Two Styles of Grieving: Intuitive and Instrumental

Close up of older coupleWe all experience losses, big and little, throughout our lives. When enduring a big loss, people fall into patterns that may be considered masculine or feminine ways of reacting.

Men and women tend to process their losses differently, but the way they grieve is affected by many other factors besides gender, such as culture, personality, and temperament. Grief and loss are experienced in unique ways by each individual.

A generalization about gender differences in grieving would be that men tend to focus on feelings of guilt and anger. They are likely to spend more time thinking than feeling. They also tend to act independently rather than rely on others.

Women typically need more support and are expressive with their emotions, which is behavior we tend to associate with grief and loss. However, there is no cookie cutter approach to mourning. In recent years, experts like Kenneth Doka, PhD, have recategorized these types as intuitive and instrumental grief.

Intuitive grief can be associated with our generalizations of the way that women grieve, which includes the following:

  • Strong, affective reactions (waves of powerful emotions)
  • Expressions that mirror feelings (more like an open book)

Moving forward involves exploring and expressing feelings, progressing through the pain in order to heal.

Instrumental grief can be associated with the masculine way of grieving, which includes the following:

  • More thinking than feeling (an inward, quiet process, less expression of emotions)
  • Being physical, expressing grief through doing something (I could not fix my son, but
    I can fix this broken fence)

So how do you help someone who doesn’t want to talk or ask for help?

  • Use logical analysis—figuring out problems by breaking them down into manageable steps (to be less overwhelming)
  • Gather information—on new roles (in your household, family, work, etc), supports, faith, to do lists, etc., in order to start implementing
  • Use humor—It has much of the same release as crying does, and it’s still okay to laugh
  • Provide diversions/distractions—list all supports and assign them to categories
    • Good doers (who could take care of the pet, get the paper, etc.)
    • Good listeners
    • Good respite (who could take a break from the grief and will not ask you about your loss)

Instrumental grievers would benefit more from groups that focus on a how-to (like being a single parent), adventure based, informal or educational, than a traditional support group.

Like any other model for grief, there are several tools you can use with variations for each person. There are always ways to help. You can start by figuring out which support is needed and offer it. And if you need help, ask for what you need. Just know that there is never a wrong way to grieve.

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  • Mena

    Mena

    May 7th, 2012 at 12:16 PM

    Know what really bugs me? When someone puts you into this type of box that your grieving either has to be like this or like that. But everyone is different! There of course are some patterns that some people will follow, but everything does not have to go by the book. There are so many different emotions that a person can go through, and to judge them that they are not grieving enough or too much is so closed minded. Let someone process their grief and their emotions in their own way- you worry about you.

  • Theodora Sutton

    Theodora Sutton

    May 7th, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    Grief is ver much an individulal thing. I had a friend once who instead of crying at funerals she said she always had to supress the need to giggle, because that was how her emotions came out. It would have been seen as terribly wrong for her to do this so she always tried to hide it, but sometimes you know it is hard to keep that in. That’s why I think that we all need to be a little more mindful of each person’s unique and special needs, and try to help each person as they need it. And sometimes the ebst help is to back off for a little while and allow them to process their own grief in private. I have found that when most people need help, they eventually will ask for it.

  • ashley

    ashley

    May 7th, 2012 at 11:28 PM

    generally I want to be left alone when I am grieving.even if it was something that has saddened others along with me I tend to want to be left alone.any external interference seems like a breach to me and it can really frustrate me at such a time.

  • jameson

    jameson

    May 8th, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    I think that taking a look at gried as a cultural entity could be a very interesting study.

    There always seem to be some cultures that are much more staid and stoic than some others; while there are on the other end of the spectrum those cultures who truly wear their grief on their sleeves and do not have a hard time expressing it at all.

    I wiuld like to think that we are somewhere in between. I am not afraid to cry, but I also don’t think that I need to put on a display either.

    It is very individual, and no one should be criticized for how they go through the process. You need to go through the steps that you personally need to take in order to find peace with the loss.

  • Melissa Wright

    Melissa Wright

    May 8th, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Great comments. Grief really is an individual experience and people shouldn’t feel bad about not fitting into a category or be judged for their way of dealing with things.

  • uy

    uy

    October 3rd, 2012 at 5:58 AM

    Melissa Wright
    May 8th, 2012 at 11:24 AM #5
    Great comments. Grief really is an individual experience and people shouldn’t feel bad about not fitting into a category or be judged for their way of dealing with things.

    so true melissa. these days a womans need for support via expression and communication is often judged as her being weak and unable to let go and move on as a female weakness/deficiancy, while a mans silence and inward unresolved grief is considered superior as being’so over her’ and moved on long back, when in fact he is the one who cannot bear totolerate her presence due to the extreme emotions it generates in him(which is denied)and she has worked through the situation to a point of clarity and understanding and is open to fostering a life enhancing friendship post relationship with him. well its what happened with me anyway!

  • Aroha

    Aroha

    July 30th, 2018 at 1:10 AM

    I found it interesting how when I lost my best friend originally I couldn’t speak of my loss and convinced my friends I’d moved on. Now that it’s half a year latter, however, I find that I want to express my grief to my friends and am unable to do so because now they believe I’m over it. I’m now conflicted between expressing and internalising my feelings as I want to do both at once but find I can not.

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