Many men can experience an acute emotional response to the loss of a pregnancy, and it is important to create space for their own experience. In this article, Psychotherapist, Noel McDermott, takes a look at how loss is a natural process that needs a support approach as we pass through its stages.
Probably the most important thing to say about this is not that men will or won’t get any particular set of feelings and experiences after a miscarriage, but that the focus will be more on the woman and the man’s experience will be seen as secondary. Their experience may well be different to their partner, and this may increase the sense that it is secondary. Guys are likely to see themselves as having to be strong in these situations and showing vulnerability and distress as failing in their role as supporter.
Toxic masculinity – signs of psychological distress
We can say with certainty that men who don’t identify difficult feelings and find support for them, will usually turn to destructive ways of coping. Much of what is termed ‘toxic masculinity’ is an expression of psychological distress. In this case, the lack of identifying and dealing healthily with difficult feelings, can result in excessive drinking, aggression, isolation, loss of sleep, changes in appetite, seeking sexual relationships outside the partnership as ways to cope.
How to deal with feelings in a positive way
There is a need to provide basic information to men going through this and present it in straightforward ways, explaining that there are positive and negative ways of dealing with feelings brought up during times of loss and distress and it’s very much a decision to be made, in therapy this is called a psycho-educational resource. Much distress and the development of maladaptive coping strategies can be avoided by this simple approach, of giving knowledge about what to expect and what is normal in times of psychological challenge. Psychoeducation is in fact one of the cornerstones of modern therapy and is evidenced to be highly effective both in treating distress but also in preventing it.
Psychotherapist Noel McDermott comments: “What can’t happen is to not have feelings. Men may want to put to one side uncomfortable feelings so as to be better at helping and supporting or just to avoid pain. Emotions cannot exist selectively, it’s not possible to choose which ones to have, we either have them or we don’t. Not having emotions involves highly dysfunctional behaviours such as for example, excessive drug and alcohol consumption.”
Normalising feelings and emotions
What is normal and indeed healthy in this situation will in fact be a broad range of things, normalising is another tool that is very helpful. Knowing what we are experiencing is normal leads to us developing greater distress tolerance and reduces the likelihood of maladaptive acting out. We cope better being able to tell ourselves that this is just part of the experience. If a man is suffering from grief, he doesn’t necessarily cry, the range of things that might occur are:
- Loss and loneliness
- Anger and sadness
- Numbing out through grief
- Loss of libido or the opposite hyper-sexual responses
- Feeling of guilt or the opposite displacement into blame
- Problems with sleep, mood, emotional regulation, appetite, motivation, having a general sense of dread, not seeing a hopeful future
- Struggles in the relationship as you seem to separate from each other in the hurt and loss
Male bonding: Men’s emotional health
Without a doubt the best therapy in life is the company and support of other humans that we care about and who care about us. The herd is where we feel safe and where we get most boosts from in terms of our health and wellbeing. Simply being in the company of folk we like when we are troubled will reduce our stress responses to our troubles. For men this is often the best approach, not dealing with the problem head on but in a roundabout way by having good social time with mates. Often guys will open up during these contacts but arranging to meet a mate to discuss their difficult feelings can often seem alien and indeed could be counterproductive. Activity based support often work better for men, the distraction of the activity reduces the tension of dealing with challenging feelings, particularly if, as is likely the case with miscarriage, there may be significant feelings of failure and shame.
How to support your partner after a miscarriage
Being able to be honest about how difficult a man is finding the loss, is often very helpful to their partner. Many men don’t intuit this as culturally they are not brought up so, but by actually revealing that you are struggling will help your partner and can in fact potentially reduce their own sense of failure and isolation. Though this won’t be true in all cases it is a general rule that is helpful. In this way the possibility of the relationship breaking up, which is the fear for the guy here, is reduced. Male psychology as culturally programmed is to be of use, to be able to provide and do stuff, the more intangible support such as being rather doing can be experienced in an awkward manner. It’s an important skill in this though as loss is more of a natural process that needs little actual intervention as such, and more of a support approach as we pass through its stages.
Noel McDermott is a Psychotherapist with over 25 years’ experience in health, social care, and education. He has created unique, mental health services in the independent sector. Noel’s company offer at-home mental health care and will source, identify and co-ordinate personalised care teams for the individual. They have recently launched a range of online therapy resources to help clients access help without leaving home – www.noelcdermott.net.