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Gender Differences in Grieving

Everyone grieves the loss of a child differently. Feelings may be similar— sadness, helplessness, anger — but the way they are processed and expressed can be very different from person to person. There are many factors that affect how a person experiences and expresses grief. Coping strategies, life experiences, communication styles, personality, and support systems can all influence individual responses.

Gender and cultural influences can also play a role in how people grieve. These factors shape how people process and express emotions. Although generalizations are not true for everyone, men and women often differ in their grief responses. However, whether a response is more common to a man or woman is not as important as recognizing and supporting individual differences. Accepting differences can help family members give one another space to grieve in their own ways.

  1. Many men grow up feeling like they should hold in their emotions. For boys, crying might have been viewed as a sign of weakness. People who feel pressure to be strong and independent might try to limit outward displays of emotion or avoid talking about feelings.

    During grief, men may be more likely to:

    • Turn inward rather than expressing themselves outwardly. They may be less likely to cry, express themselves verbally, or openly discuss grief with others.
    • Avoid talking about the death of the loved one. Many men do not seek conversation to process the loss.
    • Feel a sense of failure at not being able to protect their child from death.
    • Want to move past the loss instead of expressing pain. Some men may feel a desire to move forward with their lives.
    • Try to manage grief alone rather than using resources to grieve.

    Men might try to cope through behaviors such as:

    • Participating in strenuous or repetitive tasks. Some men may look for distraction or find release by exercising, doing manual labor, working in the yard, or doing other activities.
    • Taking control of family needs. Many men feel a responsibility to take care of family members after a child’s death. They may do this by taking charge of finances, organizing details of the funeral, or taking over household responsibilities.
    • Working more. While working more may be related to a desire to increase the family’s economic security, it may also be a needed distraction from feelings of pain and loss.
    • Engaging in shared activities and experiences with family members. Men may have trouble communicating their feelings of grief. They may try to connect with loved ones by doing things together.
    • Isolating themselves. Some men may wish to be left alone as they internally process their grief. They may express anger at the inability to be alone or avoid others for fear of not being able to control their emotions.
  2. Women are more likely to express their feelings of grief with other people. They may be more willing to seek out connections and accept the help of others.

    During grief, women may be more likely to:

    • Feel isolated. Women are more prone to feeling alone and secluded, particularly when other family members have trouble communicating feelings or do not share their desire to express their grief.
    • Try to connect with others. Women may feel that talking about the experience of losing one’s child helps the healing process.
    • Feel frustration with others’ inability to share grief. Women may feel angry or resentful when others cannot join them in working through their grief together.

    Women may try to cope by:

    • Talking about their grief. Women tend to process their feelings by speaking to friends and family about their loss. 
    • Seeking support. Women are more likely than men to seek help both outside and within the family during the grieving process.
    • Creating new social networks. As women process and express their grief, they may reach out to their existing social networks or create new ones, especially others who can understand their sense of loss.
    • Questioning or blaming others. Some women may question their partner or spouse if they are unable to share their grief and work through it together.
    • Expressing grief through writing. Some women may find that reading and writing journals, stories, or books helps them engage with other people and reduces the feelings of isolation.

    There is no typical or “normal” grief response. It is common to have a variety of feelings and behaviors. For most people, some responses will be typical of gender. Others will not be. The important thing is that each person feels like their grief is accepted and supported by other family members.

Finding Support

Everyone needs support in grief regardless of how they grieve. After losing a child, family members need validation that their responses are normal. Each person tries to cope in his or her own way. But, families also need to find ways to connect and come together in their grief.

It can help to remember that:

  • Expressing grief is important.
  • Listening to others may help you feel less alone and more normal in your own experience of grief.
  • Each person needs to feel acknowledged and accepted.
  • One person cannot provide all the support another person needs.
  • Grief after losing a child is a lifelong journey, and needs change over time.

A variety of resources are available to help family members in their grief. Some people find it helpful to read books from authors with a similar grief perspective. Support groups can help people find connection and sense of belonging in grief. Professional help is also available. Marriage and family counseling can be an important resource to help family members learn to accept differences in grieving and find ways to grieve together.

Reviewed: June 2018