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…]

Male-Type Depression: The Second Hidden Cause of Mid-Life Marriage Meltdown

I have a particular interest in preventing mid-life marriage meltdown, a problem that is becoming I increasingly prevalent today. My first marriage came to an end when I was 33 years old. We had two children and had thought our marriage would last forever.  I healed the wounds of love and loss and eventually fell in love again. My second marriage lasted less than three years.

As a psychotherapist and marriage and family counselor, I felt guilty and ashamed that I was counseling others on what should work to insure a happy marriage and joyful life, but I couldn’t seem to make it work in my own life. Before trying again, I vowed to learn the secrets of real, lasting love. I read everything I could find from the experts. I went into therapy myself to learn how my past wounds from childhood created a faulty love map and caused so many of us to lose our way.

I’m happy to say I found what I was looking for. I met and married Carlin and she and I have been joyfully married now for 37 years. But we are the exceptions. Not only do 50% of first marriages end in divorce, but 66% of second marriages don’t make it, and 73% of third marriages fail.

I’m offering two free webinars on the 3 Hidden Causes of Mid-Life Marriage Meltdown on Thursday, April 20, 2017 at 5:30 PM Pacific time. I’ll cover the same information on April 27th at 5:30 pm in order to accommodate different time zones. Please sign up for the one that works best for you.

Thursday, April 20th at 5:30 pm PT: Register here.
Thursday, April 27th at 9:00 am PT: Register here.

Mid-life can be the best time to be married. We are not so caught up with children and work. It’s a time we can really enjoy each other and be true partners as we age. “Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be.” These words by the poet Robert Browning capture what a lot of us long for as we move into mid-life and beyond. However, as a marriage and family counselor I see too many relationships fall apart, just when the couple could be enjoying their lives the most. I see too many people that want to start again, but they are afraid of what they might face. [Read more…]

Why Is My Husband So Mean to Me?

For more than 40 years I have been helping men and the women who love them. In recent years, more and more women are contacting me who are concerned about their husband’s anger and how its impacting their lives. Here’s how one woman described her confusion and concern:

“For about a year now, I have gradually felt my husband of twenty-two years pulling away from me and our family. He has become more sullen, angry, and mean. The thing that bothers me the most is how unaffectionate he has become. My husband used to be the most positive, upbeat, funny person I knew. Now it’s like living with an angry brick. I want my husband back. Can you help us?”

I developed a quiz for men and for women who were asking why the man in their lives had suddenly become more irritable and angry. It was eventually filled out by more than 60,000 men and women. When the results were in, I thought of writing a book titled The Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome. This seemed to capture the way a man could change from being loving and supportive to being angry and mean.

In reminded me of the novella by Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson, written in 1886, titled “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The novella’s impact is such that it has become a part of the language, with the very phrase “Jekyll and Hyde” coming to mean a person who is vastly different in moral character from one situation to the next.

Another woman described her husband’s changes in similar terms. “My husband’s personality suddenly changed from my funny, loving Dr. Jekyll into an angry, resentful, and controlling Mr. Hyde. He grew increasingly angry with me and seemed to withdraw from our marriage. I just can’t be happy staying at home, especially when I’m slapped in the face with a bunch of criticism and anger. What is going on here?”

But though the transformation from “Mr. Nice to Mr. Mean” was clear, there was still a mystery about what causes the change. My first clue about the root cause of this shift came from a Scottish biologist in Edinburgh, Dr. Gerald Lincoln, who was studying the impact of hormonal changes on animal mood and behavior. He found when testosterone levels dropped the animals became irritable, ill-tempered, and edgy. These were some of the same symptoms I was seeing in my own work. [Read more…]

My Mental Illness: Coming Out as a Therapist

6339082427_87d8de1f5b_zWhen I found my father’s journals, I knew I had to stop running away from mental illness.  They were at the bottom of a box containing his unpublished plays and stories that revealed his struggles during the time I was growing up. By the time I read them I was a successful psychotherapist with a set of interlocking secrets: Mental illness ran in my family. My father was mentally ill. I suffered from depression and bipolar illness myself. I imagined I could run away from the reality of my own suffering by getting educated and treating others.

Then I opened the box and found the journals. I was alternately mesmerized, horrified, and transformed. Here is a small excerpt:

June 4th: 

               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.

   “August 15th:

              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.

