Sorrow in men: five myths to be dispelled

Social norms affect how we handle different life situations and how people around us interact with us.

Thus, certain reactions seem appropriate for a woman while being perceived as inappropriate for a man. We know, for example, that the expression of certain “negative” emotions such as fear and sadness is discouraged in young boys and tolerated in young girls, who are socialized to be patient, sensitive, and empathetic.

During a death, those around you may wonder about the normality of the manifestations of grief depending on whether it is expressed by a woman or by a man. There are indeed prejudices based on gender. As researchers in socio-anthropology on death and the intervention in men’s health and well-being, we try to understand the experience behind each grief, in its individual distinctiveness. Currently we are carrying out the COVIDEUIL project, we find that the experience of male respondents is far away from popular belief.

Here are five myths we want to demystify about men’s grief.

Myth # 1: Men are less affected by grief

We often hear that men are less affected by grief. This type of myth takes root in human social education. He is expected to be “strong” and “solid”, so “that he shows little or no emotion in public and is neither too tearful nor too vulnerable”. Culture can thus make it difficult to express their moral suffering. In addition, “symbolic” sorrows such as the loss of a job, the end of a romantic relationship, or a major financial loss greatly affect men because they are often defined by what they do and what they have. This type of grief causes great suffering in men, which can lead them, more often than women, to suicide.

Myth # 2: Men express their grief less

While it is true that some men are less likely to use words to express their grief, they mobilize strategies that are more focused on action and movement. Men are actually more likely to experience their grief through action and to express it in more informal contexts, such as a conversation between friends. It is that many men feel they have to live in what is called a “Man Box”, a rigid construction that represents the male identity. The verbal expression of grief can then be perceived as a sign of weakness. It is therefore wrong to say that men express their grief less: they express it differently – especially through silence – and more through actions – such as violence or isolation – than through words.

Myth # 3: Men’s grief is shorter

The “duration” of a grief can not be calculated accurately. In fact, each lane cannot be reduced to a clearly defined beginning and end. We know that gender can affect “styles” in grief, for example by mobilizing strategies centered on “intuition” (emotions) or on “instrumentalization” (physical and cognitive expression), but that the duration varies from individual to individual rather than gender to gender.

However, there is a pressure for men to “resume a normal life quickly”, which translates into a quick return to work, taking steps to stay busy and experiencing grief in secret. It is as much a matter of social pressure as a way of experiencing grief, which involves giving that meaning by returning to a “normal” life. These aspects could indicate that men’s grief is shorter and that they need fewer resources than women when this is not the case.

There is a pressure for men to quickly return to normal life, while each path cannot be reduced to a clearly defined beginning and end.

Myth # 4: Men need to be alone to mourn

For some men, loneliness can be beneficial in the grieving process. But that does not mean that it is the case all the time and for all men. In fact, young men are more likely to report that they provide support to others than to report that they are emotionally vulnerable. Men are afraid to seek support from those around them, not because they do not need it, but because this practice does not fit with social expectations attached to the masculine gender.

Promundo’s study of male identity in the US, UK and Mexico reveals that when men ask for support, they do so most often from the women in their lives. It would therefore not be a question of a “need to be alone”, but more of fitting into the “need” not to lose face. It is sometimes even difficult to perceive one’s own need for help.

Myth # 5: Men suffer less from grief disorders

If the expression of emotions brings a degrading emotion before the man, it is possible that he decides to withdraw into himself and internalize the suffering he is experiencing in connection with a death. Shame, a strong and dominant feeling in such a context, may reinforce the idea that it is better to hide distress.

This makes anxiety and depressive manifestations more difficult to distinguish for those around them, which can make men feel less disturbed by grief. While disorders in reality are not necessarily where you expect them to be: irritability, overexertion and self-medication are examples. Two out of three suicides in 2018 involved men, while women are 4 times more likely to attempt suicide.

A recent death can amplify a person’s fragility and create an imbalance in their life. In that sense, it should not be assumed that a man is less likely to develop grief disorders solely on the basis of his or her gender.

Knowing men’s lived experiences to deconstruct myths

The connections between gender and death are rooted in social representations and cannot represent all the course of grief of the individual man or woman. As we wrote in a previous article on Kubler-Ross’ stages of grief, each grief is unique.

In this connection, we are currently conducting a major study of the experience of grief in pandemic times. But men participate only slightly in death investigations. We would like to learn more about their experiences and invite them to tell us by participating:

It is through scientific knowledge that we can best combat myths and ultimately take into account the unique experience of each person’s grief path, in addition to received ideas and gender stereotypes.

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