#Me(n) Too: Why Sexual Abuse is a Men’s Issue Not Just a Women’s Issue

More and more men are being recognized as sexual abusers and more and more women are coming out telling the truth about having been abused. We have gotten used to seeing rich and famous men including Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, and Donald Trump being held to account for their abusive behavior. More recently we have learned about the abusive behavior of Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Harvey Weinstein, Mark Halperin, Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Roy Moore. The #MeToo movement has encouraged more and more women to confront their fears and tell the truth about what happened to them.

Ten years before the allegations against Harvey Weinstein became public knowledge, Tarana Burke was already helping young women talk about sexual assault. Working with girls at an organization she co-founded called Just Be Inc., she heard a lot of reports of sexual violence, and she wanted to offer young survivors what she needed in the aftermath of her own assault: empathy. So, she started the Me Too campaign “to spread a message for survivors: You’re heard, you’re understood.”

Now, the You Too movement has gone viral as it has spread through the web. There is a Facebook group with more than 8,000 members and Twitter shares women’s experiences widely. One Twitter post which caught my eye says, “Multiple men call a woman a slut or a whore, you believe it. Multiple women call a man a rapist, you question it. Enough is enough. #metoo.”

But sexual harassment and abuse happen to men as well. I still remember my mother deciding I needed enemas when I was 6 years old because they thought I was constipated. I remember being held down by her and a neighbor woman while they forced the tube up my rectum and I had to hold in the water that was filling me up until they said I could get on the toilet. I thought I was going to burst. I can still hear the neighbors voice as she screamed at me. “And you better not shit on me or I’m going to kill you.” [Read more…]

Everyone’s Crazy, But No One’s Mentally Ill: 7 Things You Need to Know About the Mental Health Revolution

I still remember my first training sessions as a budding psychotherapist. It was 1965 and I had just dropped out of medical school at U.C. San Francisco and transferred to U.C. Berkeley. I had wanted to help people ever since my father was committed to a mental hospital when I was five years old. I wondered what happened to my father and whether it would happen to me. I thought if I were well-trained I could avoid “mental illness” and the fate that my father faced when he had his emotional breakdown.

My first student placement was at Napa State Hospital and social work and psychology students had an opportunity to observe a well-respected psychiatrist work with patients. We attended sessions every week for a year and watched this expert through a one-way mirror as he worked with various patients. After the session we could join the psychiatrist and ask questions.

Right from the beginning there were a number of things about this expert’s way of doing therapy that I questioned. First, he never touched the patient. When the patient reached out to shake his hand in thanks at the end of the session, he didn’t extend his hand. When questioned he asserted that it would interfere with the transference where-in the patient would project the issues he had in his life on the “blank screen” of the therapist and then the therapist would interpret his feelings. I told him, I thought that human contact was important. He explained that I would learn the value of therapeutic distance as I became better trained.

Second, he would never advocate for the patient if there was a problem on the ward. On numerous occasions he patient couldn’t come to a session because of a mistake getting him released. The doctor said, that the therapy session had to be insulated from the rest of the patient’s life if it were to be most effective. I disagreed.

Third, it seemed that there was no relationship between the diagnosis that a patient was given and what went on in the therapy sessions. One patient may be diagnosed as being manic-depressive, another with an anxiety disorder, and a third as having a character disorder. But he interacted in the same way. When I asked he said diagnosis was very important, but it seemed a far cry from diagnosing someone with pneumonia, diabetes, or some physical illness. [Read more…]

7 Things You Don’t Know About Doctor Suicides That Could Be Putting Your Life at Risk

Most of us wish our health care system served us better. We pay too much for too little care. Often, we take our frustration out on our doctors. But our doctors may be in worse shape than we are. I know. I was in medical school and saw what we do to our doctors. They work ungodly hours. Medical training is more like a perverse military boot camp than a training for care and compassion. Medical students are often bullied and shamed. I could see the true face of the profession I was planning to go into. I dropped out of medical school and went into social work. Before I could leave I had to see a psychiatrist. “You must be crazy to leave medical school and give up a 4-year-full-tuition fellowship,” I was told. I knew I’d be crazy if I stayed. Leaving saved my life. Others are not so lucky.