“November 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 Sunday morning in early November, 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 November 8th entry, my father tried to kill himself. I was five years old. I never understood what happened to my father, but I was told he was in a hospital. Every Sunday for a year my uncle took me to visit him. I can still picture the line of trees as we neared Camarillo State Hospital after the two hour drive north from Los Angeles. [Read more…]

Healing the Father Wound: It’s Never Too Late

2797936422_4fc7547a3b_zMany of us have been wounded by our father’s lives. For some we experienced abuse growing up.  For others we dealt with neglect. Many of us were abandoned physically or emotionally. For most of us, we wanted a more loving, connected father than we experienced. Many of our fathers died too soon.

The first wound occurred for me when I was five years old. My father, a writer like me, was having great difficulty making a living during tough economic times. He wrote in his journal:

“Your flesh crawls, your scalp wrinkles when you look around and see good writers, established 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.

            Yes, on a Sunday morning in early November, 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 was about to descend.”

Four days after that journal entry, he tried to commit suicide. Like most young children, I didn’t understand the wounding that made him feel his only option was to end it all. I knew he felt shame and deep sadness that he wasn’t able to support his family the way he wanted to and he blamed himself. I learned a similar lesson. I blamed myself for him wanting to leave. “I must be a burden on him,” I thought. “If it weren’t for the pressure of supporting a family, he would be O.K.” Deep down inside, I thought there was something terribly wrong with me. “Why doesn’t he love me?” I wondered. “What’s the matter with me that he wants to get away from me?” He was 42 years old and I was 5.  The wounds didn’t end there.

Send Him to the “Nuthouse”

Following my father’s suicide attempt he was committed to Camarillo State Mental Hospital. Although I had friends who had fathers who were “a bit strange” or “different,” I didn’t know anyone whose father was in a “nuthouse.” We all shared the common view that anyone who would try and kill himself must be crazy. And anyone who was “sent away” must be really crazy. [Read more…]

6 Ways to Prevent Irritable Male Syndrome from Ruining Valentine’s Day (and the Rest of Your Life)

414059057_3ac9ecef5a_zThe true story of “Valentine’s Day” may tell us more about anger, irritability and violence than about candy, hearts, and flowers. Back in 269 AD a good priest named Valentine ran afoul of the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Valentine was sentenced to a three part execution of a beating, stoning, and finally decapitation. Talk about extreme irritable male syndrome. Getting irritable occasionally is part of being human, but getting locked into a pattern of negativity can cause problems for men and the families that love them. Turned inward, we often suffer from depression. Turned outward we suffer from IMS.

What Is Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS)?

IMS was first described by research biologist Dr. Gerald Lincoln when he was trying to develop a male contraceptive.  He tried lowering the testosterone levels of Soay rams and other mammals to see if he could stop their partner sheep from getting pregnant.  It didn’t work well and the rams got a bit testy as a result.  He coined the term “irritable male syndrome” which he described as “a behavioral state of nervousness, irritability, lethargy and depression that occurs in adult male mammals following withdrawal of testosterone.”

Dr. Lincoln had no evidence that it occurred in human male mammals, but he suspected it did.  I had been doing research on men going through Andropause or male menopause and found that they became irritable and angry.  I visited Dr. Lincoln in Edinburgh, Scotland and shared my research with him.  He agreed that it would be valuable to have a book written on the subject, which I began writing when I returned to the U.S. The book, Irritable Male Syndrome:  Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression describes the following four causes. [Read more…]

How to Prevent the Next Mass Killing: Stop Abusing Our Boys

Talen Barton Pic

Talen Barton with his attorney Linda Thompson at his court appearance when he plead guilty to the murders of Teo Palmieri and his father Coleman Palmieri. – Chris Pugh — Ukiah Daily Journal

Mass killings in our society are becoming more and more common. We all deal with the trauma in our own ways. Writing helps me. In 2012 I wrote an article for the Huffington Post about 20 year-old Adam Lanza who killed 26 people at an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut. Violence by young men seems to be escalating and getting closer. It recently came to my home town.

When I first heard that Talen Barton had killed his best friend Teo Palmieri and Teo’s father Coleman Palmieri I was stunned. When I learned that he had nearly killed Coleman’s wife, Cindy, and her brother, Theodore, in the rampage I was shaken to my core. I worked with Cindy, a medical doctor at Long Valley Health Center in Laytonville, and remember when she and Coleman first moved to the area. I knew that they had taken Talen to live with them a number of years ago and treated him as one of the family. After mourning the loss of life, I needed to understand how this tragedy had happened.

The headline in the Ukiah Daily Journal on October 6, 2015 summarized the outcome:

Barton handed 71-year sentence in Laytonville stabbings, likely off to San Quentin

Men and women who work in law enforcement see too many killers like Talen Barton.

