Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Introverts and Grief

If you’re an introvert like me, you find it hard to share strong emotions even in the best, or worst, of times. This presents a problem when we’re faced with grief. If left alone, we will close the drapes and hole up until grief is gone. But grief isn’t going to leave without the help of others. If you’re male, this presents an even bigger problem.

My wife and I were radically different in our expressions of emotions. She could freely and completely express whatever she was feeling at any moment. Me? Not so much. You could order take-out and have it delivered before I figured out what I was feeling. You have to ask me how I’m feeling, and then wait.

There are several reasons why I shouldn’t be writing about emotions and grief. First, I’m a man, and talking about emotions almost seems taboo, like I’ve walked into a women’s yoga class. Of the grief blogs and writings that I value, all of them are written by women, and I would love to sit across the table from any of them and share our discoveries and frustrations.

Second, I did not learn how to talk about feelings when I was growing up. My family wasn’t into that, partially because my great grandparents were German and Scottish, people not known for being expressive in nuanced ways. So I learned to be reserved, almost stoic, and this frustrated Evelyn to no end because she expected everyone to share their emotions like she did.

Third, on the Myers-Briggs scale, my personality type is INFJ. The “I” indicates Introvert, which means that I would not choose to talk about my emotions, not any of them, to anyone.

Then grief hit and the doors on my emotions were blown open. I could not control the flood of wibbly-wobbly emotional stuff that surged through. People came and encouraged me to talk about what was going on inside, and to my surprise, they did not run away screaming in horror, disgust, or boredom when I shared my anger, despair, and a bucket of other assorted emotions. And they came back to listen again, which surprised me even more, and I’m more casual sharing emotions as they come.

If you’re an introvert, find a way to share what’s going on inside you with someone else.

Grief is easier to bear if you share it. Every couple of days confide in a friend about how you’re doing. Or line up a group of people who will come over one at a time. Now is the time to share because people expect you to be emotional. Two years from now they won’t be so willing to listen.

But don’t expect your friends to know what to say that helps. They probably won’t because we don’t talk about grief in our society. But we don’t need answers. What we need is for people to support us and listen, so that we don’t feel alone in what feels like a massive, intensely personal experience.

If people offer to come over for coffee, take them up. They wouldn’t offer if they didn’t mean it.


  1. Couldn't even tell you how I found your site, Mark. But I'm glad I did. We've met once or twice, briefly, with handshakes and how-ya-doings. My wife is Jean Behrend . . . ah, the Wisconsin connections! We're in Fresno, where she's doing responsible things like professoring at Fresno State in Curriculum and Instruction. I'm less responsible: writing (not paid much) and working (paid a little) in bereavement at a local hospice. As an introvert that sometimes can fake being extroverted, I am grateful for your words . . .

    1. Hi Larry, I do remember meeting you and I also remembered that you were a writer. I think that you and Jean were married in the Yosemite Chapel. As a fellow introvert, I can be extroverted for a period of hours, and then I want to be an introvert again. But maybe it's more of needing a balance between speaking and listening, whether this is in a large group or in the woods by myself.

  2. I'm glad you're writing about emotions and grief ANYway! Because "I’m a man, and talking about emotions almost seems taboo"? That is NOT how it should be in my humble opinion. As a straight woman, I want a relationship with a man who has some emotional capability; any who don't have that would not be good candidates for me. Anyway, contemporary Western society has done men a HUGE disservice in "convincing" many of them that emotions are exclusively female, are weak, and are not to be part of a "real" man's vocabulary. Nothing could be further from the truth. Emotions are *human*, and it's high time the world figured that out and made room for it.

    Keep doing what you're doing.

  3. Hi Connie! Great timing. Today I posted a review of Fatherloss, a book that surveys how men grieve the loss of their fathers. It has insights into how men grieve any loss, and I mention how men often feel they have to prove their "manhood" by not showing emotions or crying. I so agree with you. Men should be humans first.

    1. And I recently posted about how our society in general needs to be better at allowing for tears. I didn't focus on the "real men don't cry" trope, as I know many are uncomfortable with tears from anyone regardless of gender. The post is here if you're interested: http://aroadlesstraveledblog.blogspot.com/2014/10/tell-without-crying.html. Blessings.

  4. There is a sacredness in tears. They are honest. They are vulnerable. They are droplets of the river of life that flows through us. They are direct pathways to our emotions. They are true. Thank you for your post about tears on A Road Less Traveled.