Did you know…

  1. High doctor suicide rates have been reported since 1858. Yet more than 150 years later the root causes of these suicides remain unaddressed.

You’d think that a problem going on this long would be addressed before now. But it has taken a doctor to come out of the closet and tell the truth about the most serious medical crisis no one want to talk about.

“I’ve been a doctor for 20 years,” says Pamela Wible, M.D., “At 46, I’ve never lost a patient to suicide. But I’ve lost friends, colleagues, lovers — all male physicians. Four hundred physicians per year are lost to suicide, according to a Medscape report. I was determined to find out why.”

  1. Physician suicide is a public health crisisOne million Americans lose their doctors to suicide each year.

About 400 doctors commit suicide each year, according to studies, though researchers have suggested that is probably an underestimation. Given that a typical doctor has about 2,300 patients, under his or her care, that means more than a million Americans will lose a physician to suicide this year.

  1. We lose way more men than women. For every woman who dies by suicide in medicine, we lose seven men. Suicide is a tragedy, no whether it’s a man or a woman who dies, but when a problem effects one gender and seven times the rate of the other, we need to pay attention. If women were dying from a problem at rates seven times higher than men there would be an outcry of rage and action would be taken.

But we still treat men as if we were less important than women. Suicide is the ultimate expression that life has become so heavy we want out. The suicide rate for men in all professions is four to fifteen times higher than it is for women and increases with age. In my book, The Irritable Male Syndrome: Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression, I talk about the fact that men express depression different than women. Men act out in anger. Women turn their pain inside. Here are questions to ask to better assess depression in men.

  1. Happy” doctors die by suicide.

[Read more…]

The Father Effect: Why John Finch Dedicated His Life to Help Us Heal The Father Wound

One of the basic facts of life is that each of has had a father and a mother. Most men and women can picture our mothers in great detail, but our memories of our fathers are more vague, shadowy, and troubling. That was certainly true for me. When I was five years old, my mid-life father became increasingly depressed because he couldn’t make a living to support his family. He took an overdose of sleeping pills and ended up in a mental hospital.

John Finch had a similar experience with his father, but with a much more tragic ending. In his book with Blake Atwood, The Father Effect: Hope and Healing From a Dad’s Absence, he begins with a letter he received from his father on April 10, 1979:

To My Darlin Wife & Sons whom I dearly love,

I couldn’t do something illegal & immoral to get money to pay the bills. It would hurt you all so much more and God might not forgive me. I know of no other way to keep from hurting you more. I don’t understand why other than from my own weakness that this has come to this. I ask for your love, forgiveness, and pray for God’s forgiveness. My last thoughts are of each of you and I pray that each of you Pattye, Larry, Scott, and John will live this life in truth and love and that you will know that I truly loved you with all my heart.

All My Love,

Dad

John was eleven years old on that tragic day and he remembers his tears as a forty-year old man holding a picture of his lost father. “It’s not the picture itself that makes me cry. It’s knowing what I now know about my dad: how the lack of a father in his life led him to make many bad choices that eventually sent him to prison and ultimately, I believe, drove him to suicide.”

I first met John through a brilliant film he made about his father, the day he took his life, and how it impacted John and his family. He also interviewed many experts who help men and women deal with the impact of lost fathers on our lives. You can learn more about the film and the book here: http://thefathereffect.com/. Contrary to what you might think, the film and the book are full of hope and healing with lessons for the millions of men and women who have grown up with a physically or emotionally absent father.

I believe there is one problem that surpasses all others in its impact on men, women, and society. It is the father wound. We focus on the importance of mothers in determining the well-being of children. However, the father wound, resulting from physical or emotional absence of the father, has been largely ignored. The father wound may be the most pervasive, most important, and least recognized problem facing men and their families today.

[Read more…]

Can Men Survive the Demise of the Bread-Winner Role?

Like many men, my father grew up knowing that he had to be successful as the family breadwinner. Then, as now, it wasn’t always easy to fulfill that crucial role that is at the core of a man’s self-esteem. While his brothers all went into business, my father’s passion was to be an actor. When he was twenty-three years old he left his home in Jacksonville, Florida and hitchhiked to New York to become in search of his dream.

