Grief and Gender: How It Affects Men and Women Differently

Grief is a universal human experience, but gender plays a role in how we feel and process loss. Women often receive more societal permission to express emotions, while men feel pressure to stay strong and composed. However, no one way is the “right” way to grieve. Honoring our unique grieving process leads to healing, regardless of gender.
By illume Editorial Team
Last updated: Oct 26, 2023
3 min read

How Women Tend to Grieve

Women are generally more open to experiencing and voicing the intense emotions that accompany loss. Cultural expectations enable, or even encourage, women’s tears, need for processing, and requests for support. However, this outward grief response can also lead to women being dismissed as overly emotional or weak.

Common grief reactions seen more in women include:

  • Readily expressing sadness, fear, guilt or anger about the loss
  • Talking through thoughts and feelings related to the death
  • Crying frequently alone or with trusted loved ones
  • Attending counseling or support groups
  • Reaching out for comfort and help from others
  • Desiring space for introspection and processing emotion

Women often initiate mourning rituals like planning memorial services. They may embrace their caregiver role for others who are grieving. However, ensure your caretaking doesn’t minimize your own grief. It’s healthy to take time for your personal healing too.

How Men Tend to Grieve

Men face intense pressure to control emotional reactions to loss and remain strong in masculinity norms. Suppressing grief, often seen as weakness, is detrimental long-term. However, let’s have compassion for these cultural constraints while expanding concepts of grief.

Common grief responses seen more in men include:

  • Withdrawing to grieve privately and avoiding emotional displays
  • Controlling feelings through substance use, anger, or risky behaviors
  • Throwing oneself into work as a coping mechanism
  • Keeping busy to avoid reflecting on the loss
  • Providing practical support for others grieving
  • Focusing on cognitive understanding more than emotional impact

However, no single approach fits all. Some men may feel comfortable crying with family or close friends as part of grieving. The most important practice for men is acknowledging the loss impacted them too.

Healthy Grieving Looks Different for Each Person

Rigid gender expectations around grief leave little space for people to grieve in ways that feel natural to them. Let’s expand our understanding of grief responses:

  • Don’t minimize men’s grief by telling them to “be strong.” Tears and needing support are healthy.
  • Don’t label women’s emotional expression as “being dramatic” or “out of control.”
  • Allow people to process the loss in ways that suit them best. Some need to talk, while others need space.
  • Encourage men to find trusted allies with whom they can share vulnerable feelings if needed.
  • Suggest creative outlets like writing, art, or music for anyone who struggles articulating grief.
  • Challenge concepts that tears and needing comfort make one weak.

No timeline or single approach fits everyone. Provide space for people of all genders to explore their personal grief journey.

Providing Support to Both Men and Women

Here are some tips for supporting grieving people in your life, regardless of gender:

  • Listen without judgement when they want to share feelings. Don’t minimize their grief.
  • Offer practical help like meals, rides, childcare, and help around the house.
  • Gently encourage self-care like enough rest, proper nutrition, and exercise.
  • Normalize seeking counseling or a support group if their grief becomes overwhelming.
  • Refrain from telling them to “get over it” or “stay busy.” There is no perfect grief timeline.
  • Spend time with them so they don’t feel isolated as many others move on.
  • Express that you don’t always know what to say but you care deeply.

The most meaningful support meets each griever where they are. Avoid projections about how you think they should grieve. Instead be present, show compassion, and enable their unique healing.