  Friends and relatives rarely ask a widower, "How are you taking it(the loss)?"  If a man loses his child, he is asked, how his wife is handling the loss but hardly any one asks him about how he himself is handling it.  So when in grief, some men will take the socially acceptable recourse, that is, alcohol.  They start drinking hard!  When the drinking gets out of hand and job performance begins to slide noticeably, then we hear, "He is really taking it hard!"
 Careful studies done on the survivors" grieving process indicate that men are more likely to grieve privately.  Publicly they present a facade of equanimity and restraint.  As regards grieving in private, at least in the first month of mourning, there is no essential difference between men and women.  Interviews done after one month of the loss, indicate that men and women experience the same level of pain, yearning, and crying.  They experience equally strong visual images of the deceased spouse and the sense of his or her presence.  
 While there was no difference in the first month, two months after the loss, there was!  More men said that they were accepting the reality of the loss, while only half of the women gave that impression.  The other half of the women, on occasions, felt as if their husbands were still alive and some felt as if they might actually return.  We don't really know if men recover faster than women or they just don't like to admit to someone else that they are having a hard time accepting the loss or, "going crazy."  It is possible that men, historically being the wage earners, refocus on their work faster and therefore, "brace up" to face the world of work.  Now, that more women are working and need to resume their work after the loss, it is possible that the differences between men and women on this account may be diminishing.  
Feelings of distress:
 A small difference was noted after one year of the loss.  Fewer male survivors described themselves, as being at times, very unhappy or depressed.  Also, more male survivors report "feeling themselves again," after one year of the loss.  Men and women have a different physical and emotional reaction to grief.  While more men feel tense and restless, women feel more depressed.  A male is more likely to speak of the loss as having lost a part of himself, while women refer to themselves as being abandoned.  However, the problem of loneliness seem to afflict men and women equally.  
Anger and self-reproach:
 Approximately, twice more women, when compared to men, express anger in the first two months of the loss.  In the whole first year of loss, more women express moderate to severe anger.  Again, it is possible that fewer men tend to admit feeling angry as part of grieving.  As a woman feels "abandoned," she may justifiably feel angry with the lost person for abandoning her.  However, male reaction to divorce may be different.  If the loss occurs due to divorce, while women feel "angry," more men get in to a rage.  More women fear in that time that they may have a nervous breakdown.  One woman who was facing the divorce, said it was easier for her to grieve and get over it, if her husband was dead.  She couldn't feel angry or sad in the hopes of reconciliation.  She was hoping that the fires of love may be somehow, magically, rekindled in him.  She never let those fires extinguish in her heart.  In such a situation, be it death or divorce, the loss has to be accepted first before the healing can begin.  

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Copyright 1996, Mind Publications 


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