He was successful at first, but the Great Depression soon hit and he found it difficult to find a job. He and my mother got married and they both found part-time work. But when I was born, the gender-roles kicked into place and my mother stayed home to take care of me and my father redoubled his efforts to become an actor, but jobs were few and far between.

We moved to California and he switched careers to writing for the emerging movie and television industries, but he had the bad luck of being black-listed because of his left-wing leanings. His journals at that time showed his gradual slide into depression.

October 10th: “Oh, Christ, if I could only give my son a decent education—a college decree with a love for books, a love for people, good, solid knowledge. No guidance was given to me. I slogged and slobbered and blundered through two-thirds of my life. I can’t make a decent living and it’s killing me.”

December 8th: “Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established writers, writers with credits a block long, unable to sell, unable to find work, Yes, it’s enough to make anyone, blanch, turn pale and sicken.”

January 24th: “Faster, faster, faster, I walk. I plug away looking for work, anything to support my family. I try, try, try, try, try. I always try and never stop.”

June 8th: “A hundred failures, an endless number of failures, until now, my confidence, my hope, my belief in myself, has run completely out. Middle aged, I stand and gaze ahead, numb, confused, and desperately worried. All around me I see the young in spirit, the young in heart, with ten times my confidence, twice my youth, ten times my fervor, twice my education. I see them all, a whole army of them, battering at the same doors I’m battering, trying in the same field I’m trying. Yes, on a Wednesday morning in June, my hope and my life stream are both running desperately low, so low, so stagnant, that I hold my breath in fear, believing that the dark, blank curtain is about to descend.”

Six days after his June 8th entry, my father took an over-dose of sleeping pills and was committed to Camarillo State Hospital. Back then, there was little real treatment. He was mis-diagnosed as being psychotic, though today he would have been diagnosed as having bipolar disorder, but his real problem was basing his male identity on his role as family breadwinner.

When I lost my job a number of years ago, I became depressed and suicidal. I didn’t even like the job and was planning to leave, but was blindsided when the loss of the job made me feel I was worthless as a man. This is a real dilemma for millions of men today. We consider the breadwinner role essential for our sense of manhood, yet the male breadwinner role is in decline and may be on its way out.

A study conducted by the World Bank, which sampled 19 countries throughout the world, concluded: [Read more…]

The Most Unappreciated Fact About Men: Understanding Why Men Are the Way They Are

There’s nothing more basic than sex. None of us would be here if that one lucky sperm didn’t survive against all odds to be allowed merge with an egg. The resulting union created you and me. Let’s think for a moment about that union. A healthy adult male can release between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells in a single ejaculation. Since only one lucky sperm will be successful in making his way to that magical egg, there’s a good deal of competition.

There’s a joke about one sperm getting ready to compete. At the moment of ejaculation, he launches himself and the race is on, just him against millions of other competitors. Suddenly, he stops swimming and tries to turn around. He screams to the other sperm, “Go back, go back, it’s only a blow job.” From an evolutionary point of view, success is measured by sexual union that produces offspring that live long enough to produce offspring of their own.

Although the human egg is microscopic, it is large enough to house 250,000 sperm. Think of the few successful sperm who make it to the egg and face this massive, round, entity. Each one tries to get through the cell wall to make it into the interior, but only one sperm is chosen. This tells us something important about what it means to be male and why men are the way they are. There’s a lot of competition with other males and we must ultimately be chosen by a female who is willing to let us in.

Here’s another example from the animal kingdom. Imagine you’re a young stallion. Like all young males you have sex on your mind. But in the world of horses, it is the alpha male who rounds up the females and when they are in estrus has sex with all of them. Most males don’t reproduce at all, so there is a fierce competition to become the alpha male. They fight each other and take risks to be #1, because the consequences of not being #1 determine whether you are a reproductive success or failure. The females, on the other hand, can count on having babies. They don’t have to work to find a male willing to have sex with them. [Read more…]

The Real Causes of the Las Vegas Massacre Few Are Willing to Accept

Like most people I’m still reeling from the horrible massacre of innocent people in Las Vegas. Once again, a man came prepared to kill and to die. And once again we argue with each other about why it happened and what we can do to prevent the next horrible event. We even argue about whether we should talk about what can be done or whether we should mourn the deaths and debate the causes later.

