Alienated Guys with Issues

An admirer of David Brooks, I was pleased to hear his insightful response to the mass shootings by young men.

I have long admired and appreciated your observations because you often seek out the human aspects of the news, stepping out of the conventional masculine role of most male commentators, and speaking of matters of the heart and soul.

In your comments last Friday night (Oct. 2) on the PBS NewsHour, you pointed out that mass shooters are alienated young guys with loneliness and self-worth issues. As a therapist who has specialized in working with men for thirty years, I believe your insights are important not only to understand these men but also to create efforts to reduce the number of these horrific events.

The Malaise of Shooters

In my work with men, I have come to believe, first, that the malaise of shooters is, at least in part, due to male socialization. Men are lonely because their socialization instructs them to be insular, they fail to ask for help because real men don’t need help, and they externalize their fears and shame because they haven’t learned how to deal with feelings.

Second, mass shootings are part of a larger problem of male estrangement, insularity, and invulnerability. Shooters are the most egregious product of the socialization of many men who act out in less visible but nonetheless destructive and debilitating ways including domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse. Even those men who are in many ways well-adjusted can, at times, be angry and distant partners and fathers. Too often their behavior is disregarded with the timeworn response: It’s just the way guys are.

Re-socializing Men

Since their wayward behavior is mostly a product of their socialization, I work to re-socialize men in therapy groups. I am frequently gratified by the changes guys make in a safe environment that provides affirmation and intimacy seldom available in their lives outside of group. It brings tears to my eyes when I see these men connect in ways that have eluded them since childhood.

Beyond what happens in treatment, you’re probably aware of the many and diverse efforts to re-socialize men on a societal level. Programs such as Jackson Katz’s Mentors in Violence Prevention, MenEngage, and the White Ribbon Campaign challenge men to shuck off their destructive and debilitating masculinities. Rob Okun’s magazine, Voice Male, brings quarterly news of men changing other men. My colleague, Randy Flood, offers a program in local schools, Altogether Boys, for middle school boys to recognize that manhood is broader than toughness and posturing, that it can include self-disclosure and vulnerability. And, just this past spring, The Stonybrook Conference on Men and Masculinities featured efforts to coordinate these and other endeavors and to provide a foundation for future work.

Gun control and identification of men at risk for violence may be partial measures to ameliorate mass shootings. But I believe that prevention- a larger effort to socialize boys differently and re-socialize men – is an important ingredient to ending violence. I hope you will incorporate nation-wide programs of male re-socialization as part of your thinking about how to end the carnage.

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