One detective said he was encountering “pure evil,” that Barton was an “absolute monster.”

Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster, prosecuting on behalf of the people, summarized the way we treat killers under our present system:

“He’s going to go to a warehouse where the forgotten go.”

We Must Be Willing to Go Deeper

If we are going to prevent more killings we have to go deeper to understand how Talen Barton became a killer. Talen Barton is 19 years old. Most mass murderers are young men who were once innocent little boys.
[Read more…]

Women Seek Help, Men Die: New Findings on Male Depression and Suicide Will Save Millions of Lives

“Women seek help—men die.”  This conclusion was drawn from a study of suicide prevention by Jules Angst & Celile Ernst.  They found that 75% of those who sought professional help in an institution for suicide prevention were female.  Conversely 75% of those who committed suicide in the same year were male.  Why do so many men die from suicide?

Douglas Bremner, M.D. is Professor of Psychiatry and Radiology and Director Emory Clinical Neuroscience Research Unit (ECNRU) conducted an experiment that offers real insights into the different ways men and women experience depression and what they do when they become depressed.  In a very interesting experiment he gathered a group of former depression patients.  With their permission, he gave them a beverage that was spiked with an amino acid that blocks the brain’s ability to absorb serotonin.

What I found fascinating were the gender specific differences in the way men and women reacted to the potion that blocked the effects of the serotonin.  Typical of the males was John, a middle-aged businessman who had fully recovered from a bout of depression, thanks to a combination of psychotherapy and Prozac. Within minutes of drinking the brew, however, “He wanted to escape to a bar across the street,” recalls Bremner. “He didn’t express sadness … he didn’t really express anything. He just wanted to go to Larry’s Lounge.”   

Contrast John’s response with that of female subjects like Sue, a mother of two in her mid-thirties. After taking the cocktail, “She began to cry and express her sadness over the loss of her father two years ago,” recalls Bremner. “She was overwhelmed by her emotions.”

It’s not difficult to guess which person is most likely to get help and which person is most likely to continue having problems.   [Read more…]

Men’s Health: The Real Reason Men Die Sooner and Live Sicker

The real reason men are lonelyI never realized how lonely life could be until I got divorced.  My wife got custody of the kids and I didn’t realize how much I would miss seeing them every day until I became the “non-custodial parent.”  She also got custody of the house and I moved into my cousin’s garage, which was all I could afford. I soon realized that most of our friends were actually her friends.  The friends I had before we got married had mostly drifted away and I hadn’t made new ones.  My wife had become the social secretary and I counted on her to plan the parties and keep us connected with our family, friends, and neighbors.

She and I had married young.  I was 22 and she was 19.  We had a little boy three years after we married and then adopted a little girl three years later.  My life revolved around my career.  I got good at it and felt proud that I could support our growing family.  My wife and I were happy in those early years and it felt like we were a team.  She managed the home and I brought in the income to buy the things we needed.  I thought I was doing the right thing.  I thought we had it all.  I didn’t think I needed to work to make and keep friends.  I thought I just had to work to keep my wife and kids happy.  It took me a long time to realize how wrong I was.

Psychologist Herb Goldberg captured the reality of men’s health and their men experience in his book, The Hazards of Being Male:  Surviving the Myth of Masculine Privilege.  “The male has paid a heavy price for his masculine ‘privilege’ and power.  He is out of touch with his emotions and his body.  He is playing by the rules of the male game plan, and with lemming-like purpose he is destroying himself—emotionally, psychologically, and physically.”

Will Courtney, Ph.D. is one of the world’s experts on men’s health.  In his 2011 book, Dying to Be Men, he details the current research findings that show that men die sooner and live sicker.  “Men in the United States have greater socioeconomic advantages than women,” he says.  “These advantages, which include higher social status and higher-paid jobs, provide men with better access to health-related resources.”  That’s the upside of being male.

But there is also a down side.  “Despite these advantages, men—on average—are at greater risk of serious chronic disease, injury, and death than women.”  For nearly all 15 leading causes of death including heart disease, cancer, stroke, accidents, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, suicide, and homicide;  men and boys have higher age-adjusted death rates than women and girls.  The only exception is Alzheimer’s disease where women die at higher rates than men.

