Approach to Loss and Grief
©Arlene Taylor PhD
Males and females tend to approach episodes involving loss and/or grief very differently. Typically they also exhibit widely differing coping strategies and styles of behaviors in situations of loss and grief.
Because of societal expectations that males should remain in control of their emotions at all times (essentially be silent about them) males may fail to articulate their grief. The unexpressed pain can trigger an emotional retreat into stony silence, attempts at suicide, or violent behaviors. Unresolved grief from the past can increase the intensity of their reaction to present episodes of loss. They may react out of proportion to the situation at hand because of their accumulated slush-fund of stored, unresolved emotional pain.
Females, on the other hand, have been socialized to express grief aloud and encounter fewer taboos against crying. They may avoid taking constructive action, believing that talking is enough even when taking action could help them to cope more effectively. They can become stuck in recounting the loss and develop the habit of brooding. This enmeshment can delay acceptance and resolution and lead to immobility.
Studies have shown that males tend to move to anger when the emotions of either fear or sadness arise (whether or not anger is the appropriate emotion for the situation). Females, on the other hand, are more likely to move directly to sadness when the emotions of either anger or fear arise (whether or not sadness is the appropriate emotion for the situation). I can be unhelpful to misidentify the emotion and can be a source of conflict and misunderstanding, especially at a time when supportive cross-gender communication may be vitally important.
Due in part to the great disparity in grieving styles between the genders, some cross-gender relationships tend to fall apart after a major event that involves significant loss (where sadness is the appropriate emotion) or significant boundary invasion/crisis (where anger is the appropriate emotion). If the appropriate emotion is anger and the female goes to sadness, or the appropriate emotion is sadness and the male goes to anger, the potential for misunderstanding escalates. Even when partners do not separate they may misread each other’s messages and fail to offer the support, acceptance, and nurturing that are so vitally needed for healthy healing and recovery. Males and females need to learn from each other’s strengths, share the burden of loss, recognize stereotypical gender tendencies, and encourage one another in implementing effective recovery strategies.
Stereotypical Approach to Grief Episodes