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…]

Is Cheap Sex Causing Men to Give Up on Marriage?

I’ve been a marriage and family counselor for more than 40 years. My wife, Carlin, and I have been happily married now for 37 years. There are five important things I’ve learned in my personal and professional life:

  1. A joyful marriage is one of the greatest gifts anyone can have.
  2. Too many marriages go under, just when the couple could be enjoying their lives the most.
  3. Most people would like to have a joyful, juicy, relationship that lasts through time.
  4. Many people are reluctant to marry given the risks of unhappiness and divorce.
  5. An increasing number of men are choosing easy sex over marriage.

There are many reasons why men and women are having a difficult time with marriage these days. One reason may be the increase of cheap sex. The term “cheap sex” is an economic term meant to describe sex that has a low cost in terms of investment. If a person doesn’t have to invest a great deal to get the sexual return they want, the sex is cheap.

Of course, men, like women, don’t just want sex. In my popular article “The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex,” I say that more than the sexual pleasure of “getting off,” men want a safe harbor, a place where we can feel nurtured, care for, loved, and appreciated for who we are. Of course, developing the relationship skills to develop and maintain a caring, trusting, relationship between the members of a couple takes time and skill.

Generally, relationship skills are more easily developed by women than men. Further, men may start off with a disadvantage. According to Dr. Simon Baron-Cohen, author of The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male & Female Brain, “The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.”

The qualifying word “predominantly” is important. It’s not saying that all women have brains that make them more empathic than all men. But just as we can say that most men are taller and stronger physically than most women, we can recognize and accept that women are more skilled at developing and maintaining close relationships. [Read more…]

6 Ways the Father Wound Can Harm You and Your Family and What You Can Do To Heal

For most adults, the father wound, is invisible. Children are very aware of a father’s absence due to divorce, death, disconnection, or dysfunction. Children know the pain of a father who may not be a loving support for his family because the father may suffer from mental illness, have an alcohol problem, be preoccupied with work, or be physically or emotionally abusive. But humans are resilient. We get used to whatever we experience in childhood and by the time we become adults, the wounds have been covered over and we often forget their childhood origins.

This was certainly the case in my own life. When I was five years old, my father had what was called a “nervous breakdown.” He took an overdose of sleeping pills and was committed to Camarillo State Mental hospital, north of Los Angeles. After being hospitalized for three years, my mother was told that he would need to be hospitalized, perhaps for the rest of his life. My mother finally got a divorce and later married another man.

Gradually I came to forget the pain I felt losing my father. I learned to be independent and take care of myself and tried to make my own way into manhood without the presence of a father. But the father wound, like other effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), doesn’t go away just because our conscious mind has buried the experience or we have learned to “forget the past” and “get on with our lives.”

I became very successful in my career as therapist helping men and the women who love them. I had fourteen books published including international bestsellers, Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places, Male Menopause, and The Irritable Male Syndrome. Yet, my personal life was chaotic and dysfunctional. My first marriage ended in divorce and I quickly fell in love with a woman who slept with a gun under her pillow to protect her “from men.” That marriage was short-lived. I became increasingly angry, manic and depressed.

I had multiple layers of resistance, thinking that since I was a therapist I could handle the problems myself. Being male and being a therapist kept me in denial a long time. But I finally reached out and got help. I learned that I was not alone. 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…]

Why I’m Writing a Book About the Most Important Problem Facing Men and Their Families Today

I’ve been writing books that help men and the families who love them since my first book, Inside Out: Becoming My Own Man, was published in 1983. Getting books published that focus on men is never easy. The perception in the publishing world continues to be that men don’t read books about men’s issues (unless it’s a sports book) and women aren’t that interested in books that help men (Men, as a group, are doing pretty well. It’s women who need help, many believe). I believe the world is changing and hopefully the publishing world will catch up.

As a writer, psychotherapist, and community activist, I resonate with these words from the philosopher Paul Tillich.

“Every serious thinker must ask and answer three fundamental questions:

  • What is wrong with us? With men? Women? Society? What is the nature of our alienation? Our dis-ease?
  • What would we be like if we were whole? Healed? Actualized? If our potentiality was fulfilled?
  • How do we move from our condition of brokenness to wholeness? What are the means of healing?”

Many have attempted to answer the question, “What is the nature of our alienation, our disease.”

I’ve come to believe that one important answer, that has been largely neglected, is the dis-ease of fatherlessness. It’s certainly a problem that has impacted my own life ever since I was five years old when my father became increasingly angry and depressed because he couldn’t find work to support his family. After struggling for years, he took an overdose of drugs. Luckily, he survived. He was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital and I grew up without a father. [Read more…]

From Madness to Manhood: Sex, Sexism, and My Red Keds

I’ve been writing a memoir, From Madness to Manhood, and sharing chapters with you, my readers. Your comments and feedback mean a lot to me. You can read other chapters here, here, here, and here.