Over the years I’ve learned the benefits of such things as good nutrition and exercise to helping us live more healthy lives.  I’ve only recently learned about the benefits of social connection.  In their book Loneliness:  Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection researchers John Cacioppo and William Patrick say that “social isolation is on a par with high blood pressure, obesity, lack of exercise, or smoking as a risk factor for illness and early death.”  Now that surprised me.  I never would have thought that lack of social connections could actually cause serious medical problems.

Studies also demonstrate that men, as a group, have fewer social connections than women.  In workshops over the years I have asked the women in the audience, “how many of you have a number of close friends that you talk to about important things in your life and who you turn to when you are hurting physically or emotionally?”  Most all the women raise their hands.  When I ask the same question of men, very few raise their hands.  Most women have many close friends and confidants among their relatives and friends.  For most men, their only real friend may be their spouse and if there’s trouble in the relationship, they are totally alone.

I learned that, like me, men often have fewer and fewer close friends as we get older.  This may contribute to the fact that the suicide rate for men goes up dramatically as we age.  Thomas Joiner, Ph.D. author of Lonely at the Top:  The High Cost of Men’s Success says, “Men’s main problem is not self-loathing, stupidity, greed, or any of the legions of other things they’re accused of.  The problem, instead is loneliness.”

Joiner notes that with age, men gradually lose contact with friends and family.  “And here’s the important part,” he tells us, “they don’t replenish them.”  Instead of maintaining our friendships and developing new ones when old friends slip away, we look for Band-Aid solutions to cover our loneliness.  Some of us become more workaholic, others escape into alcohol or drugs.  Some have extra-marital affairs.  These pseudo-solutions only serve to increase our loneliness.

Most of us realize that it’s never too late to change our diet or improve our exercise.  Likewise, it’s never too late for us to admit we’re lonely, reach out to others, improve our relationships, and make new friends.  It may be the best health advice we’ll ever receive.  The alternative isn’t pleasant.  A postmortem report on a suicide decedent, a man in his sixties, read, “He did not have friends…He did not feel comfortable with other men…he did not trust doctors and would not seek help even though he was aware that he needed help.”

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Are You (or are you married to) A Depressed Husband? Maybe It’s IMS – Take the Quiz

Irritable Male SyndromeAfter writing, The Irritable Male Syndrome:  Understanding and Managing the 4 Key Causes of Depression and Aggression, I received hundreds of letters from women and men concerned about the impact that irritability and anger were having in their lives.  Many of which are about either being or married to a depressed husband.  This one is typical of the many I received:

“Last month a man came home from work with my husband’s face but he did not act at all like the man I married.  I’ve known this man for 30 years, married 22 of them and have never met this guy before.  Angry, nasty, and cruel are just a few words to describe him.  He used to be the most upbeat, happy person I knew.  Now he’s gone from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde.  In spite of how he treats me I still love my husband and want to save our marriage.  Please, can you help me?”

We all get irritable and angry at times, but Irritable Male Syndrome (IMS) has deeper roots.   In the book I describe a number of key symptoms of IMS, including hypersensitivity.

The women who live with these men say things like the following:

  • I feel like I have to walk on eggshells when I’m around him.
  • I never know when I’m going to say something that will set him off.
  • He’s like a time bomb ready to explode but I never know when.
  • Nothing I do pleases him.

The men don’t often recognize their own hypersensitivity.  Rather, their perception is that they are fine but everyone else is going out of their way to irritate them.  The guys say things like:

  • Quit bothering me.
  • Leave me alone.
  • No, nothing’s wrong.  I’m fine.
  • Or they don’t say anything.  They increasingly withdraw into a numbing silence.

Does this sound familiar?  If you think someone you love may be suffering from IMS, take this simple quiz to find out.

Think back over the last month.  How often have you (or your man) appeared :

Rarely  (1)        Sometimes  (2)        Often (3)

  1. Grumpy
  2. Jealous
  3. Gloomy
  4. Impatient
  5. Tense
  6. Hostile
  7. Lonely
  8. Stressed out
  9. Annoyed
  10. Touchy

Please add the numbers and compute your score which can range from 10 to 30.


10-15. This guy is on a pretty even keel.

16-22.  He can be a bear to live with at times.

23-30.  You’ve got a man who suffers from Irritable Male Syndrome which could lead to depression or aggression if not treated.

If you need immediate help please contact me with your specific concerns.  You may also find my books and this blog post valuable:

Jekyll and Hyde, Irritable Males, and Attachment Love: What Men, and the Women Who Love Them, Need to Know

What has been your experience with IMS?  What have you done that has helped?  What questions do you have that we can explore together?

Please share your comments and questions below.

Together we heal.