The emotions of grief are the same for men and women. How and when these emotions surface is what defines each journey. But what I am struck with the most in my practice as a psychotherapist is how powerful this journey is for men.
Men fight showing their emotions under normal circumstances. Now, they have to fight to keep a hold of the emotion when the emotions themselves are mostly out of control.
Women can and often grieve as a group. They can publicly cry, be angry, sad — and then be happy, joyful, upbeat. And when someone asks them why, they are more than willing to let someone in because it is what they have always done. They are used to sharing personal stuff with each other either one-to-one or in groups.
Women bond by talking. Men typically do not.
During the worst parts of my journey, I kept the darkness to myself and now I can see why. The darkness, the questions, the doubt and lack of faith in living was way too scary to look at. It was just easier to pack it inside.
But packing it into what I call the mind’s Garage was no answer either. Eventually, this Garage gets filled and then life is twice as bad as it was when the loss happened.
How can that be possible? On the surface, a father may feel like he is functioning but he is living with only a small percent of his potential. Unconscious energy is being used to keep a tight lid on the grief and all those harsh emotions. And as more energy gets used, less energy is available to keep the conscious living in check.
So, what’s the result? Men start to show negative behavior. Anger at little things, frustration at insignificant problems, and bad health habits (addictions, over-active violence) start to become the everyday living. The internal conflict between trying to keep the grief in check and trying to live life again becomes the battle.
Imagine if the strength being consumed by this battle between grief and living was focused on just working through the grief in the first place?
Getting together in groups is an important part of grief for men. Bowling, cards, movies, sports events. The more time spent outside the home with others will prevent men from feeding into the isolation instinct that will lead to stuffing the grief in the Garage. Unlike women, men bond over shared activities because it always gives a go-to topic and diversion when conversation gets uncomfortable.
Once you begin to open up your Garage, you will find a great relief in letting just a speck of that grief out. Keep on doing things that will give you the opportunity to get together with others and open up, even if it’s just for a second. That relief feels good. That good feeling will lead you in the right direction toward living. And in the direction toward peace.