We don’t often think about men’s grief do we? Maybe it’s because they are so damn good at hiding it. But I promise you, it’s there…festering. It’s hidden under the rough, quiet, busy exterior. It finds ways of escaping through physical exertion, building something, booze, affairs, or they find other ways of releasing the valve that are unique to them. I had one client who was a home cook and he took to immersing himself in these Michelin Star recipes.
What I see most in my clients that identify as male however, is more work. They build a company, they dive to the business in a more hands on approach and so they have somewhere to vent it all out, they train for an iron man. While not all of these outlets feel destructible they all exist for three reasons. Below I’ll discuss what three reasons we typically see and provide you with some ways of working through it.
Men have been trained to bury feelings and soldier on. It has worked for generations. Not ever, not even once have they have been taught what healthy masculinity looks like. Because let’s be honest – no one wants perfect and ever persons perfect is different. It’s impossible for men to figure this out. (I have to end this rant here because I can go on for a long long time.)
So of course men go out to keep their busy, because that’s also a thing they have been taught. They have be taught to work through it and busy hands forget. The mere idea of sitting face to face and be asked questions is scary. It’s a vulnerability that very rarely has been modelled for them nevermind deeply practiced.
Avoidance seems easiest in the moment for sure, but if you wanted to take a peak under the hood to see where the smoke is coming from, ask yourself:
- Why am I building/doing this?
- What would it mean to my partner if they knew why I needed to build/do this?
- Why can I not rely on them to help me?
I don’t think you have to stop building or doing! Just maybe use the time to think through the whys.
Alcohol and Substance Use is a vicious cycle that takes far too many every year. It is the perpetual cycle of hurt that only finds relief in a bottle. Anyone who has significant levels of violence in their life it is because of a cycle of shame.
So what do I suggest we do? We deal with the Shame. We get right into the thick of it. That you find a place where you find freedom from the chance of traumatization. That often has to be someone other than your partner. You need a 3rd party professional to work through this with you so you can be honest and held accountable. It also is the most risk free option for you. There is no relationship at risk with a therapist. Seek help and specifically say that you carry a lot of shame. Work through it. You are worth it.
Are you the guy that works weekends, has a couple companies, maybe a consulting gig on the side. Are you also training for a marathon, building a cottage, or cooking for a crowd over the weekend? Not all things are amazing as they would like us all to believe. A good check point is how you feel when someone talks about how amazing you are. When you are being thrown complements for all of your projects and successes…what is your pride level?
Now if it was your daughter who was accomplishing all of those things… what is your pride level?
There often is a gap in favour of your amazing daughter. So, in that same way we mentioned in avoidance, this is kind of like avoidance on steroids. You are always looking forward, your strive everyday, rest is for the weak. There is a level of avoidance is beyond puttering around the garage or golf course.
I can hear what you are thinking.. I’m full of shit – that is just striving to be the best. Well, let’s test it out:
- When you finish the marathon in a better time that you hoped, then what?
- When you have sold your company for more than you thought – then what?
- When you have perfected the Ferran Adrià Culinary Foam – then what?
Ok – now – tell me, did you pause at any of these most incredible successes and feel proud? Maybe a little but you were much more focused on thinking about what next than celebrating the win weren’t you?
Men often grieve differently than women and therefore the supports need to meet them where they are. So a few thoughts on how to support men who are grieving:
If you want to talk to them about it, talk while doing. Let them keep busy while talking. Talking about feelings makes men nervous and doing something (walking, building, painting, fishing, etc.) helps keep them grounded. Find a therapist for them and offer to make the appointments. You can support from the outside. They need to know you are there and that doesn’t mean that you have to carry or fix it. Slow down and remind them just how much love is surrounding them. Be safety. Be connected.
I am here for you.
Sarah: Well said, and spot on. Timely, too, as we’ve recently had to deal with the fallout from a young fellow’s self-loathing and subsequent anger. It was wrenching to watch his lashing out, especially at those of us stretching hands and hearts to help him. Alcohol, gambling, possibly other self-destructive behaviors we’re not aware of have led him into a very deep hole. You’re right that men must learn better ways to be vulnerable, and stop the senseless ‘soldier on’ attitude. Thanks for writing.