I mourn for the families and friends of those who have died, but I also think we need to talk about causes and solutions. I’m sure we’ll learn more about the killer and there will be many analyses about why he did it, but some things are clear now.

  • The killer was a man.
  • The man was heavily armed with assault-type rifles.
  • The man came prepared to die as well as to kill.
  • The man had given up on life and lost the ability to care about others or care about himself.

The headlines are all too familiar:

  • October 1, 2017– A gunman, identified as 64-year-old Stephen Paddock, fires from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on a crowd of 30,000 gathered on the Las Vegas Strip for the Route 91 Harvest Music Festival. At least 58 people were killed and more than 515 injured. Police believe the gunman killed himself.
  • June 12, 2016 –Omar Saddiqui Mateen, 29, opens fire inside Pulse, a gay nightclub, in Orlando. At least 49 people are killed and more than 50 are injured. Police shoot and kill Mateen during an operation to free hostages officials say he was holding at the club.
  • April 16, 2007 –Student Seung-Hui Cho, 23, goes on a shooting spree, killing 32 people in two locations and wounding an undetermined number of others on the campus of Virginia Tech in Blacksburg. The shooter dies by suicide.
  • December 14, 2012 –Adam Lanza, 20, guns down 20 children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults, school staff and faculty at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, before turning the gun on himself. Investigating police later find Nancy Lanza, Adam’s mother, dead from a gunshot wound.

What all these mass killings have in common is that the perpetrator was a man, and most of the men were white males. On rare occasions women are involved in mass killings, but this is mostly a male phenomenon. Certainly, we have to recognize that guns are being used to kill so many people and we have to get serious about decreasing the number of rapid-fire weapons available to men, but the larger and more important question we need to ask is this:

Why are men so angry and depressed that they want to kill others and kill themselves, and why are so many of them white males?

 If we want to uncover the real causes of mass murder, we have to focus our attention on men. We also need to go beyond our focus on the individual killer and whether he was mentally ill or not, and look at the larger pressures in society that impact men. These pressures impact women as well, but it is the men, with their love for guns and higher levels of aggression, where we need to put our attention. [Read more…]

Healing the Father Wound You Never Knew You Had

There is one problem that surpasses all others in its impact on men, women, and society. It is the father wound. We focus on the importance of mothers in determining the well-being of children. However, the father wound, resulting from physical or emotional absence of the father, has been largely ignored. The father wound may be the most pervasive, most important, and least recognized problem facing men and their families today.

Here’s how one man described his wound:

“My dad had a ‘nervous breakdown’ when I was around 5 years old. I’m 73 and still remember the ‘shame.’ My mother used to take me with her to collect him after he had been given ECT – still hurts today. Not only the father wound, but because my mother took me as a surrogate partner, my life has been littered with very nice women who could never live up to her standards, even though she’s been dead for 32 years. I’m okay but still working on those wounds and doing my best to help others heal too.”

The father wound doesn’t just impact men’s lives. Here’s how one woman described her experience:

“I feel very threatened and feel like my partner is going to leave me all the time. I have a lot of chaos in my life and nothing seems for certain. I was the ‘black sheep’ of the family on top of the dysfunctionality of a father who was present physically, but not emotionally. I feel that getting older I have become more scared and in more pain. It has been very difficult for my partner. I don’t want to hurt him anymore. He is too good for that.”

On May 7, 2016, six months before the Presidential election, I wrote an article “The Real Reason Donald Trump Will Be Our Next President.” In the article I concluded, “Mr. Trump seems to have suffered abuse, neglect, and abandonment as a child.” He was raised by a father who worked seven days a week, whose basic value was “win at all cost,” and had little time for his role as a parent. Many people identified with Mr. Trump’s rage, without recognizing the underlying cause, and voted for him. When wounded children grow up to hold important political offices, the impact can be felt throughout the world.

