In our Aussie culture, men are disproportionately unprepared to express their distressed feelings as they are expected to be strong, assertive, to take charge, to achieve goals, to endure without giving up or giving in,
to protect and support. Due to these spoken, unspoken messages and expectations, it is no wonder that men find themselves isolated in their grief as they are required to deal with tough times and difficult emotions with a certain non-emotional response.
Boys are told “to take things like a man” and “big boys don’t cry”, if not by their fathers, they will be by their peers. This means they are not to show their tears and more vulnerable side as this is called weak. They are to be self sufficient and independent. Men often have minimal support systems outside their immediate family with his girlfriend or wife being their best friend and confidant. It is embarrassing for Aussie men to have the expression of feelings as women might do, to breakdown and cry. It is difficult for an Aussie man to feel helpless and out of control because if he does we believe something is wrong with him.
It becomes a lot harder for a man to handle upsetting feelings or to talk about, cry about, even share thoughts about loss, let alone reaches out for support, while this male conditioning acts strongly and in direct opposition to the grieving process. Most men will react to loss by keeping their thoughts and emotional pain to themselves as doing this protects their vulnerability. Due to this, men are more at risk of getting sick, mental illness and suicide.
Therefore, men will grieve a loss in their own way and even when there is not an outpouring of emotion, there is still grief. It is OK for men to grieve differently and it is OK to be strong and active (some men throw themselves into their work as a distraction from painful feelings) in the face of grief as long as you are not avoiding your feelings. It’s OK for men to feel and express rage (safely) and not to cry as these are typically more masculine responses to grief. There is no right way to mourn a death or loss of any kind.
We have created a myth that if a man is vulnerable and emotional, the castle that he has built will crumble and this is not true. Man can dip in and out of these things and can have both, the castle and the courage and strength to be vulnerable, to show sadness, to go through the grieving process. Silence can kill. Aussie men are changing. It takes guts to show pain and it takes balls to cry. The main thing to do is to start with a friend, a mate, a trusted person, a trained professional and say “I’ve got something to say…” or “I’ve got a problem…” The hardest thing is about showing your vulnerability as it is most likely that you think you’ll be laughed out of the room but just the opposite happens and often they say “I rate you high on what you’ve just done there”.
Look out for the well being of your mates. You can open up a conversation by saying “You don’t look right…What’s up..?”
Men can talk about their feelings and not lose their manhood.
(Sources for this article include The Man Up documentary series and campaign funded by Movember about masculinity and men’s mental health ManUp.org.au and N.A.L.A.G. The National Association of Loss and Grief)