The psychological model of the stages of grief is used to better understand how people experience loss or change and to explain their often difficult behaviour. I think we should apply it to how men experience and react to the modern changing world.
Back in the 1960s, a Swiss-American psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was researching the behaviour of terminally ill patients. She noted that their reactions to finding out about their illness, as well as their ways of coping with it, followed a common pattern.
In a book titled On Death and Dying, she summarised it in a form of a 5-step model in which grief starts with denial, transforms into anger and then bargaining, turns into depression, and finally ends in acceptance.
In later work, together with David Kessler, Kübler-Ross expanded the model to include any other personal loss or traumatic event.
But, to be honest, the model isn’t very scientific.
There appears to be no evidence […] that most people most of the time go through most of the stages in this or any other order (Shermer 2008).
However, the model can still be pretty useful — once we accept its limitations and treat it more as a rough conceptual guideline than a prescription of how grief must look like.
That’s likely why it became very popular and you’ll now find its various expansions involving seven or more stages, as well as a whole load of practical applications.
And I am about to offer another one.
Guys, I’m sorry, this is going to be some tough love.
Men have much to grieve today because we have lost a lot.
We were valued as defenders and providers. We had the respect as heads of households. We used to have higher social status than women. We used to have the education and rights they didn’t have. We could have sex with our wives whenever we wanted. We had a clear script we could follow to succeed as men. And so much more.
We were promised all of that in the books we read, the films we watched, in our churches, by our families…
But the world has changed: women can defend and provide for themselves now, have the same status, rights and education, and easy sex and life script are all but gone.
And sure, we shouldn’t have had most of those things in the first place and some were outright immoral. But like it or not, this is still a loss.
My fellow millennials know what I’m talking about. We were promised a world of perpetual growth with no care about the environment or colonialism, in which we can achieve anything and a good education leads to a good job.
Now, the world has changed and we are bitter about it as hell. It doesn’t matter that our expectations were inflated, it was all based on exploitation and we probably never deserved any of that anyway. It feels horrible all the same.
But history does not go backwards. You can stand here demanding instant climate change reversal, higher social status, and a state-mandated wife on top, but it just won’t happen. You’ll only be stuck in your grief. You need to move on and work with what you’ve got.
The Five Stages
It would be naïve to say that Kübler-Ross’ model applies directly to all men. But applying it loosely, mindful of its limitations, can help us see how many men are in fact stuck in its five stages, and help them move on.
A common first reaction to loss is pretending it didn’t happen. The diagnosis must be mistaken. She couldn’t have left me. What do you mean it’s gone?
The men who demand their traditional manly jobs back are here. They can’t accept that what they used to do and be valued for is now better done by a machine.
Likewise, guys are still trying their hardest to become the best providers and defenders, even though women can provide for themselves quite well and Vikings rarely raid our villages these days.
Many Passport Bros and MGTOWs are stuck here — they try to go their own way because they refuse to accept the way the world is going. Those, who continue to treat women as lesser beings and are shocked when called out on it, too.
These guys can spend years claiming they’re right and everyone else is wrong, but the truth is that history is slowly leaving them behind. They are like old calligraphers who perfect their skills and insist we need them — and we just nod and go back to writing on our smartphones.
Or like this guy:
Those who realise that the world has changed can become frustrated and angry. Why is this happening to me? What’s your problem? Why can’t you just do as I say? Why can’t things just be how they used to?
Anger is the only emotion men are traditionally allowed to display, and thus many fall into its trap. They stoke their anger and allow others to capitalise by validating and inciting it even more. And since anger and hate need something to focus on, they often use women as scapegoats.
InCels, MRAs and other men stuck here can be a danger to themselves and to others. Some sit online and pour shit on everything that represents the changing world — wokeness, feminism, environmentalism. Some try to reassert their power through bullying, violence and sexual abuse.
In countries where it’s legal to buy a rifle, some shoot down a school.
Their anger harms others, but it is also their own worst enemy. Others look at them and don’t see a person who is honestly suffering and needs new direction and meaning. They see danger.
And thus, those stuck in anger can rarely find help to get out.
Some try to find a shortcut, a trick, anything to make things go back to how they were. I know what I should do, but let me just try this one thing. I know you said not to call you, but can we talk this through again?
Think of the guys who try out every miracle treatment and Ponzi scheme instead of simply eating healthy, working out, and finding an honest job. Or the self-proclaimed Alphas and Sigmas who inflate their egos with Greek letters and made-up theories to fool people into respecting them.
It’s the PUAs, too — they rarely want to become better partners and lovers, they just want a trick to get sex. And while many guys are genuinely nice, others only put on a ‘Nice Guy’ mask when they want something, as part of a deal.
They think they can get what they want without putting in the work. They might weasel through once or twice, but reality eventually catches up with them. And nobody who has an ounce of honour in their body will respect them.
They are like the people who follow the next get-rich-quick scheme, thinking they can cheat the system and make millions with no effort. They waste time and money, invest in a mirage and fail to see that others view them with distaste and pity.
Don’t waste your lives, guys. Grow some spine and move on.
Many people fall into a different trap — instead of trying all things that don’t work, they just do nothing. What’s even the point, they won’t listen. There’s no way to win this. There must be something wrong with me.
Many, many guys are here, dejected and paralysed by despair. It’s those who feel dating is impossible, but also many who feel left behind by globalisation, who might self-medicate with drugs and alcohol.
They are stuck here for the same reason why any depressed person is stuck. It’s hard to look beyond the edge if you’re at the bottom of a pit. It feels validating to stay in the pit and dwell in own pain. With all the other people stuck in their pits, validation comes aplenty.
I see you.
There is a world beyond the edge of your pit and it is not bad at all. You can see it, you can be in it, you can find a place for yourself and it will be a nice place. People out here will give you a hand, you just need to let go of the validating voices which keep you in the pit.
In the end, the only way out of grief is to accept the loss and learn to live in the new world. It’s going to be OK. We’ve come out of this stronger. We can rebuild, bigger and better than ever.
The truth is, we spend so much time focusing on all the things men can no longer have, that we completely forget to look at all the awesome things waiting for us on the other side.
We no longer need to shoulder the entire weight of providing for our family. We are no longer the only ones dying defending our country. We don’t need to be the only ones doing the shitty jobs. If we don’t like football, sports cars and guns, we don’t need to pretend we do.
We don’t have to constantly prove we’re man enough, lest some bully comes and pushes us down to assert his dominance. We don’t need to marry young and never have sex with another woman.
We can have partners who are really interesting, inspiring, and who can be our best friends. We can have deep friendships with both men and women. We don’t need to bottle up our emotions until we explode. We can feel more understood and accepted than ever.
And we can still do all of the things men are best at: we can courageously defend others from disasters, bullies and injustice. We can take daring risks to achieve amazing things. We can build and lead communities based on fairness and generosity.
Building a New, Better World
You might read this and recognise yourself in one or more of the stages of grief.
That’s OK. You have lost something. Grief is a natural response.
But you need to move on.
Because the world will never be what it was. History does not go backwards. Ever.
You need to take your compass and find your way in the new world.
We live in a time of great changes and we are shaping our world anew. You can and you should be a part of this discussion. But nobody will take you seriously if all you have to contribute is your anger that things aren’t what they used to be, some dirty tricks, or if you just hide in your pit of despair.
This new world needs to have a space for you and it’s you who needs to find or forge it. And you need to do it in a way that respects others and allows them to find their place too. Because we’re all in it together, and we are building a new, better world.