As a psychotherapist who has treated more than 30,000 men and women over my long career, I have seen the devastating impact absent fathers can have on the lives of their children and how the wounding causes problems at all stages of life. Boys and girls who experience the father wound often become adults who unknowingly wound their own children. Once I recognized and understood the prevalence and importance of the father wound, I could help people recover from problems that had previously been resistant to both medical and psychological interventions.

According to the National Center for Fathering, “More than 20 million children live in a home without the physical presence of a father. Millions more have dads who are physically present, but emotionally absent. If it were classified as a disease, fatherlessness would be an epidemic worthy of attention as a national emergency.” [Read more…]

5 Surprising Ways the Father Wound Harms Women

I’ve been dealing with the father wound for most of my life. When I was five years old my mid-life father became increasingly depressed because he couldn’t make a living supporting me and my mother. He took an overdose of sleeping pills and was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital. Many of us grow up without the presence of a loving, engaged, father in our lives.

Some of us lose our fathers through illness, others through divorce, death, distance, or dysfunction. Like most losses, the wound is covered over, we get on with our lives, and often are unaware of the ways in which the loss impacts our physical, emotional, and relationship health when we become adults.

The impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) on adult health has been well documented in a number of landmark studies. “ACEs” comes from the CDC-Kaiser Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a groundbreaking public health study that discovered that childhood trauma leads to the adult onset of chronic diseases (including heart disease), depression and other mental illness, violence, and being a victim of violence. The more ACEs we have as children, the more likely we are to suffer physical and emotional consequences as adults. ACEs are quite common and include bullying, losing a parent due to divorce, death, deportation, or dysfunction, physical or emotional abuse, parental neglect, or being separated from a parent due to illness or injury.

As I began to understand my own father wound I was able to heal some of the chronic problems I had been experiencing including being angrymanic and depressed for most of my life. I’ve come to see that the father wound often goes unrecognized and doesn’t just impact males. [Read more…]

Could Depression Be A Healthy Response to a Dysfunctional World?

More and more people are taking anti-depressants these days and more and more doctors are treating us for serious mental disorder.  I’m beginning to wonder if all these people really have a brain disease or is depression and other “mental illnesses,” really a healthy response to living in a dysfunctional world.

We know people become depressed following a divorce or the death of a loved one. When we suffer a loss, we may become sad. We may cry or mope around with little energy. The things that once gave us joy seem uninteresting. We may sleep too much or not be able to sleep at all. We overeat or may have no appetite for food.

Most of us don’t take medications to deal with this kind of depression. We recognize it as a healthy reaction to a traumatic life experience. We don’t try to make the feelings go away. We let ourselves grieve and eventually we come back and regain the joy we once had. We may have to learn new skills or develop new relationships after the loss of a loved one, but we don’t see ourselves as sick or mentally ill.

I remember when I was in medical school many years ago. I had just graduated from college at U.C. Santa Barbara and had gotten a four year, full-tuition fellowship at U.C. San Francisco Medical School. I was excited to be embarking on a career in medicine where I could help people. But during the time I was in medical school I became increasingly anxious and depressed. I wasn’t prepared for the long hours, lack of sleep, demanding, often bullying, staff.

I thought there must be something the matter with me that I couldn’t handle the demands of what was reported to be one of the best medical schools in the world. I eventually dropped out and for years I felt like a failure for not being able to do what it takes to become a doctor. It never occurred to me at the time that become anxious and depressed might have been a healthy response to a dysfunctional learning environment of medical school.

I never realized how pervasive the problem was or how it impacted the lives of the medical profession and all those who see a doctor for help until I learned about the work of Dr. Pamela Wible. In her powerfully moving book, Physician Suicide Letters, Dr. Wible, herself a family physician, exposes the pervasive and largely hidden medical culture of bullying, hazing, and abuse that is a regular part of medical school training throughout the U.S. and around the world.

The result is that more and more medical professionals are breaking down under the weight of a dysfunctional system. “Each year more than one million Americans lose their doctors to suicide,” says Dr. Wible, “and nobody ever tells the patients the truth. Nobody talks about our doctors jumping from hospital rooftops, overdosing in call rooms, hanging themselves in hospital chapels. It’s medicine’s dirty secret—and it’s covered up by our hospitals, clinics, and medical schools.”

Dr. Wible begins her book with these words: [Read more…]