When I was four I announced that I was tired of my white baby shoes and I wanted “big boy shoes.” My mother dutifully took me to a shoe store and I was entranced by the colors and variety of shoes. It was like going from a world of black and white and discovering that there was color. I wandered past all the shoes looking at each pair until my eyes lit up.

“Mommy, mommy, I want those.” I was jumping up and down and pointing to most beautiful shoes I had ever seen. They were red Keds.

I finally settled down enough for the salesman to sit me down, measure my little feet, and go in the back to find the right shoes. I couldn’t stop smiling and the wait seemed interminable. But finally he emerged from the back with a number of boxes.

“I brought a couple of different sizes, to be sure we’ve got the right ones,” he told my mother. It seemed even better than Christmas when he opened the box and folded back the tissue paper covering the shoes.“Here you are,” he proudly announced.

My smile collapsed when he took out the first shoe. It wasn’t the shoe I had admired. It said “Keds” on the heel, but it was blue, not red. I was crestfallen.

“But I want the red Keds,” I was finally able to say.

He smiled and patted me on the head. “Red is for girls,” he told me and smiled at my mother. “Blue is for boys.”

I thought about that for a second and a half. I had never heard of colors being assigned by sex. I had thought all shoes were white until recently. But even as a small child, I knew what I liked.

“I want the red Keds,” I stubbornly told him, though I was beginning to feel a little shakey and tearful. [Read more…]

How My Father Escaped From the Act Like a Man Box and Saved His Life

If you’re male, sometime in your life someone has told you to “act like a man.” I heard it from my first wife when she got mad and screamed it at me after I had refused to confront a guy who had sold us a faulty appliance. I heard it again from a friend who wanted me to leave this same woman after she had taken her anger out on me…again, and punctured the tires in my car.

Most of us grew up with certain rules that required men to act and be a certain way that were different from the way women were required to act and be. Growing up I knew that a man must fight anyone who disrespects him, his mother, or his wife. I learned early that a man must be the breadwinner and support his family, no matter what.

Writer and activist Paul Kivel described these manhood mandates as putting us in the Act Like a Man Box. As I grew up I found my life work helping men and women break free from the restrictions that keep us locked down. I came to see that the Act Like a Man Box and the Act Like a Woman Box were mirror images of each other.

When I read Betty Friedan’s book, The Feminine Mystique in 1963 I realized “the problem that has no name,” which is the title of Chapter 1, highlighting the dissatisfactions that women were feeling, also stirred similar feelings in me. The book begins with these words: [Read more…]

The 6 Numbers That Will Change Your Life

We all have numbers that are important to us. Our anniversary date, the number of friends and family we will invite to our daughter’s wedding, maybe even the number of calories per day we’re going to try and maintain through our next (and this time it’s going to work) diet. But there are six numbers that I believe will be even more important for you to know if you’re going to survive long enough to enjoy a golden anniversary, your daughter’s wedding, or the new bathing suit you plan to wear at the beach once you take off those extra pounds. Are you ready?

            Number, #1: The number of people in the world today.

            Number, #2: The median age of the population.

            Number, #3: The number of people living in towns and cities.

            Number, #4: The number of people getting their energy from renewable resources.

            Number, #5: The number of people who will lose their jobs.

            Number, #6: The number of people who are depressed and losing hope.

Let’s take a look at these numbers and what they mean in our lives.

#1: According to a report by the BBC Future, based on United Nations and CIA figures, the present world population (2017) is 7.5 billion. Difficult to get our head around a number that big. But we feel it in our lives every day when we compare the past to the present.

I remember being ten-years-old and enjoying the orchard groves that went on forever which I could see from my window at our home in the Los Angeles suburb of Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley. The air was clean and it felt like there was plenty of space. According to the World Population Survey there were 2.6 billion people in 1953 (if you want to see the population at various times in your life, check it out here.

So, we’ve added 4.9 billion more people to this finite planet we call Earth since I roamed free as a ten-year-old. And like me, they all want to eat, have a job, and most would like to get around in a multi-horse-powered automobile rather than ride a donkey. There’s only so much space, so many resources, so much soil, water, and clean air and we don’t seem to be doing a very good job taking care of what we have.

You don’t have to look too far in the past to notice the change. In the last year, we added 80 million more people. That’s like adding all the people presently living in Germany. Do you feel the pressure? I feel my stress levels going up, just writing about it.

Plus, people have a tendency to move away from home when their local living conditions don’t allow them to support their families. More than 65.3 million people are currently refugees or are displaced in their own countries according to the United Nations – the highest figure since records began before the Second World War. If these people all lived in a country it would be 21st biggest country in the world with a population larger than the UK. [Read more…]